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albertnothlit

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albertnothlit last won the day on May 26 2016

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About albertnothlit

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    Sci-fi, fantasy, LGBT-friendly fiction, videogames, traveling, learning new languages.

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  1. albertnothlit

    The alien

    I think the thirst for knowledge has a dangerous side which we too often overlook, to our own peril. However, if I were the first person to find alien life, I wonder whether I would act differently from Charles... I think I would, but the temptation to know would definitely be there.
  2. albertnothlit

    The alien

    This morning, a cylindrical monolith hovers over London. It is the only image on television, a live transmission coming from every channel. Every radio station on the planet, every news outlet, every newspaper, they all talk about one thing and one thing only: the object that came down from the sky, enormous, easily three times the size of any man-made skyscraper. It did not crash to the ground, however. It hovers. It waits. The object, the ship, the UFO… Whatever people call it, its true nature remains a mystery to most. It is entirely featureless, a cylinder of polished black metal that appears to drink in the light and neither emits any sort of electromagnetic radiation nor appears to receive or reflect any of the ceaseless transmissions it has been bombarded with as the entire world tries, desperately, to make first contact. It has no discernible means of flight and the fact that it hovers less than a mile above Central London and yet gives off no energy signature of any kind has every single scientist puzzling over how such a thing is possible at all. It is silent, undetectable by radar, and invisible to every single detection mechanism we have except for our own eyes, photographs, and cameras. We would not know it is there but for the fact that we can see it in the sky. It seems almost like magic – but, then again, advanced technology will always seem like sorcery to the ignorant barbarians who see it for the first time. Scientists are asking the wrong questions right now. I wonder if I should call a news station somewhere and tell them: you should not be asking why the object won’t communicate. Its very presence is already a message. You should not be asking why none of our telescopes picked it up before. It has obviously been designed to be invisible in the blackness of space, its apparent inertness the cloak which kept it hidden from our detection until it decided to show itself. Why has it now revealed itself? This is the question we should be asking. What has changed, or what is about to happen? Is that thing a mere probe, like our own Voyager 1 or Voyager 2? Is it a ship, are there occupants inside? Or is it a weapon? At first, people thought it was the Soviets. A declaration of war was issued by the United Kingdom and all its allies early this morning. Thirty minutes later it was withdrawn when it became obvious that the object did not come from this planet. People fear the usage of atomic weaponry against it as a preemptive measure and many are fleeing London if they can. Military forces from a dozen countries have been deployed and they have converged on Great Britain, patrolling the sky above and around the object, circling the seas, watching, waiting. No one knows what is happening and no one knows how to act. The tension cannot hold for much longer without breaking, I am sure. Even if the object does nothing else at all but hover silently, it is only a matter of time before someone, somewhere, launches a missile or detonates a bomb out of nervousness or negligence or fear. The next few hours will dictate the future of the entire human race. The irony of the fact that we may yet end up destroying ourselves because of our own stupidity is not lost on me. I wonder if They know. Is the waiting deliberate? Is this mysterious silence a display of patience or a display of cruelty, or both? I wonder what will happen next. Here in America many news outlets are questioning the events, suggesting a hoax perhaps, urging people not to panic. They speak of the Roswell incident in the fifties and remind everyone that despite the craze, things turned out to be nothing out of the ordinary in the end. They suggest this is one of those scenarios. They keep telling everyone to just go to work and stay tuned in for any new developments. I suppose they have been instructed to do so by the government. It is working, at least for now – as far as I can tell if I look out the window, the city of Albany hums along much as it has always done, with commuters coming and going on their vehicles, the mailman delivering mail, and people walking their dogs past my house as if nothing were the matter. I treasure these sights of normalcy because I know they will never return. This is no hoax. This is the beginning of the end. *** I waited in the darkness, shivering, for what felt like an eternity until I was certain that I was alone again in the pitch-black hallway. Only then did I open the gate which had kept me safe from my unidentified attacker. My legs trembled as I took my first step out into the hallway. I could not forget the evil shining eyes of the thing that had chased me, and I did not want to even hazard a guess as to what its true nature might have been. There were too many unknowns, too many mysteries piled upon mysteries. I knew, now, that by returning to this accursed Observatory I had stumbled onto something sinister and secret, something that surpassed all other strange occurrences which had taken place over the years on this site. Step after hesitant step, I made my way down the hall in total darkness, trying to be as silent as possible so as to avoid detection in case that thing were still out there, somewhere. My mind was a jumble of fear and confusion. I knew one thing for certain, however. I needed answers. I climbed the stairs which led out of the basement and it was only when I had shut the door of that awful place firmly behind me that I could relax, if only slightly. I was out of that darkness at last and I made my way quickly through the building until I reached the corridor which led to the bedrooms. My heart was pounding in my chest and I was sweating, but stronger than the fear or the urge to simply run away and never come back there was an angry sort of curiosity which needed to be satisfied. I needed to find Charles and demand an explanation. I did not care about the late hour. I would find him, even if I needed to wake up every last person in the household in order to do so. I first made my way to Charles’s bedroom but it was empty. I walked back down the corridor and looked up when I reached the staircase which led to the attic. The heavy reinforced door at the top was ajar. I did not hesitate. I walked up the steps two at a time, breathing heavily, afraid of finding the thing which had chased me but also determined to put an end to the questions. I pushed the door aside when I reached it and stepped into a place which I remembered as a wide open space in which Charles had sometimes taken refuge and sought solitude in order to think. It was nothing of the sort now. The place was… transformed. It had been transformed into a laboratory, I could see. The heavy, unpleasant smells of chlorine, formaldehyde, and animal waste all assaulted my nostrils at the same time and threatened to make me retch. Under the illumination of several cold electric lights set on the ceiling, I was able to take in the entire scene in an instant. I saw several long, flat tables set at regular intervals all along the center of the rectangular space. Many of them were stacked