Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Great Vengeance and Furious Gunfire


     The world has a finite number of dangers. This is still a pretty large number but in the greater scheme of things it is still finite. You know you’re not going to be eaten by a dragon although you could be eaten by crocodile and effectively it would be the same. No flying or fire breathing but being eaten by something large, reptilian, and filled with teeth is still happening. At some point you’re just splitting hairs. It’s the things you don’t see coming that get you. Within that finite number of dangers there is a small sample of which no one thinks about. I’m not talking about eating peanuts and dying from anaphylactic shock du to an allergy you didn’t know you had. I’m talking about being hit by a bullet from a rifle a hunter was using to kill a deer on a mountain. That bullet could arc in a wildly improbable parabola from where it missed the deer, went up over the mountain, and came back down into your backyard where you’re cooking hot dogs on a fifty dollar grill. Maximum range for a .50 caliber bullet is around 6,000 meters and practically there is no way that missed round is going the almost four miles of its effective maximum range. It would hit something, right?. But if you shoot that same bullet upwards at the aforementioned parabola and it doesn’t hit the deer, or the trees around the deer, or another hunter, or a rock, or some earth, then it could theoretically descend at double that range of nearly four miles into a range of nearly 8 miles and even with reduced speed from wind resistance, lodge itself through your eye and right into your brain.
     This places that bullet into that realm of unconsidered finite dangers that can, and most likely will, kill you. This is my story. This is how that bullet killed my friend. It wasn’t really a bullet although bullets are involved. Instead I found myself standing in the kitchen of Harald Peterbone and there was blood everywhere. I was holding a gun; it had blood on it too. Harald was dead and none of the blood on me was mine. The really weird part was none of the blood was his either. I swung open the revolver’s cylinder, counted the bullets, and decided that it was time to go kill someone who had it coming. So I picked up a bottle of apple juice and walked out the kitchen.

#

     I test apple juice for a company that makes apple juice and a variety of primarily apple juice drinks. About eight hours a day I take samples from various stages in the juice creation process and run it through a battery of tests to insure it is not becoming contaminated with microbes or fungus or what have you. Every day I walk through the same set of double doors, past Susie Beck’s desk where she says good morning and I say good morning back while trying to look down her blouse. I walk down a hallway that is so white if it’s a really sunny day it hurts to look at the walls and then I go into the lab where I work with four others. Harald Peterbone, Andrea Wilson, David Hines, William Blakestaff, and myself all spend our time around three long lab benches and two hoods with bunches and bunches of apple juice.
     We never drink any of it. The company policy is no free juice of course which is a good idea but if you’re a lab tech whose job is to find what is wrong with a food product you really never want to touch that food product because in general you know what a screw  up your co-workers are. I know that William does not wash his hands after he goes to the bathroom. I know that Andrea doesn’t do a good job covering her mouth when she sneezes. This isn’t a danger for the people buying the juice since our samples do not go back into the production line but it is a huge danger for the people in that laboratory as you couldn’t count on one of them not to pollute your honey bun or coffee.
     Two weeks ago on Friday Harald and I were talking in the break room over lunch. Harald was excited about his amateur astronomy hobby and while I generally have no idea what he is talking about I could intellectually grasp the significance of his discussions and he liked having someone to talk to. He was also a huge “believer” and it tinted his view of the cosmos slightly. While most people will at least concede the possibility of life elsewhere in the larger universe Harald is pretty sure it is strange and out right beyond our understanding.
     So he is talking to me about an alignment between Mars and Venus or something like that coming up in a couple of weeks and how he thinks it is just like in one of the “big ones” which is to say a historical event that will change the world as we know it even if we aren’t aware of the change afterwards. As Harald is talking William walks up and starts listening. It has always struck me as odd how someone can walk into a conversation and become a participant listener like plugging a toaster into a wall outlet. So as Harald goes on about the juxtaposition or alignment William begins to smirk and eventually moves into full on mockery making fun of Harald. You wouldn’t think such middle school behavior would happen in what should be a professional scientific setting but the truth is some people never grow up.
     Eventually Harald got tired of it and went back to work flipping off William on the way. William looked over to me and smiled triumphantly. “Why you gotta be a dick?” I shot at him.
     “Harald’s an idiot. I love busting idiots.”
     “Harald is smarter than you and he doesn’t fuck up the priority tests like you do.”
     “Whatever. Look, if you believe in that outer space crapola then you are as dumb as he is.”
     “Any educated individual will concede the possibility of life on other planets.”
     “Sure, sure, but not that crazy ass tentacle grabbing stuff Harald thinks is out there.”
     “Seriously you can look at the sea life on this planet and not consider the possibility intelligent life might not look pretty freaking weird?” He just shrugged and I shook my head and got up to go back to the lab.
     In the lab Harald was pretty disturbed. He had endured a lot of bullying from William, and probably in his life in general, so he usually weathered it well but this time he was pretty upset. I moved my test batch over to his side, “You okay man? You look pretty upset.”
     “Ah, I don’t know I guess I am just getting tired of morons like William. They are everywhere! I don’t talk about my ideas much because even the scientific community is filled with assholes but seriously you can’t even get gas anymore without running into a couple of them.”
     “I know what you mean man. Just the other day…”
     “No listen, really. I know you don’t believe this kind of scientific insight into life on other planets. I’m not really sure why I believe it other than all my consideration on this topic is built from very clear logic. But you have the intellect to realize that you don’t have to agree to have a discussion. You can talk to me and I can talk to you and you don’t feel a need to show me I’m wrong or show me you’re right. To me that is what intellect is.”
     I nodded; it was a bit awkward with him spelling out how clearly I didn’t agree with what he thought but at that point I really didn’t want to placate him. He was very worked up. We finished our work day, he calmed down eventually and we got through a lot of apple juice and didn’t find anything wrong with them, then we went home.

#

     It was four o’clock in the morning that night when someone was pounding on my apartment door. I stumbled out of bed and negotiated my mostly empty apartment to the front door. I tried to look out the peep hole but was too sleepy and honestly may not have even had my eye open so instead I just jerked the door open. I must have jerked it hard because Harald was on the other side and he jumped like I had swung at him.
     “Geesh! You scared the hell out of me.”
     “How’d you get up here?”
     “The stairs, why?”
     “No Harald. I mean how you got into my apartment.”
     “I’m not in your apartment man. Are you feeling okay?”
     “Harald, what the hell! I live in a locked apartment building!”
     “The door is busted off its hinges; I thought it had been like that for a long time. Can I come in, it’s cold out here.”
     I waved my arm for him to come in but I was irritated. It was late, or early, and we both had work in about three hours. My mind started to wonder to the apartment door, why was it off the hinges?
     “Okay so I had a dream just a while ago and I had to tell someone.”
     “This is all about a dream? Harald it’s…”
     “Four o’clock in the morning, I know. Anyway I had a dream that felt more like a communication than dream. There were these extra-terrestrial beings that looked like something between a squid and John Madden and they were holding what I am pretty sure was a book although it didn’t look like a book really. They said something to me but I totally didn’t understand it which isn’t a surprise since their mouths looked like…well I don’t know what. Anyway this is where it gets weird. They pulled a piece of chalk out of a desk drawer and started drawing on the floor and they drew our solar system right? Well then they began to draw the upcoming juxtaposition and sure enough they drew arrows pointing at the earth!”
     He stopped and looked at me frantically. I could see he was searching my eyes for validation and his own mind for anything he had forgotten about the dream. We paused, looked at each other, then he walked over to my couch and sat down. That is when I noted he had drug mud into my carpet on the bottom of his shoes. It was extremely nasty looking mud, dark and watery more like oil than anything.
     “Damn it Harald, you could have wiped your feet.”
     “I didn’t step in anything. That’s not right, this wasn’t a dream. I don’t feel so good.” He lifted up his foot to look at the bottom and suddenly retched turning his head to the side to throw up on the other half of my couch. The smell of alcohol was so strong it nearly knocked me over.
     “OH COME ON!” I bellowed furious, I was sure he was drunk now and I was seriously thinking about hitting him. Then the smell of the mud hit me and I retched also but I’m not so quick to respond as Harald and I threw up all over my floor, and my table, and my TV as I tried to find someplace to face.
     “Oh geesh Harald, what is that? What did you step in?” He had jerked off his shoes and tossed them at my front door, they hit it with a wet thud and one stuck for a part of a second before dropping onto the floor. I felt so sick, the sickest I’d felt since college and something started creeping into my mind.
     “Oh man, oh man I think that’s blood.” Harald was standing beside me now looking towards his shoes. Looking over the foot prints that led from the door to the couch where he sat just a few seconds ago. “What is it? What did I step in?” I suddenly had thoughts that he hit someone and they were hanging off his hood.
     Just then I realized that he had said the door to my apartment building was off the hinges. He thought it had been like that a long time. I went to the door and out into the hall being careful to avoid the shoes and hold my nose.
     In the hall the foot prints led us to the stairs that went down three flights to the ground floor and to the front door of the apartment building. It was leaning against the wall, torn off its hinges and the wood of the door frame was splintered. In the center of the door was a big red splat that was dripping down onto the floor. The foot prints went right out the door into the parking lot beyond and from that lot lights shone in through the open doorway. I thought Harald had left his car lights on.
     We carefully moved out into the parking lot to follow the trail of foot prints and got about ten feet before we were both stopped dead in our tracks. In the middle of the lot, among the Toyotas and Fords was an honest to goodness flying saucer. It was sitting on the blacktop on four sturdy looking legs with no lights or shimmering present except a single strong beam shinning directly at the door to my apartment building. I did what any self-respecting man of science would do under such a circumstance; I started searching for my cell phone to take a picture. I wasn’t wearing pants though so I didn’t have my cell phone and Harald was so completely lost to me even if he had a cell phone on him I would have had to wrestle it from his pocket.
     “Oh man… oh man I think I’m remembering now. What the heck man, I must have had way too much between here and there.” Harald slapped his fore head then winced hard from the impact.
     “Do you got your cell Harald?” I started patting his pockets as he shook his head and realized he had several patches of the same red blood like substance on his pants and the shirt under his jacket, but not on his jacket.
     I turned around to go get a camera or something from my apartment to record this event and behind me was the equivalent of a nightmare. A large jar filled with brown liquid with a brain floating in it stood on a bundle of dry squid tentacles. The top was open and sloshing everywhere and the brain had eyes on the ends of very short stalks. As I looked on and horror slowly overcame me I realized the tentacles came out of a rubber boot in the bottom of the jar and directly connected to the brain. Which I look back now and realize really wasn’t a brain that was just what it looked like to me. I could have used walnut as a descriptor too I guess.
     The brain in a jar stumbled and lurched at me swaying side to side sloshing its contents all over the place. I began to cringe away shaking and backed right into Harald who just turned to look at me with such a look of deep emotional confusion that I thought he might have a stroke. Then he said “Dude, I think I drove that here.” Right then a tentacle wrapped itself around my wrist and I went absolutely bazoo. I screamed and danced around waving my arms. The brain jar was jerked around with me and fell over spilling out almost all the liquid before it righted itself again.
     The brain jar leaned against a parked Aveo using one of its tentacles like an arm and the brain spun to face me. Then shockingly it called me an asshole. Well it sounded like that and I can only be sure of that now because of what happened. But at the time I wasn’t sure because I didn’t see a mouth and it was very garbled but it certainly sounded like that at the time. The brain jar stumbled and began to fall then righted itself again then fixed me with its gaze.
     I was immediately struck with the thought that it would use some kind of psychic power to dominate me or destroy my mind instead it spoken again as clear as a bell ringing on a quiet night. It said “I’m too drunk for this.” And it spun on its tentacles and shambled towards the flying saucer.
     Harald stepped up to me grabbed my head and said “I’m starting to remember.” He walked towards the saucer and grabbed the jar around its middle lifting the brain thing and continued to head forward. He looked over his shoulder and shouted “Come on man, you have got to see this!”
     I thought what the hell tonight was already as weird as it was going to get. You know I was wrong right?

#

     So Harald apparently did know what the saucer was because he had the equivalent of a keyless starter in his pocket that looked like a dull silver mini remote control. He used it to open a door in the side which unfolded as a set of stairs. It was so predictable that I almost laughed. Inside was a large room that was almost the entire inside of the saucer and a control panel that went almost the entire circumference. There were also several stool-looking chairs with a single small wheel under them on a post that kept them upright and balanced. You could move on them smoothly without tipping over, it was the most fun I had in years sitting on one of those.
     I felt like I was sitting in a space ship that was on the cover of a pulp sci-fi magazine. Lights bleeped off and on in different colors, there were warbley sounds and humming noises and the occasional muffled beep. A part of me still thinks it was all a dumb B-movie set up even after everything that happened.
     Harald helped the brain jar into the flying saucer and then over to a hidden elevator that took them down into the bottom of the ship. I just sat there. I didn’t know what else to do. The door was still open and I thought maybe someone else was supposed to come in or maybe someone else would notice the saucer in the parking lot. As I sat there I could hear Harald and the brain jar fumbling around, I heard someone cuss, I heard splashing, and eventually I heard the elevator coming back up. I can’t tell you why I was so calm but it just seemed like at some point you just have to go with the flow.
     As the elevator was rising I recalled in a flash the bloody foot prints we had been following from my apartment. I looked over and Harald stepped off the platform before it was finished setting into the floor and he walked over to the controls by me and started pressing buttons. “Do you know what you’re doing?”
     “Mostly.” He looked over and grinned at me. “Well, not like I have had a lot of training but they are kind of logically laid out once you understand the logic.” The door slid closed and my heart jumped. Harald hit some more buttons and pulled some levers and the outside of the saucer flashed to life. Light vibrated out from the edges of the saucer and shifted cars in the parking lot as it did so.
     “Mkay I think I got this.” Harald was pulling more levers and smashing more buttons then suddenly I could feel the lift from beneath and with that the sky filtered down to fill the window that ran the entire circumference of the craft.

#

     I threw the empty juice bottle at the door as I walked up. I knew it wouldn’t do anything, not even create enough of a bump to be heard inside but I was still livid and it felt good to throw something. Plus I didn’t want to waste my bullets on the door. I twisted the door handle and went in then started looking around for the telescope. All I could think was that I was going to kill the bastard that killed Harald and I knew I could get him through the telescope. Now if I could just find which room the telescope was in.
     Stumbling from room to room slipping on bloody spots and almost busting my face on a chair when I fell eventually I realized the telescope was probably in the attic. I was wrong though and spent a good hour trying to get into the attic. When I finally got into the attic and tore up my shins doing it all I found was an empty attic. There wasn’t even any insulation which I thought was very irresponsible of Harald and then immediately felt bad for thinking that.
     It turned out the telescope was in the back yard and this was because it was a huge sucker. Nothing like I got as a kid from Radio Shack much more like something you would mistake for a hot water heater he had set in his back yard. In fact I realized as I saw it I had just been sitting against it.
     I fidgeted with it for a few minutes before I finally figured out how it would work then I checked the cylinder in the revolver again.