high with equipment from the biology lab. Others held piles upon piles of books. Paper sheets of every size littered both the tables and the floor beneath, all of them covered with lines of notes in the tight scrawl which I recognized as Charles’s handwriting. A shelf to my right held dozens of jars and pots with liquids of various colors, many of them unlabeled. Another shelf, further down and standing between two of the large windows which offered a view of the grounds beyond held… Things. Things in jars, suspended in either alcohol, formaldehyde, or some other preserving agent. Some of them looked like fragments of living things, paws, eyes, inner organs. Others look like embryonic reptiles or mammals or birds. And still others I could not identify, but I must confess I averted my eyes before I could ascertain just what the horribly misshapen unborn things floating inside implied as to their origin. My attention was drawn to the opposite wall without too much effort, for here I saw the cages. Many of them were empty, but some were not, and by God, I wish they had been. I took another hesitant step forward but then stopped. It was all I could do to remain standing there, staring at the animals inside the cages, instead of running downstairs screaming in visceral fear. Three cages had living things in them. In the first one, which was about three feet by three feet, I saw a creature which had often been in my nightmares over the past three years. It was a squirrel, larger than usual, standing perfectly still and staring at me with horribly intelligent eyes. Time had changed it, however. It was now completely green, having lost all semblance of fur. Instead, moldy growths undulated over its skin like a horrible caricature of what fur should be. Its eyes were now a golden shade of green, and they glowed. They glowed just like the eyes of the thing in the basement. When I made as if to move forward again, the squirrel tilted its head in a gesture I could only interpret as idle curiosity. It looked at me, unblinkingly, and I could not shake off the impression that I was being analyzed, but not by a brainless animal. Movement in the second cage drew my eyes. It was a larger cage, and inside it there was a cat, except it was not a cat. It could not be. Cats do not have six legs. The creature there stared at me as well, motionless, in complete silence. Its eyes did not glow, nor was its fur green, but I had the exact same impression as I watched its abominably deformed body as I did when I had watched the squirrel. I was being observed. I was being analyzed. The third cage contained a featherless bird, large enough to be an eagle and yet with the shape and proportions of an ordinary pigeon. It was disgusting to look at, not only because of its lack of feathers which made it look like a plucked chicken, but because of the fact that there appeared to be something underneath its skin which undulated ceaselessly, pushing against it as if trying to break free. The misshapen creature must have been in agonizing pain and yet it also stood as if petrified, in absolute silence. Its eyes never blinked as it, too, stared in my direction. I lifted my hand up to my face. All three animals followed the motion in unison. I heard a groan then, muffled, coming from beneath the cages. I broke free of the horrified spell under which the discovery of the animals had seemed to put me and walked further into the lab. It was then that I saw Henry lying facedown on the floor, next to the largest cage of all, a cage big enough to hold a grown man, the door to which looked as if it had been torn open. Despite my disgust, the fear, and the awful smell, I made my way forward and knelt beside Henry. I turned him over carefully, trying my best to ignore the stares of the three caged animals. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I also caught the faintest hint of motion from some of the things floating in jars on the shelf by the opposite wall, but I refused to look in that direction. Instead, I focused on trying to revive the unconscious youth before me. “Henry. Henry, wake up!” I said, flinching at the very obvious effect which the sound of my words had on the creatures nearby. They moved at last, approaching the mesh of their cages, trying to get closer to me. Then they stopped and resumed their horrible staring. Henry moaned again. He appeared to have hit the side of his head against the floor, judging from the bruise I could see and the blood running down his temple. I should have perhaps been more gentle and patient, waiting for him to come to his senses in due time, but the circumstances were anything but normal and I needed answers. I shook him several times until I finally got him to blink. “Henry!” I called loudly. “Do you know where you are? This is Daniel. What happened here?” He opened his eyes at last and focused on my face. He blinked twice as if confused, like a person who has been woken up suddenly in the middle of the night. Then he sat bolt upright. “Where is it?” he cried, but then he grimaced and brought his right hand up to his temple. He swayed weakly and I steadied him with my hands. “Where is it?” I demanded. “Henry, answer me!” He looked at me and, for the first time, appeared to realize that I was there. His eyes widened in alarm. “Mr. Fenton. What are you doing here?” “Something attacked me in the basement. I need you to start talking. What is going on here?” But Henry ignored my question, instead looking to the right, at the large empty cage next to us. He started shaking. “It got away. Dear God, it got away.” I grabbed hold of his shirt, tugging on the sling in which he carried his wounded left arm by accident. He grimaced in pain. “What got away?” I demanded. He tried to jerk away from me but all he managed was to tear off the sling and expose his wounded arm. I could not help but look. There was a bite mark there, and it looked infected. The edges of it were covered with blackened scar tissue, but some of it was… fuzzy… I let go of him, recoiling, and jumped back onto my feet. Slowly, still in evident pain, Henry stood up as well. He leaned back against the cage with the squirrel and the animal inside did not reach for him or attack him in any way. I realized all of the animals were still looking at me. My mind reached its breaking point quite suddenly and I turned around, intending to run away and never come back to this awful, godforsaken place. As I did so, though, I saw Charles rushing up the stairs. He came to a shocked standstill at the threshold of the attic door. His clothing and his hair were soaked through. “Where is she?” Charles demanded. He looked all around wildly, spraying water droplets everywhere. “Where is she?” It was the last thing I expected him to say and so I stood still, dumbstruck. “I’m sorry, Charles,” Henry whimpered behind me. “I was dizzy… She waited until I opened her cage to feed her and then…” “No,” Charles whispered. He stepped forward a couple of steps, blinking quickly, as if his mind were racing. He started signing and appeared not to notice. Then that thing at the well… I thought… “We need to catch her,” Henry said. I glanced back at him and saw he was swaying on his feet. His brow was beaded with sweat and there were dark circles under his eyes. He looked really unwell. “We need to catch her before –” “It’s too late,” Charles interrupted. He walked up to a table and leaned his hands on it as if he were under a great burden. “She’s gone. And just when we were finally getting her to talk!” He slammed his fist on the table with his last word. I started, surprised at the outburst. Then I saw how Charles reached up to his neck and clutched the fragment of meteorite that hung from its metallic chain around it. It was my turn for an outburst. “That’s it,” I said loudly. “That’s it! Charles, tell me what is going