#

     Harald looked out the window and by looked out the window I mean he ran from one side of the control room to the other to look around. “This sucks. I don’t have omnivision like them so I feel like I can’t tell where I’m going.”
     I got up and started walking around looking out the window and I couldn’t really see anything. I made an observation saying such to Harald and he said, “Look up at the top of the window. It’s refractive.” So I did and immediately I could see what felt like straight down around the saucer all the way down to the ground. If he hadn’t told me I wouldn’t have known because it wasn’t clear unless you were looking right at it. I wowed appropriately.
     “Why are you worried, there is nothing to run into up here?” It began to bother me how easily I was settling into this extremely strange situation.
     “I’m trying to find my house.” He rushed to the other side of the saucer. “Damn it missed it. Hold on.” He gave the implication that we would be making a very sharp turn and even jerked a couple of the controls but I felt no change in the direction of the saucer, actually I felt no inertial movement at all.
     From below I heard something yelling with the unclear vocalization of the drunk and the only word I could make out was corndogs which seemed completely normal in the context I existed in at that moment. We landed and when I looked out the window we were neatly in Harald’s back yard. He opened the door and went down the ramp tossing the futuristic fob onto the controls before leaving. I followed him out into his back yard and towards the back door where he had already gone into the house. Before I got there he came back out with two beers.
     “Here, you’re going to need this.” He handed me a beer.
     “You think I’m going to need it now?” I still opened it and took a long drink. It was warm but I didn’t care. “I just rode in a spaceship with a brain in a jar.”
     “A drunk brain in a jar. I thought of the name Francis but that’s not it really but when we met that was the name my brain came up with and I thought maybe it was telepathy.”
     “What is it?”
     “What’s what?” Harald looked around startled.
     “No, what’s his real name?”
     “Oh, it’s McCoy. Dumb I know.”
     “McCoy? Sure why the hell not.”
     “Okay,so, remember the Wilfred Brimley looking aliens I mentioned like a million years ago?”
     “Sure except you said John Madden.”
     “What? No I didn’t.”
     “Yes, yes you did, John Madden.” I took a drink of my beer and pointed the bottle at him like I just made a point. He shook his head as if to clear it and took a drink of his own beer.
     “Anyway, McCoy picked up their transmission and got curious. Some kind of a space adventurer you might say and McCoy is always looking for curious things to get stuck into. Well looking into the transmissions he figured out what they wanted to do with the apple juice and to me and came to warn me.”
     I felt I was losing my balance again so I sat down on a large garden gnome. “Apple juice?”
     “Yeah so McCoy came and told me and at first I was all freaked out right? I mean there was a suit and not a jar then but it was still pretty freaky. That suit is almost dead on Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still so I wasn’t sure if I was going crazy or dreaming. But after I stopped screaming and everything was spelled out I started rooting in the fridge for beer which is why I’m all out of cold ones. That’s when we decided to hit a drive through…”
     “Wait wait wait wait wait…, wait.” He stopped and let me gather my thoughts. “What transmissions? What about the apple juice? Our apple juice?”
     “Yeah our apple juice.” He emptied the bottle then tossed it behind him into the trash can without looking. “The transmissions were how they were crossing over to our side and McCoy found out because she tracked one and saw him try to control my brain.”
     “What the hell Harald?” At this point I was completely back the other direction. Flying saucers and brains in jars were now solidly back in the realm of the ridiculous. “Come on!”
     “Dude you just rode in a flying saucer, the fact that aliens from another dimension were trying to control my brain is so out there?”
     “Your brain though! Why your brain?”
     “What the fuck man, what’s wrong with my brain?”
     “Nothing but you’re not a president or a king or anything so why would they choose you over any person with power?”
     “Because of the apple juice. You can be an asshole you know that?”
     “That’s what the brain in the jar said. So what about apple juice? It’s just apple juice!”
     “That is how they are controlling our minds. Or want to control our minds at least.”
     “What the hell? No one is controlling our minds through apple juice!”
     “Yes they are! Well no they aren’t but they are trying to do it!”
     We had moved to the point we were yelling at each other with hands in severe motion to exclaim our points. Suddenly it hit us what we were doing and we both sat down again quiet. I looked Harald in the eyes while he looked away towards the saucer. “Look man, I just don’t understand all this. You obviously do but at this point I am feeling more like someone slipped a blotter of acid under my pillow.”
     He stood up and looked towards the sun rise that was starting to form and then looked back at the saucer. “I hope McCoy isn’t too drunk to drive.” I looked over my shoulder and the saucer lit up. Clearly we could see someone through the window I can only assume was McCoy flipping me the bird. Must have put on the brain suit because now there was the equivalent of a silver bio-hazard suit waving out the window to us. “That’s him?”
     “Yup.”
     “So how did he get his brain from the jar to the suit? Is the suit a robot?”
     “Why do you think it’s a he? McCoy’s female. Came on to me pretty hard too when drunk. Plus it’s not a brain only looks like one.”
     “You are shitting me.”
     “No really it’s not a brain the jar was filled with beer. The way they drink is by absorbing it through pores. They’ve developed equipment to their physiognomy since they always did it that way and soaking in a beer is a good way to go about it.”
     “But what about the juice, and now that I think about it why was McCoy flipping us off? Wait! So that jar is like a huge beer mug?”
     “I told her that was how you say goodbye in our culture.” He looked at me dead serious, then grinned just a little and we both laughed hysterically as we turned around and flipped off McCoy on her exit from the planet. As we watched the saucer lift off, move into the atmosphere and fade into the distance Harald began a more coherent outline of the situation.
     “Yeah, it’s a wearable beer mug which is just totally awesome. Anyway, the alter dimensionals are trying to control us through putting nano-bots into our apple juice. They aren’t the same as us, just really close to us, and when they look from their side to our side it is like looking through a funnel. They only get part of the picture and for some reason they got it in their head that we drink a lot of apple juice and our testing facility was a primary source. Who knows how they got that with five lab workers and two hoods but whatever. So McCoy pointed out the jump and helped me catch the interloper and interrogate him. Turns out they were also trying to control my mind by slipping something into my food that would make me susceptible to their more developed psychic powers.”
     “Wait, they were poisoning the juice we test and they were drugging your food? Why do both?”
     “No, they weren’t doing anything to the juice yet. I was supposed to drug the juice. They were drugging my food to take control of me so they could make me drug the juice.”
     “That seems unnecessarily complicated. Did you?”
     “No. McCoy stopped them before they got either enough of the drug in my system or the right drug in me. Who knows what they could have done.”
     “They would have drugged, like, twenty five thousand people. That’s it.”
     “Whatever! Look man I got him in the kitchen. Come check him out and I’ll tell you about the drive through. You won’t believe that story at all.” He turned and started walking towards the back door when the alter dimensional mind controller stepped out. We both froze eyes white and wide and chin on our chests. He was terrible looking, a man without skin all bare muscles and cartilage with blood weeping from a variety of crevices. It was clearly male and the sight of it’s skinned gender made me turn and wretch the beer I just drank.
     When I finally looked up Harald’s hands were gripping his head and he was shaking. The alien was leaning forward, wide eyed, and intense and I could almost feel whatever was happening between the two of them. I started to jump for the alien when Harald suddenly screamed. The alien turned and ran, slipping in its blood, and burst through the door and into the house. Harald stumbled forward and I ran over to him to help him into the house.
     He kept screaming and screaming and stumbling around. As I got him into the kitchen I saw it was covered in blood and there was a chair on the floor and a gun on the counter. Just as I took this all in Harald screamed again so loud I felt it would burst my ear drums.
     Then he died of an aneurism.

#

     I thought for sure going through the telescope jump would feel like something but it felt like nothing at all. One moment I was standing in Harald’s back yard and the next I am in a really weird laboratory looking at two people I would have called human if I didn’t know better. And I’d swear it was Wilfred Brimley and John Madden. I pointed the revolver at them and stated my claim, “Okay you stupid bastards who of you killed Harald?”
     They looked at each other then back at me, then at each other again. Both were wearing dark blue long coats and light blue over-alls under the coats. The lab around them was something like a pastel version of my own world except all angles where it should have been curvy and curvy where it should have been angles. I probably could have brought some apple juice samples to test and found everything I needed here. As that thought crossed my mind I could see a bottle of the apple juice behind them.
     “Well!” I shook the gun at them to make my point. I don’t know if they understood that the point was I’d shoot them both if I didn’t get an answer, but I didn’t care.
     “Uh, well, wow.” Said Wildfred Brimley.
     “Is that what I look like when I go through the guide tunnel?!” John Madden turned at looked at Wilfred and got a shrug in response.
     “You know skin doesn’t go through Ikskil, this wasn’t a secret.”
     “What the fuck are you talking about!?” I was starting to get sick, I wasn’t sure why but I could feel it coming on. They were looking at me again and I could tell they were trying to make a plan. “Okay so Ikskil is it? Well guess what you asshole. You killed Harald, and that gets you killed.” I pointed the gun at him and as I extended my arm I could see it was nothing but a mess of muscle and blood. I had no skin.
     I completely lost what little cool I had and started dry heaving while trying to point the gun at them. They reacted immediately taking advantage of my weakness and rushed me. I shot twice but didn’t hit them although I did blow the bottle of juice to hell. It is remarkably hard to shoot someone with a pistol when you’re nervous. If you factor in retching and then being charged by aliens I’m lucky I didn’t shoot myself.
     A struggle between me and the two of them ensued and quickly resolved itself. Without skin I was hard to hold as the seeping blood made me slick and my adrenaline let me pull away and around easily. Wilfred Brimley threw himself at me again and my gun pressed into his chest when I pulled the trigger. The bullet went through him and hit a large glass container which shattered and the fumes from the liquid inside caused Ikskil to pass out. Without thinking any further I pointed the gun at him and shot him through the chest as well.
     Then I waited for the fumes to overwhelm me, but they didn’t and the fumes smelled like lilacs. I turned back to what they called the guide tunnel and found a telescope just like Harald’s, it might have been his even and maybe he was using theirs. I stepped up and did my thing then didn’t feel the universe shift around me.

#

     Harald’s death was ruled natural, if extremely weird. The blood all over the kitchen caused a serious investigation and I was questioned but as there was no body and no reported missing people so nothing happened. My prints were at his house but as we were friends nothing odd was seen in them.
     I was given a few days off from the lab to get over the loss. I know really it was because I was in the investigation and they wanted to distance themselves from me in case if I was brought up on charges.
     When I went back to work they looked at me funny. William didn’t even look at me. Susie wouldn’t say good morning anymore and I really had no interest in looking down her shirt. I just watched though. I looked to see if anyone started acting funny or if anyone had some strange chemicals at their work stations.
     I had stolen Harald’s telescope. When the police asked about it being in my apartment I explained that he had lent it to me to try to get me into his astronomy hobby. I had hope that it was the only way in between and so I put it in a closet and locked the door.
     Yesterday I noticed something strange sticking out of Andrea’s purse. It was a test tube, but instead of curvy it was square and just didn’t seem right.
     Hope McCoy is watching. I may need some help.
    

     

All Aboard!


                “Conductor, come in please.” The Boss sat down in his overstuffed chair behind his ancient oak desk and grunted a little as he did so. A chuckle escaped his lips, “Oh ho ho this weight is just a little much sometimes.” He reached over and turned on the desk lamp and brushed loose snow off his lists and various sheaves of brightly colored paper.
                The Conductor carefully entered. Horribly intimidated by this jolly gentleman he took his hat off holding it in both hands. “Sir, are we going out tonight?”
                The man behind the desk sighed with a mix of irritation and fatigue. He looked through low brows at the sharply dressed man across the desk from him. Uniform impeccable, mustache perfectly trimmed, even his glasses gleamed with their cleanliness. He was a credit to the system and just as important as himself. His face softened suddenly and he smiled at the Conductor. “You know it must.”
                The Conductor sat down in an equally overstuffed visitor’s chair. “Sir, I understand how all of this works but I can’t help but ask every year.” He fidgeted with his hat.
                “I know. But really I wish you’d stop. No one wants this but it must be done.” He sat back knowing what was coming. The same act had been played out dozens of times so far.
                “Can’t we change how we do things? We’ve been doing things this way for a long time and I think we should make some changes. We should have enough, elves, for our needs. We don’t need more.” He leaned forward insistently.
                “We do not have enough elves. We never have enough elves. We lost over three hundred this year alone and last year we didn’t replace those losses. What you do is not only necessary to the success of the mission but the only way we can have enough workers.”
                “They are so young.”
                “I am aware of this!” The frustration and pressure of the nearness of the hour burned through his good cheer. “Just do the job given to you Conductor and do it well!”
                The Conductor stood up. His face hard at first the suddenly softening. Across the desk the man dressed from head to foot in red looked back, sudden weariness in his eyes. “We must do what we must do sir.” The Conductor turned smartly and marched out of the office.
                Santa watched the open door he had left for a long time before reaching over to his desk and picking up the watch setting in a golden cradle. Opening it he saw it was nearly time to begin the final preparations. He stood and walked through the door onto the long gangway that was suspended over the assembly floor.  He walked half the gangway’s length to the launching pad and leaned over to look down.
                Below the thin and emaciated elves toiled away with the hard lumps of clay. From this tough and difficult medium the elves created all the toys and gifts that he took to the world. Only they could do it, they mined the clay from deep under the North Pole with frigid hands. Their life force poured into the clay to mold it and activate it so it became everything and anything it needs to be.
                It kills them. He looked down and saw the thinnest and new it would be their last Christmas. Knew they would barely be able to finish the orders and wrapping. When he got home tomorrow night there would be dozens lying on the floor instead of in their bunks having died where they stood.
                He heard footsteps on the gangway and turned to face the Conductor again. “All is ready Sir; the simulacra have been picked up and loaded. We will be setting out shortly. Wish us luck.” With that he nodded and turned to head towards the switchback stairs that would take him to the station and his train.
                He bent over the rail again to look down on the elves. Even eighty feet above their little bodies he could identify several who would die soon. The sound of the train’s whistle sounded and it began its slow passage through the workshop floor. The workers stopped and looked up at it with forlorn faces knowing soon their numbers would be added to with fresh children that would transform into elves by sunrise. He knew they all could remember their former lives. He knew they still loved him even as he looked down on them and worked them to death.

                He turned and walked to the other side of the gangway and watched as the Polar Express made its way out the great gate into the frigid cold. He signed again, weighted with hundreds of years of work finished and hundreds of years of work yet to do. 

The Efficient Use of Specimens

Seth was lying on a table shivering cold with a thick black blanket covering him up to his neck. It was darkness all around him, cold, and so quiet he couldn’t even hear himself breathing as if all sound was dampened. He couldn’t move and the blanket seemed to press down on him and prevent him from doing anything. He couldn’t even turn his head from side to side.
     Around him talking in the darkness were three entities. They didn’t sound human and his flesh crawled with each word like the sound of their voice was wrong.
     “We should dissect it.” said one in a breathless voice. It brought to his mind an image of someone who stood hunched and fat and cruel.
     “We have already dissected several.” said another voice. This one was haughty and slow to speak as if judging the words of the first.
     “Then we should perform a neural exploration.” A third voice said quickly and with much excitement.
     “We have performed many neural explorations already.” The haughty voice said again with a hint of boredom.
     “Then what?” said the hunched voice.
     “Release it.” said the haughty voice which elicited gasps from the other two voices.
     “Why would we do that?” said the hunched voice. “This is a perfectly fine specimen and a dissection..”
     “…or neural exploration!”
     “…or neural exploration, would serve the consensus; which is our mandate.” the hunched voice finished. It was evident it was quoting from some ideology they all subscribed to.
     The haughty voice inhaled slowly. “You’re responsibility is to the anatomical classification and catalogue of the species. Yours is to the neurological mapping and psychological classification of the species. Mine is to the budget. Any examination, dissection, mapping, or exploration has an associated cost in staff and materials. We have thoroughly examined this species and understand their place in the universal plan. Any further activity without direct request is simply a waste. We will release the specimen as there is neither a requirement nor an order to continue procedures at this time. Find a location suitable for safe release.” The haughty voice seemed to have the last word and Seth could feel that the tension had gone away. A suddenly relief passed over him knowing he would be released.
     “Thank you.” Was all he could find the strength to speak.
     The gasp from all three voices was shocking and the silence that followed was unnerving.
     “Why did you thank us?” said the excited voice.
     “Because you’re letting me go.” Seth felt suddenly he was on trial when just seconds ago he was headed towards freedom.
     “How did you hear us?” The excited voice said again.
     “You’ve been talking the whole time. I’ve heard everything you said. I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to it was just easy to hear your conversation” He wasn’t sure telling the voices this was the best idea but he didn’t know how he could lie about it.
     There was another pause and Seth could almost feel the consideration in the room taking place. “Well it is evident I was incorrect.” said the haughty voice and Seth felt terror fly into his chest. “I’ve assumed we have thoroughly catalogued this species and here we encounter a specimen capable of not only intercepting thought communications but able to pass on his own. You may both perform your duties but I believe it will be most efficient to perform them at the same time. Begin at once.” Seth’s eyes spun wildly looking for any escape, anyone to latch on to, but only the darkness was there.