on here right now.” He focused on me as if for the first time noticing, truly noticing, that I was there as well. Danny, he signed. It’s nothing – Don’t you DARE tell me it’s nothing, I said, my gestures violent, stepping forward until only the width of an examination table separated us. I was just downstairs in the basement. Something came for me, Charles. Something with eyes that were glowing just like that damned pendant you wear. I will ask just one more time. What is going on? Charles looked at Henry fleetingly. I followed his glance, and I noticed how Henry’s knees buckled under him. Instinct took over. I rushed back and caught him before he could hit the floor, grunting under the youth’s weight. He was unconscious, I saw. His body felt clammy. Silently, I glared at Charles. “Help me carry him downstairs,” I told him slowly. “Then, you talk.” Charles nodded sheepishly, all traces of his previous anger apparently forgotten, and he swung Henry’s left arm over his shoulders while I did the same with the right. Together, awkwardly, we left the ghastly attic behind and stumbled down the stairs until we reached my room, which was the closest one. We dragged Henry to the bed and set him down with effort. I’m going to call Mr. White, I told Charles. Henry needs a doctor. But Charles shook his head. It’s no use, Danny. Doctors can’t help him. Sit down. I’ll tell you everything. I hesitated. But no matter the antipathy I might have felt towards the youth, it was clear to me that he needed to go to a hospital as soon as possible. I don’t know what’s going on, Charles, but I will not be an accomplice to negligence. I will be right back. I walked down the hall and turned right at the corridor which led towards the servants’ quarters. I knocked on Mr. White’s door, pounding really, and he opened it a few seconds later, bleary-eyed. “I am sorry to bother you at this late hour, Mr. White,” I said. “It appears Henry has fallen ill. Kindly see to it that a doctor is called right away, and if none is available, make all arrangements necessary to take Henry to the nearest hospital. You may use my car.” I handed him the keys. It took him a moment to nod. “Yes… Certainly, Mr. Fenton.” “I would also greatly appreciate your being discreet about this whole matter,” I added. “I do not know what has happened to Henry, but it will not do to begin spreading rumors around. Do you understand?” “I do,” he answered, standing up straight. Even in his pajamas, he managed to portray an air of calm efficiency for which I had never been more grateful. “Thank you. I will be in my room with Henry and Mr. Wentworth while you sort things out.” I turned around and hurried back. I found Charles sitting right where I had left him. He appeared not to mind his wet clothes at all. Henry was still lying on the bed, eyes closed, his breathing apparently shallow. Now we talk, I said to Charles, sitting on the armchair opposite his. What is happening? What were those… things I saw upstairs? And what, just what attacked me in the cellar? Charles took a shaky breath. He looked at the door once, as if contemplating either leaving or arguing. But then his shoulders slumped and he nodded. It’s the meteorite, Danny, he said, his fingers quick as they danced through the air. It’s always been the meteorite. Do you remember the mold? Yes, I answered, recalling the many times over the years that I had seen it, either around the crater or inside the property, like the day I had visited the maid, Ms. Avery, who had complained about its presence in her room. Wait here, Charles told me. I frowned but allowed him to leave since I couldn’t leave Henry alone. Charles hurried out the room and was back within a couple of minutes carrying a medium-sized fish tank in his arms. The tank must have been transparent and one point, but now it was a uniform shade of slate-green. Charles set it on a small coffee table beside my armchair. His expression, strangely enough, was… eager. What’s this? I asked him. For an answer, he opened the lid that had been covering the top of the fish tank. An overpowering stench of rotting vegetable matter wafted out from the open container. Inside, I saw mold. A lot of it. Watch this, he signed. Then he reached his hand into the container. “Don’t!” I cried out, but Charles ignored me. He plunged his hand into the velvety mass. His fingers never touched it. The moment I thought his skin would come in contact with that thing, the mold shrank away from him, contracting to half its original size. Charles moved his hand around and the mold did its best to avoid being touched. Openmouthed, I watched the display for several horribly fascinating seconds. I cannot help but be reminded of certain species of anemones which will retract their tentacles when they sense danger nearby. This was the same thing. Somehow, simple vegetable mold was able to sense that Charles’s hand was nearby and it appeared not to like it. Why is it doing that? I asked him. That’s not all, he replied. Now watch this. Charles slipped off his pendant and hung the fragment of meteorite over the fish tank. Slowly, so faintly at first that I thought my eyes were deceiving me, the tips of the mold stalks in the tank began to luminesce. It was that same light, that very same gold-green light that by now I had grown to hate. As if in reply, the core of the meteorite fragment gave off a soft glow of its own. Charles put on his pendant after a few seconds, closed the lid of the tank, and set it down on the floor so it would be out of sight. Aghast, I again saw that, far from being horrified, he looked fascinated. Pleased. He was very nearly smiling. Charles. Explain. I think the mold is a new kind of life form, Danny, he said, and he could not stop himself from grasping his pendant for an instant. It must have come inside the meteorite. Do you remember how cold it was when we found it first? I have long thought about that, and many other things. Any sort of biological agent a meteorite could house would surely be destroyed by the enormous heat of atmospheric reentry and eventual impact, would it not? But what if it had, somehow, been designed to keep its contents cold so they could survive and take purchase after reaching a new world? What are you saying? I gestured, although I knew very well what he was implying. This mold is an alien organism. It has to be. It’s too different. I have studied it for years now, and it’s… Danny, it’s fascinating! I shook my head slowly, horrified. My logical mind came forward, I suspect, as a kind of defense against the unbelievable things I was hearing. Charles, consider Occam’s razor. A far simpler explanation is bound to be the correct one. This mold looks like any other mold, even if it behaves differently. You cannot say – Oh, but I can, he interrupted me. I exhausted every other possibility. I was patient. I experimented. I observed. Danny, this mold does things to other living creatures, things that nothing on Earth would be able to do. You saw the creatures in the lab upstairs. Those monsters? Monsters? he echoed, frowning, as if the thought had never occurred to him. Rather, advances. Hybrids. Most of them failures, yes. But it’s part of evolution, is it not? Trial and error. Mutation and eventual success. I shuddered, thinking of the misshapen animals I had seen in those cages. What purpose could such horrible mutations serve? Here, incredibly, Charles grinned. His expression reminded me very sharply of the way he would smile whenever I arrived, on my own, at a conclusion he had carefully guided me to. Exactly, Danny. Well asked. Why has this alien thing come? How was it sent here, and for what purpose? We do not know it is alien, I countered. It is. I understand your reticence. It took me years to reach these conclusions and you have had less than a few hours to process this entire experience. Nevertheless, I am certain you will arrive at the same conclusion I have. This mold comes from a different planet and the vehicle it used to travel between the stars was designed. It was a meteorite, I reminded him. A horrible fluke of nature which killed your entire family. Charles grimaced slightly and, although it had been a low blow, I was glad to see that he could still feel bad about that ancient tragedy. “Do you remember that night?” Charles asked me, turning his back to me so he would be able to look out the window, arms crossed behind his back. “Yes,” I said softly. I doubted he heard me. He continued, nevertheless. “Perhaps you have forgotten one detail, Danny. Or perhaps you did not see. Do you remember how closely we were following the thing I thought was a comet? Do you remember how my calculations showed clearly that it would come close but not impact with the Earth?” “Of course,” I replied, stepping forward and raising the volume of my voice a little bit. I looked out the window and saw nothing but darkness through the glass, but in my mind’s eye I could see that night once again. “I wasn’t wrong, you know,” Charles said quietly. “My calculations were correct. But there was a flash of light, do you remember? An unexpected flash of light. And the trajectory of the comet changed.” I blinked. I did remember that. I hadn’t thought about it for years, but he was right. “What happened?” Charles went on. “What changed, why the light? It was calculated, Danny. It must have been an explosion of some kind. Fuel burning in the void. Bright chemical exhaust. Something. And its ultimate consequence was to alter the trajectory of the comet so it would impact. It was planned.” “Nonsense.” He turned to look at me. “Really? I have gone over that night hundreds of times, thousands. At first I had doubts but no longer. This thing, this object, was sent to our planet. Some form of intelligence, whether directly present or long ago programmed in some way, directed the comet so that it would enter our atmosphere and deliver its payload. The vessel itself was carefully engineered. Remember the odd coolness of the meteorite when you found it. No material on Earth is able to sustain such a temperature differential in the absence of active energy production. And why bother keeping the inside cool, if not to protect the delicate biological cells it housed? The entire system is a masterpiece. It is an incredibly efficient way to send living biological matter across the vast empty expanses of space in such a way as to ensure that the contents will have a survival chance after impact. Can you imagine the inherent complexities of creating such a machine? We are in the presence of either great genius, or nearly incomprehensible technological advancement. Maybe both.” I shook my head. Cold sweat beaded on my temples. “Maybe. But even so, it does not change the fact that this thing is evil. It corrupts everything it touches. Like the things in your lab… Or this odd luminescing mold… Or the thing that attacked me downstairs.” A shadow of worry appeared to pass over Charles’s features but then he frowned as if pushing it aside. “You would have been in no real danger. She was much too weak. And just when I was about to get her to communicate…” “She?” “Ms. Avery, of course. We kept her upstairs for the better part of three years. It’s ironic that only now, when the corruption had truly spread –” “What? Charles, was I attacked by the maid, Ms. Avery? The one who disappeared three years ago? The one who somehow returned to her village in the middle of winter when we all thought she had died?” “Yes. Her family sent her back to me eventually. They said she kept escaping and wandering off in the direction of the Observatory. It was about six months after you left. They said they could no longer care for her and so they entrusted her to me. I kept her upstairs while her condition worsened. It was fascinating to witness. She had been infected by the mold but, somehow, it was nowhere near as aggressive with her as it had been with the reporter, Eoin Caine. You remember him, yes? We read his journal.” Flashes of memory swept past my mind. I remembered the increasingly desperate notes I had read in those pages. “Caine must have died within a week of infection,” Charles continued, seemingly oblivious as to the growing horror plainly visible in my face. “Ms. Avery did not. I’m not sure, Danny, but I think the mold was somehow… learning. When it killed those missing hikers all those years ago, it was almost instantaneous. A single night and they all went insane. With Caine it took a week. Ms. Avery is still alive, in a way. The life form is making progress. It is adapting itself better to inhabiting terrestrial organisms without killing them. You should take a walk through the woods around the crater if you can. You’ll see a lot of squirrels… They always watch me when I get close. Silently. Like the one that sneaked into our bedroom that night. They are all green now, no traces of silver fur anywhere. Their eyes are… different...” “This is madness,” I whispered. I took a step back from him. I did not know what horrified me more: the possibility that he had gone insane and all he was saying was a figment of his overactive imagination, or that he was speaking the truth word for word. “Quite the opposite, Danny. We are in the presence of intelligent life even if you find it hard to accept it. There is a purpose behind this invasion, if indeed an invasion it is.” “And just what purpose is that?” I don’t know, he signed, reverting back to silent language without appearing to notice. I have tried to find out. I was making progress, but now she’s gone. Is it hostile? Is it slowly taking over the planet? There is so much to learn… So much… Charles, this needs to stop. Look right there! I gestured, sweeping my hand in the direction of Henry’s prostrate figure. The authorities need to be notified. Whatever this is, it’s dangerous. We must let other people know – “NO!” Charles screamed. “No. Not when I’m so close. We must know, Danny. I must know. Why is the alien here? Why did it come? Is it one or many? Is the mold conscious? Or can it only attain consciousness if linked to a living creature? Even if it’s going to destroy us, we can learn so much before then! All this time I have been hopelessly beaming out information to the stars, hoping to get a reply, and the reply has been here all along! Don’t you see? I… I… I need to go to the crater. I need to find Ms. Avery before she –” At that moment, someone knocked at the door and a moment later Mr. White entered the room. He had changed into clean clothes. “The doctor at Tupper Lake cannot travel here, Mr. Fenton,” Mr. White notified me. “He nevertheless agreed to be awake and ready by the time Henry is transported over to him. I have prepared your car, as you asked.” “Good,” I replied before Charles could get a word in. “Get two of the cooks to help you carry Henry over to the car and take him there posthaste. You will drive, Mr. White. you know the road to the village far better than I.” He nodded. “And you, sirs?” I looked at Charles. He appeared conflicted. He looked at me, at Henry, at me again. Then that abominable pendant of his began to glow. I’m sorry, Danny, he said. I must know. I must. Then he took off running, faster than I had ever seen him move before in my life, roughly pushing Mr. White aside. It took me a moment to recover from the surprise and then I sprinted after him. “Get Henry to a doctor!” I yelled at Mr. White as I rushed out of the room. Then I ran, trying to catch up to Charles even if I could not see him anymore. From far off, I heard a heavy door being slammed. My own footsteps pounded down the hallway as I made my way to the place where I knew Charles must have gone. It was the only place he could go. The crater.