The Barrow

   “We write these tales so the world is prepared, so it has a reference point for when things do begin to happen. We write these tales so that instead of screaming in the face of horror; future generations will act, and by acting, survive.”
-E. F. Votive

     I am fairly confident that, after you read this manuscript, you will believe none of it. I would not believe it myself if not for the facts having been something I endured personally.  I am a 35 year old man who, for all purposes to this date would be considered of sound mind and although I am admittedly over weight fairly of sound body with some notable exceptions. I am a professional and have a taste for history and the fantastic. As such, I am not a believer in the supernatural though I have always found the idea of cryptozoology and the pursuit of the unexplainable exciting. Also I am a religious and spiritual person and my faith while not perfect, is strong enough and I find that all I am and all I have built my life on has been shaken to the core by what happened.
     Three months ago, on the 20th of August I had gone out to walk. The only exercise I get and I walk different places to try t keep the venue fresh and encourage a desire to return to the exercise. I was walking in a local cemetery named Grandview for its placement atop the hill that overlooks the entire town. There are several small mausoleums and a small civil war cemetery; there is also a strange structure that I have always assumed was a tractor shed but it greatly resembles a barrow mound, instead of a small stone door though it has a large grated door. The grating is unusual, and always reminded me of decorative work you’d see in a Russian monastery. I have looked through that grating several times and never seen a tractor so I’m not sure what gives me the impression it should house one but there is always a stack of concrete mix bags, scraps of wood, and a few lawn tools. It has always given me a creepy feeling when I look through that grate. It is always pitch black because the door did not face either east or west so the sunlight did not penetrate it and there has always been a sense that something more should be inside.
     On that August day I stopped to peer into the room beyond the grate as I have done dozens of times before and as I stood peering into that dark room I began to feel I might see something, or someone, and I my observation became more intense. Suddenly a man called to me from a dozen yards away and so loudly and insistent was his call it startled me. I turned to see a groundskeeper and he repeated his call, “Get away from there!” His look was mixed anger and fear and it confused me. “Come away from there right now! You are not allowed in there!” He waved me towards him as if I were standing in a mine field and feared for my life while he raged at my stupidity.
     “I wasn’t doing anything, just looking in.” I turned to move towards him and felt as if I was moving through a thick mist and my feet were heavy. It occurred to me that the light didn’t seem right and as I moved towards the caretaker he approached me and took my arm.
     “Buddy, you shouldn’t be here.” It was dark; I realized suddenly and was shocked. I had come to the cemetery in the afternoon and I pulled out my cell phone. “Buddy, are you hearing me?” My cell phone showed it was after 9 and there were a dozen missed calls, all from my wife probably wandering where I had been for six hours. On my drive home I was very confused and all that night I could not reconcile the events of the afternoon and that night my dreams were troubled. I had dreams I was moving through my house looking for an intruder but couldn’t find them. All the next day I thought of the cemetery and that dark barrow room.
     For the next three days my mind would swing back to the room and at night I would wander my house in dreams looking for an intruder that I could never find. On the forth night, August the 25th, I caught the home intruder of my dreams. As I passed through the house of my dream I caught site of a shadow and pursued it. The chase exploded through the entire home smashing chairs and destroying book shelves before I caught the intruder. Leaping on their shadowy form a titanic struggle that seemed to last forever ensued. Finally my sustained aggression spun about my quarry and I saw it had my own face! The face, my face, was distorted and bloated and in the dream it was as if my head, the intruders head, was like a bag filled with snakes and the eyes began to bulge. I woke up screaming and my wife jumped out of the bed. Later I put the dream event down to a reoccurrence of the night terrors from my child hood. With the dream passed my life seemed to return to normal.
     A week or so later I found myself back at the cemetery walking again, this time with my wife. As we made our way around the paths amongst the various grave markers we struck up a conversation about the odder ones and about the strange names some bore. We moved by the barrow and my wife made a comment on the oddity of the structure. She made her way to the chamber and looked in much as I had and squinted as if seeing something, I had ceased walking and suddenly felt paralyzed. The sky seemed to darken and suddenly I was subjected to the most terrible and intense pain I had ever felt. It rolled in waves through my face starting at the outer edge then moving inward very suddenly. This pain rolled over my head and through my face in wave after wave almost overcoming me and I felt as if I might pass out.
     Then, I saw something terrible, so terrible that my body was electrified through the pain and to something akin to numbness. The gate, the grated door, was gone! Though my wife stood as if peering through the oddly cut iron there was truly nothing to peer through. But it was not the suddenly missing gate but that which stood hulking within; a great dark mass, indescribable in form lurked within the barrow when there was nothing there before. Its form shifted and transmuted seemingly to always change and my misery wracked eyes and throbbing face could focus on no part before it would shift from beyond the ability to be seen. I felt as if I had ever sought its face, like an eternity groping through a deep cavern with out light or hope! I feared to lock eyes with it and I feared not to find them so as to orient myself.
     Even as I watched and sought to move towards my wife, towards removing her from danger, it reached for her. I could not tell you how, could not describe what kind of unnatural appendage reached from the dark within that man constructed cave but the woman I love could not see it reaching for her and in an instant I burst free of my paralysis. Stumbling and swaying towards my wife I was trying to shout, scream a warning or do anything to move her from that reaching creeping thing in the barrow. My strength of will must have drawn the thing to me for suddenly I felt its gaze upon me. A greater maliciousness I have never felt in my life and although I could discern no face I felt the gaze of its anger.
     I felt the will of this being malevolent and intelligent begin to assert itself on me. I understood immediately it was trying to kill me and it could do so with its alien mind. I was sure my assailant was not human, or super natural, but other natural and utterly without the morals and ethics that our society imposes and our world debates. I felt icy tendrils of decay creeping into the essential being within myself seeking to unravel and destroy. I fought violently, with the desperation of a confused animal. I was in foreign lands fighting for my life and the life of my loved one. I felt as if I was whirling around reaching out, striking out, biting with my mind and flailing with my will all at the same time.
     The connection between the mind of this being and my own gave me a glimpse of the assailant’s memory and thought. I saw a door that had angles all askew and to see them was to feel nauseous. I saw a window of a form to not be perceived by a mind as weak as mine. Beyond the window I saw a world without description or explanation and my mind could not and would never grasp what it saw beyond. And as my consciousness began to collapse upon itself and I knew death was coming for me on swift alien wings when something happened. I felt as if my mind was rapidly reassembled and I blacked as a fast forward assembly of a model, and I blacked out.
     Later my wife told me she looked over from the tractor shed and saw me convulsing in a seizure. She had called an ambulance and I spent five days in and out of consciousness in a hospital bed. Since that day what is left of my life has changed drastically. The inoperable tumor has given the life insurance company sufficient reason to pay out the contract. I also visit the cemetery daily, for long periods, looking into that barrow. The tumor has done something to me and I can see where the thing should be as others could see a missing piece of a puzzle as viewed through a kaleidoscope. I feel as if that fight is unfinished and I am looking for my opponent. I feel as if I have to finish it, I feel that if I do not that something terrible will happen, something utterly horrible that should not happen. Something that now only I can cease or reset after setting it in motion. Something the tumor has put a terribly brief window of opportunity on.

     I know it is waiting but I think it cannot wait until I am dead.

Sasquatch is Made of Money

Jeff Anthony had been searching for 9 years for a big foot. Well, another big foot. When he was a 13 year old on a camping trip with his father he saw his first big foot. He had to relieve himself in the woods during the night and as he sat there with his back propped against the tree he stared out to into the woods around him. His mind wondered as anyone’s would and before long, nearly at the end of his activity, he realized he was staring into someone’s eyes.
                His first thought was, “Why is my father watching me poop?” but quickly the deductive part of his mind put it together that whoever was watching him was not his father.
                He tried to pull up his pant, reach into his pocket for his knife, and pick the flash light up off the ground all at the same time, which really no one could do. The watcher stepped through the leaves before him, and it was huge, easily twice the size of 13 year old Jeff Anthony and covered from head to foot in either fur, or a rug. The eyes were real though, they made it look like a guy in a suit. A really tall guy in a suit, he realized it was big foot and just about needed to put his pants back down. The Sasquatch wasn’t after him though, it turned and ran with that over the shoulder look that all the pictures seem to have.

Nine years later Jeff was ranging through northern Canada looking for that same Sasquatch. He has been looking every summer, always making sure to take no less than a week and recently this has been increased to two weeks since school was going so well.  Early on it was difficult to talk his father into it, but fathers are emotionally weak to the earnest requests of their sons to share in their interest so he had been successful every time. As he got older he started to range out on his own which suited his father fine.
                The other fifty-one (now fifty) weeks of the year he would comb through lore and reports trying to track sightings, only four years ago he realized there had to be more than one  or the one could really move when it needed to. Unlike others, he purposely avoided the sighting’s locations; it seemed to him if the big foot had been seen there already it would avoid it. Nothing walking up right like a human, in his mind, could be so stupid as to go back to where people were seen before.
                The woods were a place of tranquility by this point for Jeff. He was used to the sounds, the smells, and ebb and flow of the environment. He was by no means a part of it, as if a welcomed visitor to a bustling city of water, wind, and small mammals he still knew he was separate. The Northwest Territory was an amazing place filled with all kinds of wonder, and some danger. It was best to avoid Moose, perhaps not inherently violent but better not to anger one and bears were something to be careful of. But the regular camping areas were such that the animals had gotten warning from the scent of humans and tended to avoid them.
                He was sitting in one such camp site, he shared it with a dozen or so others he never saw, when the big foot ran by. Well more than ran by, “hauling ass” was the term that popped into Jeff’s head and he had the vague sense of watching a reality TV show about police chasing criminals. It startled him so deeply that he did nothing at first, didn’t move, even his eyes didn’t widen any. It was so unexpected and the large fur covered beast was so quick and skilled it moved right through the edge of his camp and dodged the propped rifle without even disturbing the wind. In fact, if Jeff hadn’t been looking in the right direction as he sat in the chill evening and ate his beans he would not have known his camp had been infiltrated.
                As he shook off the surprise and stood up to pursue he had a disturbing thought, “How many times have they run right by me?”