  3. They often say that curiosity can be dangerous sometimes, and I suppose that for those with a very strong natural inclination for inquisitiveness, it may be hard to resist. In the case of Daniel, he is beginning to learn that sometimes it is best not to know... Although, by now, he is in too deep and it would appear it is too late to retreat into blissful ignorance.
  4. It is now morning. How long has it been since I last slept? It seems as though I have been writing these memoirs for weeks, but I know this is not the case. I turned on the news today. There is mistrust, and there is confusion. Some people suspect the truth by now but their voices are being drowned by others who call them alarmists, liars, or agents in the service of some foreign power or another. Here in America we blame the Soviets. I have seen no less than three news programs where they suspect that the troubling findings some astronomers have been reporting related to the strange brightness of the night sky are surely either lies or, much more worrisome, indications of secret atomic tests which threaten the entire human race. Explanations have been proposed, each one more outlandish than the last, such as the fact that the oddness of the moon last night must have been the consequence of a covert nuclear detonation on the surface of the satellite. Official government communications downplay these crazy theories, but that is not stopping them from spreading. Have the Communists really sprung so far forward in their relentless technological advances as to allow them not only to reach the moon itself, but to experiment with nuclear weaponry on its surface? Does this mean the end? Is nuclear winter a matter of time? How many cities will be destroyed? How many of us will survive to witness the desolation after humanity destroys itself? It is ironic that, even at a moment like this, most of us cannot help but think that destruction will come from within. I do not know what the military of my own country will do, but I can guess they are not sitting idle while these rumors are floating around. The signs are now too numerous, too worrisome, to simply ignore. They must be preparing themselves for war. They are fools. We cannot win against this enemy. I have not left my house, but through my bedroom window, I have seen how one of my neighbors prepares for what he must believe is the inevitable nuclear strike which is sure to aim for nearby New York City. I have watched him carry numerous boxes of supplies into the fallout shelter he built in his backyard five years ago. His wife watches him from an upstairs window, a worried frown on her face. I noticed earlier that their children did not go to school today. Should I go out and tell him that no amount of preparation can save him, or his family? Should I go out into the streets and begin yelling like a madman, proclaiming the truth I know and which, I am certain, no one will believe? Or should I simply wait? It does not matter. Soon they will all know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that it is not the Soviets we have to fear. *** The morning after my return to the Observatory, I felt the strong temptation to simply leave. Charles obviously did not want me there anymore, and if he had… If he had already replaced me, as I had discovered very painfully last night, then surely there was little point in me staying. Henry was there now, younger, annoying, ever-smiling. What had he called me the day before? Ah. His predecessor. I got dressed as soon as the sun rose that day, my thoughts dark, my expression grim. The day outside mirrored my mood as it was overcast and rainy. I went to breakfast early enough to be certain that Charles would not be up, and it was only the cooks I met in the kitchen at that hour. I asked for scrambled eggs and toast, and ate alone in the dining room, already thinking about what I would do with myself and with my career now that working together with Charles, as I had envisioned, was obviously not an option anymore. I supposed I could work with my father. He was getting on in years and I was certain he would be more than happy to train me to become his successor and inherit his clients. I could also apply to a local university, or join one of the postwar research projects which I knew to be still ongoing from among the contacts I had made during my service. There were options available to me, which made the bitter disappointment of last night somewhat easier to swallow. I would have liked to have lived here, in the Observatory, together with Charles once again and to spend the years researching as we had done for that wonderful, altogether too-short year. It was not to be, though. I tried to convince myself of this fact as the morning progressed. I went back into my room and gathered my things. I planned to leave as soon as possible, but the rain outside had begun to fall harder, reaching storm proportions around noon. Although the road leading out of the property was paved, the way was winding, narrow, and treacherous. I had no wish to endanger my life by leaving right then and driving in the middle of a downpour, so I resigned myself to another day of staying. I kept to myself, however, spending the hours of early afternoon reading in my room next to the window, finding an odd sort of solace in the unceasing patter of heavy raindrops against the glass. The temperature descended quite drastically, in stark contrast to last night’s warm weather, and evening found me wearing a robe while sitting in an elaborate and rather comfortable armchair next to a fireplace which I was deciding whether to have lit or not. I was sipping some black tea with honey which helpful Mrs. Thompson had brought to me a while earlier along with my supper. When the knock came at my door around 5 PM, I supposed it was her once again. “Come in,” I called, not even looking up from the copy of King Lear I was idly perusing at the moment. It was only when the door closed and no greeting came that I glanced in that direction and realized that Charles was standing there, looking uncomfortable and apologetic. Hello, Daniel, he signed. I did not see you at lunch. I did not answer. I watched his gaze land briefly on me and then slide away, almost as if he were afraid to meet my eyes. I registered the small frown on his brow when he saw my suitcases, ready and packed, next to the door. Too bad about the rain, I gestured, nodding briefly in the direction of the window. I’m afraid I will have to inconvenience you for one more night. You were leaving? Charles asked, as if there could have been any doubt as to what I had meant. Of course. I get the distinct impression that my… my help is no longer needed. Not to worry, however. Tomorrow, weather permitting, I will jump on my car in the morning and – “Don’t,” Charles interrupted me, accompanying the word with a gesture. What? I asked. Don’t leave. I came here to tell you that. Please don’t leave. I raised my eyebrows to inflect mild sarcasm in my hand gestures. I was under the impression that my presence here was rather superfluous. Your assistant appears to be quite capable. Charles grimaced as if I had insulted him. He helps me, yes. But he is not a colleague. He does not understand half the things I talk about, let alone offer any meaningful contributions to the research. He is just that, an assistant. He is not a researcher like you or I. I could not help it. I smirked ever so slightly, remembering the self-important way in which Henry had, the evening prior, referred to the work he and Charles did as ‘too complicated to trouble me with it’. So you accepted my return because you need a colleague? I asked him. Yes. My work gets more complex all the time and I need another capable mind to discuss ideas, results, and theories. I could offer you quite a generous salary if that would make you reconsider, Daniel. I greatly value your academic contributions. Not only would we share in credit for any discoveries, but you would also be able to build capital of your own. Perhaps he had meant it sincerely, but that was precisely the last thing I had wanted to hear from him. He wanted me here as an employee, then – nothing more. I looked at Charles, long and hard, until he looked away. Then I stood up to command his attention once more. I thank you greatly for your generous offer, I said, and the expression on my face made the tone of my gestures clear. I was disappointed. I was angry. I was hurt. I’d had enough. I’m afraid, however, that I will have – The moan interrupted me, shrill and grating, coming from the attic above my room. It was the same horrid sound that I had heard last night, but muffled, as if its source was being somehow contained. As before, goosebumps erupted on my skin and I resisted the urge to cover my ears in order to block the gurgling noise that sounded like a drowning animal in the agony of death. I looked at Charles. He seemed alarmed. “I’m on my way!” Henry’s voice called from the hallway beyond. I heard running footsteps and the hurried jingle of keys. I heard the groan of a heavy door opening in the distance and the deep thud as it was slammed shut. The moaning stopped. What is happening? I demanded, stepping closer to Charles. What is that noise? Please don’t leave, Danny, he said, his face betraying genuine fear. I need you here. Then he opened the door and rushed away before I could say anything. I followed, of course, and I saw him go up the staircase that led to the attic. When I got there, however, Charles had already disappeared through that heavy door reinforced with metal and he did not open it despite my insistent knocking. I did not see Charles again that day, although around dinnertime I caught a glimpse of Henry as he dashed across the hallway yet again. Curious, I followed him to the chemistry laboratory where I saw him cleaning his left arm under the stream from the nearest faucet. “Is everything okay?” I asked, stepping inside. He whirled about, evidently surprised. He covered his arm with his hand but I thought I saw blood. Had he been injured? “Yes, yes, nothing to worry about, Mister Fenton. Please, don’t let me keep you.” He left the laboratory without waiting for me to reply, still clutching his left arm. I did not see him again for the rest of the day and I spent the night listening intently, but nothing else out of the ordinary happened and eventually exhaustion claimed me. I slept well into the morning of the next day, waking up only as breakfast was brought in by Mrs. Thompson, who looked sympathetic and slightly apologetic. I began eating. Someone knocked at my door before I had finished my poached eggs. “Come in,” I said, not even bothering to stand up. Charles appeared in the threshold, looking haggard. He entered the room with only slight hesitation. “Is everything okay?” I asked him, speaking since my hands were occupied with fork and knife. I wanted to know. Have you reconsidered? Will you stay? He looked as if he had not slept at all last night. Quite unusually for him, he was still wearing yesterday’s clothes and he had not shaved. It was mildly shocking for me to see him like this, since I knew he could be quite fastidious about his appearance. “What is going on?” I demanded. “What was that business yesterday?” Charles shook his head. An experiment. One of many. Nothing to worry about, I assure you. Henry is in charge of it and it is not the most important of my many endeavors, not by far. I need help, Daniel. The Array has been functional for several months now and the data I am collecting is too complex to make sense of by hand. I need help in developing a new mathematical model to process such large amounts of information and you are the only one I know with the background and capacity to provide meaningful input in order to accomplish it. Perhaps he had meant it as a compliment, but all I heard was that the only reason he wanted me around was because he had become so reclusive and isolated from the world that I was the only one who could call on for academic help. I set my utensils aside. I don’t know, Charles, I answered. I see things are different here and I am not sure whether I would be a good fit for this place anymore. I have also changed, you see. My time away has provided me with both experience and a new outlook on things. I have several other offers for employment and, to be honest, after spending a couple of days here they now appear rather more appealing than they were at the beginning. I was lying, of course, but only partially. While I had no concrete prospects at the moment, the night’s rest had made several things clear, among them, that Charles need not be the only source for academic and professional fulfillment in my life. I’d had to admit that the main reason I had come back had not been because of the position itself, but rather because I had looked forward to spending my time with Charles again. But not as a mere colleague. I can increase your salary… Charles ventured, but I cut him off. It’s not about the money. Please do not insult me like that again. I shall be leaving either today or tomorrow, depending on the weather. Charles grimaced. Daniel… I… Can you at least stay for a little while? For a week or two? Whatever for? Please, he insisted, and I saw, in the clipped tightness of his gestures and the way he pressed his lips together, that he was desperate for some reason. Just so I can show you the work I have done, the progress I have made. Once you see, once you understand… I may yet convince you to stay. Please, if I may be so bold as to ask, do it as a favor to me. Two weeks. Give me two weeks. I hesitated. I wanted to leave, didn’t I? But seeing Charles essentially begging for me to stay was hard and I found my recent certainty falter. I… I started to say, but found I have no follow-up. Two weeks. Please. Charles stepped closer to me, crossing the room to stand just a couple paces away. He clutched the pendant he still wore around his neck, closing his fist around the fragment of meteorite that hung from the chain. Strangely, he looked over his shoulder, almost as if he were afraid of being overheard. I need you here. I need you to understand. Henry – But at that moment Charles’s eyes widened and he gasped audibly. He stepped back, away from me, his terrified gaze directed at the window to the right, which offered a view of the garden. He gestured with exaggerated clarity when he next spoke, almost as if he were speaking to someone who could barely understand sign language. I hope you will reconsider, Daniel, he said in this manner. I thank you for your time and look forward to seeing you at supper. Then he all but whirled around and left the room with quick strides. Bewildered, I looked through the window, but I could not see anything there worthy of attention or frightening enough to elicit such a reaction from him. It was only when I stood up and walked up to the glass that I noticed faint indentations on the brown, soft soil which the gardener had already prepared for the seeds he would be planting later. The indentations looked like animal tracks, small, such as a cat might make. There was nothing odd about them per se… Except for the fact that, instead of seeing sets of four tracks as I might have expected, there were two very distinct places on the ground where I could see a cluster of six individual pawprints arranged strangely on the soil. I was not a tracker, however. It may have been nothing, although I could not suppress a shiver from going up my spine all the same. I spent a lot of time in my room, thinking. When suppertime came, I had finally made up my mind to stay for the aforementioned two weeks despite my misgivings. My decision came about due to a mixture of curiosity, concern, and the sense that I owed Charles at least this much due to our shared… friendship of years past. Thus, I sat down at the table opposite from Charles and promptly communicated my choice to him after most of the meal was over. He smiled, visibly happy. Thank you, he told me. Really, thanks. You’re incredible, Daniel. I-K, I signed, conveying mild humor through my expression. I know. What should we begin with? What do you need help with the most? He smiled. First, I would like you to take a look at – But Henry came in at that moment, his arm in a sling. Charles stopped abruptly midsentence and switched to spoken language. “I have been developing a mathematical model which can help me parse large quantities of recurring data sets and find irregularities within the recurrence,” he said, nodding at Henry as the latter sat down next to him. “All the information you will need will be made available to you through Henry here. I suggest you use the physics laboratory in the main building. If you would like, Henry can bring you the information this afternoon so you can begin to look over my model. I am most interested in your opinion regarding the trial data set and the conclusions the model arrived at. I think it is working as intended, but a second opinion would be invaluable to me. I am using the calculations already to try and make sense of several bursts of electromagnetic waves I have detected with the Array, and I must know whether I am working with adequate tools or whether any part of the algorithm is faulty.” We should look at it together, I signed quickly, deliberately avoiding spoken words since I now suspected that Henry was not all that fluent in sign language. “Unfortunately I cannot,” Charles said, exchanging a fleeting glance with Henry, which made me grit my teeth. “Tonight I will be very busy at the… At the Array. I must gather more information. I’m afraid we will have to work separately for the time being, Daniel. I hope that is okay. If all goes well, in about two or three nights I should have finished with the matters which keep me urgently engaged and then I would be very happy to go over any notes you might have on the mathematical foundation of my work.” I paused. What was going on here? First, Daniel had appeared to be nearly desperate, begging for me to stay and help him. And yet now he was dismissive and acted just as he had in the evening of my arrival, as if he were far too busy to deign give me more than a few minutes of his time. I was angry but my curiosity was growing. So I merely said, aloud for Henry to understand, “Sure. I shall expect the relevant information in a couple of hours, Henry.” “Certainly, Mr. Fenton,” he said. His voice sounded a little raspy. “If there is nothing else, I think I shall go write a couple letters,” I told them. Dessert still had not come, but I was not in the mood for sweets anymore. “Of course,” Charles said. “Thank you again for reconsidering.” I did not answer. I simply left and spent about an hour and a half catching up on correspondence. Later, without much enthusiasm, I went to the physics laboratory to do as I had promised and help Charles with the theoretical aspects of his work. Upon entering I found that two notebooks and four ledgers full of information had already been deposited on one of the tables, presumably by Henry. There was nobody in sight and I settled down on one of the comfortable armchairs next to the library shelves in order to peruse the information which had been provided to me. Several hours later, I was still reading. Despite everything else going on, I was fascinated by the elegance of Charles’s equations, theorems, and diagrams. There were segments which I could not understand at all, and the more I read, the more my admiration of him grew. In the years since I had last seen him he had developed a suite of mathematical tools which he had expertly arranged into a system capable of sifting through large amounts of data in an extremely efficient way. In theory, the model he presented would allow him to do the work of several dozen people at once and, just as he had said, identify irregularities within recurring sets of information. That in itself was not too meaningful – at first glance. But it all depended on the application. From my time dealing with encrypted information in Chicago, I knew that what Charles had developed here would be enormously valuable not only in astronomy, but also in code breaking, economics, and even biology. I was amazed. So engrossed was I with my reading, in fact, that it was only after my hunger became too insistent to ignore that I set aside the documents and looked at my pocket watch. It was an hour after midnight. I stood up with a sigh and stretched. I decided to go to the kitchen to procure something to eat. I knew I might even find one of the cooks still awake, since ever since Charles had hired them years ago, he had stressed the fact that at least one of them should be on call at all times to prepare food in the middle of the night whenever Charles scheduled a night of observations through the telescope. I stepped out into the hall, which was dark and silent. I looked in the direction of Charles’s room but saw that the door was open and it was dark inside as well, so I surmised he must still be wherever it was he went at night. Of Henry there was no sign, and I saw no one as I made my way to the kitchen. Once there, a sleepy cook made me a tuna sandwich after a bit of grumbling. When it had been prepared, I thanked him and took my food elsewhere, as I did not like to be in the company of the cooks for longer than was strictly necessary. There was something about their large, watery eyes and the unnerving habit they had of barely even blinking which I had never liked. I ate as I went back to the physics laboratory, and I was so hungry that the sandwich was gone by the time I made it to the door. I was about to enter when I heard a faint crash. I immediately thought of the metal door upstairs, but this crash had come from somewhere different. It had sounded as if a clay pot had shattered, and it had come from… From the lower level, where the basement was. I made my way there, of course. I was getting tired of all the mystery and the strange goings-on at night, and it was determined, this time, to find out the source of whatever had made that noise. I walked quickly but silently across the hall, past the servants’ quarters, and turned right into a narrow hallway which ended in a heavy wooden door which gave access to the basement. I found it open, thankfully – it swung in easily at the push of my hand and I made my way inside. I found myself at the top of the staircase which led down to the basement. Although I knew the layout of the place, I had scarcely had reason to come down here on more than a handful of occasions, and so I hesitated for an instant, looking down and straining my hearing to catch any noise a person down there might have made. I heard nothing, however, and after several seconds of indecision I started my way down as stealthily as I could. I did not know just why I wanted to hide the fact that I was exploring this area of the building late at night, but some kind of instinct told me that it might be best if I were not discovered. Therefore, my steps were as quiet as I could make them. Illumination was not a problem. There was an electrical switch at the top of the stairs which had been previously turned on by whoever had preceded me. Several electric lights ensconced at regular intervals along the walls now provided ample brightness, therefore. I did not know whether they were always kept on or whether the person down there had turned them on temporarily, but they made the going much quicker. Once I had made my way down to the main landing, I quickly saw the object responsible for the noise which had originally alerted me. A porcelain vase lay shattered on the floor, next to an ornamental table from which it had presumably been knocked down to the ground. I examined the fragments for a moment, but found nothing worthy of more attention and so instead I looked down the low-ceilinged corridor to try and find the person who was here. The corridor was somewhat long, and the very end of it was in darkness. Along its length, there were several cells for storage of various things, and I looked into each one as I quietly made my way forward. The first two on either side of me held nothing but foodstuffs. They were large and quite generously stocked with all manner of preserves in glass jars, sacks full of what could only have been flour or grain, cured meats hanging from hooks on the ceiling, and row after row of tin containers filled with things like sugar, salt, tea, and coffee. The next two cells held spare equipment and