                Running through the woods of the Canadian outback, in the dark, with only a flash light is by no means anything near winning the Darwin Award for the year but Jeff was pretty sure it put him in the top ten contenders, at least for the North American continent. Branches whipped his face and chest as he chased after the fleeting glimpses of dark fur ahead of him. It never occurred to him he was chasing a creature twice as large as himself and if it decided to turn, its strength only what the large frame would imply, it would have little trouble breaking him in many places.
                The chase seemed to go on through a labyrinth of trees and undergrowth. Every so often Jeff would see the whites of the eyes of the Sasquatch as he chased him, that classic look over the shoulder, and if Jeff had paid attention or wasn’t over whelmed mentally he might have seen the fear in those eyes. He burst into a clearing and his quarry was half way across when bright white lights shone down suddenly from several directions and Jeff became aware of the sound of helicopters. The Sasquatch stopped in mid stride and looked into the sky. Jeff’s momentum carried him several more paces ending his chase only feet from his quarry.
                The big foot dropped its arms to its side in such a fashion as to imply exasperation and uttered something so astonishing to Jeff he lost grip on his understanding of the universe for a few seconds.
                It said, “Shit.”
                “Wait, what?” Jeff was as shocked to hear his own words as that of the big foot. It looked over at him and purposely closed one eye to stare down at him. Up close he could see it was covered in thick almost black hairs that reflected light oddly giving them as dull brown hew.  The eyes were extremely human, a little larger, but nothing foreign or animal and behind them was a wealth of intellect that startled Jeff to his bones. He had always assumed they avoided people out of instinct; he was sure now that wasn’t the case.
                Amazingly he could tell it raised one eyebrow, although he couldn’t have picked out that eyebrow with all the time in the world. “Look, guy, you’re about to get a bad treatment. Don’t hold it against me; you’re the one who thought it would be fun to chase a Sasquatch through the woods.” Jeff’s mind begun to tie itself into a tight knot of protection against the life changes being imposed on him, this felt good to some extent. The helicopters had landed by this time, three of them in total, and half a dozen men exploded from each armed with sub-machine guns, nets, and what appeared to be cattle prods. The big foot put its hands behind its head and fell to its knees. At this point Jeff was so in shock all he could do was try his best to look in every direction simultaneously. One part of his mind was sure the big foot was being stolen from him when it was rightly his, another part was sure he had eaten a bad piece of beef and was standing naked in the middle of a snowy field going crazy, the very small deductive part knew he was in a dangerous situation and he’d better just shut up and not do anything sudden.

Jeff had ridden in helicopters before. He had not ridden in a military helicopter. He had not ridden with a big foot. That day was a day of firsts for Jeff and they were just going to keep coming. The surrealistic nature of the environment meant his mind gripped tightly to something it could process easily; in this case it was the fact that he had no idea that military helicopters would seem so unsafe. The doors were open and there was a general sense of danger when it banked, like it could easily result in a tumble out to the ground below.  Every now and then he would look over at the big foot sitting beside him, literally so close he could smell it and feel the warmth coming off its furry body.  It looked bored and he couldn’t come to terms with that. Nothing that was going on could even vaguely be considered boring or mundane but by all things good he was looking at a bored Sasquatch sitting in a military helicopter in the middle of the night. If he let himself think on that too long he got dizzy and nauseous so he didn’t think about it.
                During one of his looks at the big foot it turned and gave him the purposeful one eyed look it gave him earlier. He almost threw up but instead turned to look at one of the soldiers completely clad in black field uniform. Oddly, the soldier gave him a little wave. This also almost made him throw up.
                The helicopter he was in separated from the other two at some point and his landed in the middle of bright lights and a throng of active people. He didn’t get a good look but as he was politely led from the chopper to a hangar, and separated from the big foot, he did get a glance at what he would swear was a prisoner of war camp and he got so dizzy at this possibility the two soldiers that were walking with him actually had to steady him. They were very nice about it, which made him very nervous.
                The hangar was cozy warm, they took him to one corner where there was the equivalent of a tape outline of a room on the floor and it reminded him of the old TV show WKRP in Cincinnati. There was a table and a chair they sat him in. One of the soldiers asked him if he wanted anything in a modulated voice that made him sound so menacing that he got shaky knees. All he could do was shake his head, the frightening soldier shrugged and walked off.
                After taking a few seconds to rub his face he realized at some point in the chase he had lost one glove, so he took the other off and laid it on the table almost reverently. Next he fought off the urge to urinate with a nearly mythic application of will power. Then he looked around the hangar, or what he could see of it. Mostly it consisted of large things he assumed were vehicles or air craft covered in clean white tarps. At the far corner was a constructed building he assumed was some kind of office. He realized there was absolutely no one else around him, not a guard, not a big foot, not one person. Jeff realized there was nothing stopping him from running away or snooping around. But for some reason he was almost sure he was being watched. He would search his chest every now and then for a red dot from a laser sight he was positive was mounted on a sniper rifle that was pointed at him.
                At one point he was terrified it was on his face instead of his chest because he wouldn’t be able to see it there.
                Eventually he fell asleep. Passed out either from fatigue or fear or just general boredom and eventually he woke up again. He was face down on the table, drool everywhere, and it didn’t look like anything changed. No one had been by apparently and all the fear had gone out of him with a hint of irritation coming into play. He got up and began to wonder around with sniper rifles and scary soldiers forgotten. The white covered anomalous forms called to him so he sauntered over to the nearest and looked around for anyone watching. If he could be a fly on the wall for a few seconds he would have realized how absurdly comical he looked.
                Bending at the knees, back to the covered vehicle, he reached down with is lips pursued to whistle and only just remembered not to. He lifted the edge of the cloth with studied caution and looked underneath.
                He saw tires. Not tires on a wheel, but a pile of tires. A large pile of tires, he lifted the tarp higher and higher and realized that the entire structure under the tarp was a huge pile of stacked tires. He walked to the next closest tarp and under it was just as large a pile of tires. He was through about six when someone said, “Yup, all tires.”, and he nearly died of heart attack. He dropped the tarp like a guilty school kid and turned around to see a man standing a dozen feet away. He was dressed in black and grey military field uniform with a pistol on his hip and a black ball cap on his head. He was clean shaven; blue eyed, and had a crooked grin on his face.
                He walked forward extending a gloved hand, “I’m Captain Rogers, please no super hero jokes, and I’d like to welcome you to Depot 4.” Jeff took his hand out of instinct and the shake was firm but friendly. “Sorry we forgot about you back there, it was a crazy night last night and I just had to get a few things in order before we could talk.”
                The captain started to walk away and Jeff found he couldn’t move. The man actually walked around the corner and was gone a few seconds before he came back and when he did so he almost sneaked around the corner like he wasn’t sure Jeff would be there. He smiled broadly and called to him, “Ha, thought you had rabbited which would have really been weird right? Come on, we can go to the mess hall and talk and you can get something to eat. You may not know it but it’s been thirteen hours since we picked you and Rick up.”
                “Rick?” Jeff was worried again. He didn’t remember his friend Rick coming with him. Rick should still be in session at the university.
                “Yeah, don’t worry, I’ll tell you everything. I don’t get to do this too often so it’s kind of put me in a good mood.” As the captain talked they weaved in and out of the white tarp covered tire piles back to the entrance of the hangar. They walked out an access door and into a bright, sunny, and cool morning that energized Jeff a little. As they made their way across the base towards the mess hall he looked towards large fenced areas with nothing in them, not even buildings. He could have sworn he saw something there last night but there was nothing now. The man he followed must have saw him looking because he said, “Their all asleep now. Well, most of them.”
                The mess hall was as cozy as the hangar and filled with wood floors, well maintained equipment, and almost a restaurant like feel with deep red curtains on the many windows. Captain Rogers picked up a tray and made his way towards the food service buffet, “You’ve gotta try our steak and eggs Roman is friggin’ amazing with eggs and the steak is fresh. We hunt elk for it.” Jeff felt as if he didn’t get the steak and eggs he would be insulting someone with a gun, so he got steak and eggs. He also got a stack of pancakes (without asking for them) and a plate of bacon and sausage. Coffee, milk, and juice and before he knew it he was bearing an offering of great magnitude to his hidden hunger. He didn’t feel like he could eat.  They sat down at a table near the line and as they did two others entered in the same black uniform except their heads were bear and they were chatting with a bored look on their face.  
                “Gentlemen we need some privacy please.” The captain said to them and without a word both turned on their heels and went right back out. Jeff was pretty sure they took up guard positions. The captain looked down at his equally loaded tray, then up at Jeff, then back to his tray. A moment rolled by very slowly where Jeff didn’t speak. He was beginning to think the captain was praying, and then he began to think the captain was waiting for him to pray. Just as he inhaled to ask one of about a dozen questions that the cool air had generated in his mind the man across the table from him looked up suddenly with a real look of concern in his eyes.
                He screwed up his face then sighed, “Okay, Jeff right? Okay Jeff. This is always the hard part. Do I tell you before you eat or after you eat? I can never tell if they’re the kind that is going to get sick or not. So really, what I’m trying to figure out is my odds of cleaning up puke.”
                Jeff became incredibly scared. So scared he was pretty sure he was going to puke anyway even though there was nothing in his stomach but fear. He had a strange thought right then, what does fear look like vomited up?
                Captain Rogers dropped an arm on the table, which was thick wood and barely made any sound, but still startled Jeff so bad he jumped in his seat knocking his fork flying in the air to the floor far behind him. The captain looked embarrassed, “Sorry, really didn’t mean to scare you like that.” He closed one eye in an almost exact copy of what Jeff saw the big foot do, then he started talking again. “Okay, I’m going to go pre-food and bank you can still eat afterwards. First things first, Jeff with all calmness I can muster into you as a stranger with a gun please don’t freak out. But, you are not ever going to leave here.”
                Immediately Jeff wanted to jump up and run somewhere, it didn’t matter where, but somewhere because running probably would feel very constructive in the face of that statement. Instead something took over and he reached across the table and took the captain’s fork so he could eat the eggs. Rogers made a strange face with a downward pull to his mouth and then picked up his spoon. “You can’t leave because you have seen this place. We had to pick you up because you saw us grab the ‘squatch. You saw us grab the’ squatch because we screwed up and didn’t see you running after it. Which I got to say you rarely see anyone run after a Sasquatch… those are some big sons of bitches! I’m not sure if you’re brave or crazy.”
                Jeff had to admit the eggs were amazing, spiced with something and really just easy to eat. Not runny but not over cooked. The steak was a great compliment and he ate them stacked on his fork. Rogers ate a few bites of pancakes with his spoon and continued, “This facility is one of ten such that produce the majority of tires for the United States and Canada.” This sentence actually stopped Jeff in mid bite. “I know, I know, what in the hell am I talking about, right? Well, it turns out that the reason no one ever sees any big foots running around is because we keep them all holed up in one of ten facilities we call Depots.” The captain nodded a little to himself as he talked and munched on pancakes.
                “What are you saying?” Jeff’s egg-steak-egg fork bite was still half way to his mouth. “Did you just tell me I can never leave this place because they make tires here?”
                “Oh, they don’t make the tires.”
                “Who doesn’t make the tires?” The bite was still half way but it wavered at this point, unsure if it should go forth or retreat.
                “The Sasquatch don’t make the tires we just shave them for the rubber.”
                “Wait, what?” the bite was really unsure at this point.
                “I’m going to tell you very plainly, and you are going to have a tour, okay? Then we are going to give you some training, and find you a place in the system here. We are going to do this because we really cannot let you go, and we aren’t a bunch of murderers.”
                The bite started to retreat at this point.
                “The Sasquatch does not have fur in the normal sense as it is produced by furred animals in the sense of it being a protein construct. No, instead Sasquatch has fur constructed from polyisoprene and a keratin, which honestly is a protein but only a little bit of it is in there. Look basically they grow rubber out their follicles where you grow hair. We shave them, well we give them very complicated and thorough haircuts, and we run it through a process to make tires from it. This is kind of like making cloth; the rubber hair is stronger when worked into a tire than one you’d just pour from tree occurring rubber. Do you follow?”
                Jeff nodded, incredibly he did follow and the bite began the assault on his mouth again.
                Rogers nodded also as if affirming yes in fact Jeff was getting it and he wasn’t going to puke that fine steak and eggs everywhere. Jeff noticed someplace in his peripheral vision there was now a line outside the mess hall. People were hungry.  The captain continued, “Okay, so, you probably want to know why the hell we keep them this far north where it’s cold all the time. It turns out that their metabolism is such that the colder the environment the quicker they grow the rubber fur or ‘frubber’ as we call it here. Plus we have to balance it with the fact they will not for any reason at all wear clothing so they are going to be naked in the cold for a  short period of time after being sheared and we don’t want any getting sick from the cold. Northern Canada must have seemed like a good call as it gets good and cold but with proper care it isn’t kill you dead cold.”
                “How in… wait… who found out they had rubber fur?” Jeff had finished the steak and eggs and was considering moving on to the pancakes, or possibly the bacon.
                “A man named Reginald Bofur, strange dude, saw a big foot and wanted to catch one. He did, they are pretty friendly really and when he grabbed it the story goes it just stood there. This was when tires were first being developed. Around 1900 I think but I’m not sure. He kind of saw the big foot as a ranch animal since he made his fortune from wool and looked for ways to make use of it. Soon he figured out the tire thing.”

Rogers looked over his shoulder at the line outside and shook his head, “They’re getting pissy. I hate too but can we wrap up and move on, there is a lot more to it including some government espionage stuff but you can get all that down later.” The captain got up and took his tray to the nearby trash can and Jeff followed suit. When they exited the mess hall they passed a line of forty or so men and women in various uniforms from paramilitary black to the equivalent of mechanics overalls. They seemed in pretty good spirits and a few nodded or waved as he went by, many said nice things to the captain. One flipped him off and he just laughed.
 They made their way across the compound to a smaller building that was two stories tall. Inside they took an elevator down and Jeff saw there were buttons to go down ten basement floors, all marked by a ‘B’ then a number. They stopped on ‘B3’ and for some reason Jeff thought, ‘You sank my battleship.’, and he found it terribly foreboding.
                They walked out into a clean environment painted in drab browns with a surprising amount of lighting, nothing like he expected. Jeff thought for sure there would either be a sterile white and silver or a hallway of broken concrete and blood smears. He certainly did not expect a mix of doctor’s office and social worker’s facility. There were several people walking through the halls in jumpsuits, or jeans and t-shirts, and a few of the same soldiers he had seen earlier and they were clearly patrolling the area.
                “This is the primary facility on base.” The captain started to tell him, “All the other buildings are only surface structures but when they put this facility in place they went down because ultimately you get deep enough underground and it’s easier to maintain a comfortable temperature for the staff and security. This place is really quite state of the art; it just looks like a Dunkin’ Donuts. But I say that and actually we have a donut shop on level five.” He shrugged as if to say ‘what the hell’ and opened a large set of double doors.
                “This will be your barracks, it’s only about half full right now.” As they made their way into a common area he could see several wide-screen flat panel TVs, game systems, a coffee maker, very comfortable looking couches and chairs. In general it reminded Jeff of his college dorm but outfitted by a rich man. Off from the common area were several doors and most were open. Men and women were lounging in their very spacious rooms. Rogers led him to one of the doors on the left and took the key from the door and handed it to Jeff, who held it like he’d been given some strange alien artifact. The break in the activity made him feel warm suddenly and he realized the heavy winter clothing he was wearing was making him overheated and sweaty.
                The room the captain walked into was easily three or four hundred square feet. There was furniture, a television mounted on the wall, a large very comfortable looking bed, and a foot locker filled with stuff from a brand new collection of current media to an electric tooth brush. Rogers moved through the room seeming to check that everything was in order. “We take care of our people here; after all they can never leave again so it’s best we give them a good life for the decades they are going to be here.” Rogers smile was half threatening and more than half sad. It occurred to Jeff that probably meant him too.
                Suddenly dizzy he stumbled and Rogers moved with almost preternatural speed to help him to the overstuffed chair in the room. “I know buddy, it is hard to take in. You go from hunting in the wilds of northern Canada to being some strange factory worker in a super science facility from Weird Tales.  You’ll settle in though, almost everyone does.” And he smiled a real smile this time.
                “Almost?” Jeff heard himself say it, he knew he thought it, but he had not intended to say it. The almost in the captains statement held an edge of danger.
                The captain actually frowned as if it was an intentional carefully planned action. He sat down on the bed and put his hands in his lap, a strange pose for such an imposing man. He seemed to be trying to take a non-threatening pose to not scare Jeff. This scared the hell out of him.
                “It’s like this. Sometimes residents of Depot 4 try to leave. Most of the time it’s a ‘squatch, but some of the time it is one of the staff. Well, really no one can ever leave. No one comes here and leaves again, for real. I know you’re probably thinking there are a few higher ups that can come and go as they please but this isn’t so.” Jeff was thinking that. “The tires are shipped out by underground unmanned rail way. That way no one really knows where this is at and no one will try to steal our big foots… big feets, what would be the plural of that?”
                Jeff just shook his head. “What happens to the ones that run?”
                “Well we catch them just like you saw yesterday. They usually accept getting caught without too much bitching but every now and then one really gets his frubber up and beats the tar out of a guard or two before we have to hit him with tranquilizers and let him sleep the mad off. Most of them don’t stay out long and Depot 4 has never let one get outside the kill zone.”
                “Kill zone?” Jeff felt like the straight man in a two man play.
                “Let’s not talk about that shall we? You won’t be working recovery so it won’t be important.”
                “But what about the people that get away?”
                “You mean the staff, because really Sasquatch are people. Do you really want to know? Also, no one ever gets away.”
                “Yes.” Rogers waited.
                “No.” Rogers raised one eyebrow.
                “Yes. If I’m really stuck here I need to know what I’m getting into if I want to get back to my family.”
                “You don’t have one. You’re dad passed way five years ago and your mother suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s. You have only one friend you’re close to, Richard Matthings, and he will be notified within the next twelve hours of your death by bear mauling. There was even a body at the camp, trust me, and there will be clear enough identification that no one will need to use more than dental records to identify you and the dental records will work.”
                The captain saw Jeff was shaking so he went to a mini-fridge secreted in a cupboard and pulled out a cold lemon lime soda he opened and handed to him. “I’m sorry for your father; it was a very sudden loss with the unidentified heart murmur. I am also sorry for your mother that is a terrible thing to happen to anyone. Richard will be upset but honestly it’s the best we can do. If you’d like I can arrange to have him brought here but I’d wager that wouldn’t interest you.” Jeff shook his head and Rogers nodded in return.
                “Well, not one to avoid the hard stuff here’s your answer. We kill them.” Rogers leaned back on the bad his hands on his legs. It was evident he was waiting to see what would happen next.
                Jeff did the same.
                They waited for a long time.

Elsewhere on the compound Rick was making his way through the burrows. Everything was always clean which was nice, and the cool felt good through his fatigue. He had run for over twelve hours this time, it we good to be out. He wondered absently about the man that had been abducted with him and where the guy was. He might see him later, maybe in shearing, maybe in fabrication. Or he might be dead; it wouldn’t be the first time.
                He started digging into the wall of a large chamber; the two others sitting on rocks reading gave him a dirty look. He just ignored them; he was always kind of a pariah in his tribe and they disliked anything he did usually. Everyone stored in this wall but it was his digging that ruined their day.
                Whatever.
                For some reason the guy was nagging at him. Rick had run a lot, twenty or thirty times and about a quarter of that someone was picked up with him. Why was this guy getting into his fur? He pulled out the plastic bag with the cigars, took one out and stuck it in his mouth, then shoved the bag back into the dirt and bent over scooping up loose dirt from the floor and stuffing it back into the hole in the wall.
                He did this with a lot of grunts and apparent effort just to annoy the readers. One sighed over and over again conveying his disapproval. After he was finished he walked over to the closest, a male about his height but with definitive reddish glean to his hide and a pronounced under bite.
                “Got some fire?” The other rustled around in a hole by the rock he was sitting on and pulled out a zippo lighting Rick’s cigar. “Thanks man.” Rick smacked him so hard on the shoulder that it would have been interpreted as threatening by others but of an expectedly friendly fashion amongst his own. The other nodded his head absently and went back to reading his book.
                Rick made his way out of the tunnels and onto the field, then over to the fence where he leaned against it. People moved about, a few waved and he waved back. He puffed on the cigar until it went out then he just chewed on it.
                For the first time, he didn’t want the guy to die. He never wanted any of them to die, but he had never cared enough to actively want one not to die. He needed to talk to Rogers.

It was the oddest thing watching them shave the Sasquatch. Jeff had been on the job for a little over a week and had been working easy going 6 hour shifts with a healthy hour and half long lunch but he felt exhausted. Jeff’s job was really simple even; he just dumped the buckets of rubbery hair into the bins, most of the time he just sat there and made small talk.
                Made small talk with the other staff and with the Sasquatch, which was, it goes without saying, very weird for Jeff. He had always wanted to catch a picture of a big foot, maybe find a track and take a plaster cast. He most certainly never wanted to watch one get shaved by two guys in blue coveralls while it smoked a poor quality cigar.
                They were surprisingly disconcerting shaved as well. He did all he could to not think about it. You would think that they would look just normal, well, like a person. Well, a large person with an uncanny resemblance to Neanderthal man.
                No, they had skin the color of charcoal with lighter grey spots and the nubs of their fur jutted out from the follicles giving them the appearance that they were pushing grayish brown putty out of their body very slowly. The shavers had to use their big scissors because there was not an effective electric shear for rubber fur that didn’t risk hurting the person being shaved. They worked as a team, one would cut the biggest chunks and leave behind crude work which the next would follow behind and sculpt nicely getting closer to the skin and get as much as was feasible. The Sasquatch would get really angry if the sculpting wasn’t done right, they were extremely picky about their appearance.
                As Jeff sat on a stool looking down into a cardboard box filled with Sasquatch fur he suddenly realized there was someone standing over him. Looking up it was a Sasquatch with a half burnt half chewed cigar sticking out of his mouth. It bared its teeth; Jeff assumed it was a smile and not a threat so he smiled back nervously. The Sasquatch narrowed its eyes and he had a thought for just a second, “Oh, I messed up and this thing is going to kill me.” But instead it shook its head and walked over to the shearing station where the two workers waited with indifference.
                The Sasquatch held its arms out which placed them above the heads of the shear team. As they started to work on it the big foot took a deep breath, “I’m no good at smiling. Never caught on to it.” And it shrugged.
                Jeff realized he was the intended audience and he waved a hand, “No problem. I figured it was a smile, I’m new here so I was just afraid I offended you.”
                “Ah, we’re hard to offend. You gotta get up in our face pretty heavily.”
                One of the shearers glanced over at Jeff, “Don’t bring up recycling man, whatever you do.”
                Jeff cocked an eyebrow as the Sasquatch went rigid, it’s eyes flared and its jaw dropped revealing a large mouth full of molars at the back and fangs to the front. The cigar fell to the ground with a wet flop. It was terrifying looking and Jeff’s heart sped up a few beats but the two shear workers just chuckled. After a brief moment it relaxed again and shook its head, “Nope, not going to do it.” The shearers went back to work; Jeff felt very much like he missed something and just furrowed his brow.
                “Hey buddy, could you hand me that stogie?” Jeff went over and picked up the moist cigar and handed it to the Sasquatch. The Sasquatch shoved the thing back into his mouth wrong end, grimaced and turned it around with his tongue like a magic trick. “You don’t recognize me do you?” Jeff shook his head. “I was the big foot you were chasing a few days ago.”
                Jeff thought about it and didn’t see anything that clicked. He hated to admit it but he had trouble seeing difference in the Sasquatch and knew that was his problem. One of the other staff told him he’s see it in a few more days and suddenly it would all make sense. “Sorry, I don’t… or… well if you say so.”
                “Ah, new guys always get confused, see if this helps.” Suddenly the Sasquatch struck a running pose and looked over his shoulder spitting out the cigar at the same time forming his face into a panicked look. Its sudden change in pose knocked the hat off one of the shearers and they both gave the Sasquatch a dirty look.
                Recognition surged through Jeff’s mind; it was like someone turned on a light in his brain and he could instantly tell that is was in fact the same Sasquatch. The Sasquatch smiled and turned around again holding out his hand. “Glad to meet you, I’m Rick.”
                Jeff took his hand and shook it slowly, “I’m Jeff.”