fuel in the form of neatly-stacked firewood and gallon after gallon of gasoline for the generators. Beyond that, there was a locked cell which still held its solitary lead box full of deadly radium and nothing else. Opposite it, I saw a rather chaotic assortment of tools of various kinds, from gardening implements and sacks of dirt and manure to construction equipment, picks, shovels, and even a single bear trap on the floor. The metal gate to this cell had been carelessly left ajar. At the end of the corridor, in relative darkness, the final cell led to the well. I was still several steps away from it when I heard a loud splash. I made my way up to the gate in a hurry, hoping to go through, but it was locked. I tried pushing against it, but the metal bars held firm and so I was reduced to looking through them and into the space which had changed so much since I had first been here that I could barely recognize it. The well itself still occupied the center of the cell, but it was larger than I remembered. There was no direct illumination inside the space, but even in the gloom I could see ripples on the surface of the water, the aftermath of whatever had jumped into the well. Mystified, I rattled the gate to see if I could shake it loose. The lights went out at that instant. I froze where I was, looking back down the hallway which led to the staircase I had recently descended. Someone must have heard me and turned off the lights using the switch at the top of the stairs. I swallowed, feeling guilty, and took a couple of steps back in the direction I had come. “Charles?” I asked in the dark. I could not even see my hands in front of my face. “Henry? It’s Daniel. I’m sorry. I heard a noise and…” A noise interrupted me, coming from far down the hallway. I hesitated. It had sounded strange. “Charles?” I asked again. “Henry?” I heard it clearly this time in response to my voice. It was a choking kind of gurgle, clearly audible even though it was coming from a distance. I had previously heard such a noise before, that night I had stopped below the attic. It had come from beyond the heavy locked door that Charles had never allowed me to open. The tense silence was quickly broken by a dragging sort of shuffle and then a heavy thump. There was a pause, a shorter dragging noise, and another thump. Then again, and again. It sounded as if someone were dragging a heavy sack down the stairs, one step at a time. “Charles?” I said for a third time, but now my voice was small. The shuffling stopped, but then, horribly, it increased in tempo, drag-thump, drag-thump, drag-THUMP. I heard a faint crack after the last thumping sound, as if something heavy had carelessly stepped on broken porcelain. Whatever had been making the noises halted and then I heard it again, much more clearly now: the gurgle as if from a drowning animal… and my heart nearly beat out of my chest when I realized that I could see something in the darkness now. I could just make out, at the edges of my peripheral vision, two faint pinpoints of green-golden light that hovered around waist height at the landing of the stairs, dead ahead from where I was standing. Terror seized me when the dragging resumed, slowly, accompanied by the fragile noise of shattered porcelain being shoved aside by clumsy motions. The two pinpoints of light approached with each shuffling drag, and my horrified mind could do nothing but think that those were eyes, a pair of eyes that glowed in the dark and that were approaching, haltingly, but inevitably. I had the distinct impression that the eyes were fixed on me. Mind racing, I remembered that the cell to my left, the one with the odd assortment of gardening tools, was open. I took a single step in that direction. There was a very sharp gurgle coming from the end of the hallway and the eyes were raised as if in alarm. Then the thing screeched, it screeched, and rushed at me. I heard the dull slaps on the stone floor followed by more heavy dragging and the only thing I could picture in the total darkness was a corpse with no legs clawing its way towards me with its rotten forelimbs, eager to strike. I screamed. At the same time I impelled my limbs into frantic motion, feeling as if I were trapped in a nightmare where every step took an eternity and I could not coordinate my motion well because of the terror sizzling through my brain. I was certain my life was in danger, though, and so I sprinted to the left so fast that I slammed my head against the side of the gate, which I had been unable to see. I threw my arms out, ignoring the pain, and my right hand smacked into the sharp edge of the open gate. I grabbed onto it and pulled myself through, slamming it shut behind me with every ounce of strength I possessed. I was not a second too soon. The glowing eyes reached my position and threw themselves at the gate. I was assaulted by a stench that was equal parts rotten meat and rotten plant. The gurgling was so close now that I could also hear a sort of labored breath underneath it, the horrible huffing coming from the waist-high thing that threw itself once more at the gate. With another panicked yell, I pushed back against it and fumbled in the darkness until I found the bolt which would secure the gate. Whatever was on the other side was very strong – twice it almost managed to pry the gate open despite the fact that I had my entire weight behind it. On the third try, I used a momentary lapse in its horrible keening to slam the gate shut once again and lock the bolt tight with both hands. The creature crashed against the gate yet again and the force of the impact threw me back. I lost my balance and fell down on my bottom. I landed on what must have been a sack of dirt. The darkness was still complete and so I was unable to see anything but the eyes, the horrible eyes. I was at their level now, after having fallen down, and now that they were so close there was no doubt in my mind that they were watching me. Another vicious gurgle issued from an unseen source beneath them and the eyes never left my own, staring hungrily, accompanied by that nauseating stench that threatened to make me retch despite my terror. I could not speak. I could not move anymore. If the thing broke into the cell I was certain I would not be able to defend myself. The tension held for several agonizing seconds. There was shuffling, scratching, and that abominable breathing. Then the eyes turned away, in the direction of the well. I heard more shuffling. I heard that other gate being rattled as I had done. And then I heard… It sounded like something soft bursting. It sounded like bones snapping under enormous pressure. There was even more labored gurgling and weaker, slower dragging noises. An eternity later, there was a splash. Then nothing else. Nothing but the darkness, my pounding heart, and the certainty that I had stumbled into unspeakable horror which I would never be able to forget.
  5. I have, a couple times, taken relationships for granted, with friends for example, and I remember seeing those people again after essentially neglecting the friendship for weeks or months or even years and kind of feeling betrayed by the fact that their lives are so radically different now. A close friend might become just a friend or a friendly acquaintance over time and it hurts because I, at least, have felt irrationally sad at the way things change over time. It’s a selfish thing to do, to expect that others will essentially pause their lives or be forever trapped in some sort of stasis for you to drop by whenever you feel like it. I tried to capture a little bit of that in this chapter. Danny was so caught up in his own quest for external validation that he thought he could pause things and that Charles would just wait around like a book you leave, half-finished, and expect to resume exactly where you left it whenever you want. Three years is a long time. Much has changed at the Observatory. Charles has not been sitting idle. He has been investigating, learning, experimenting, and Danny might not be ready for the things Charles is beginning to understand.
  6. Alas, how often have I wondered whether things would have turned out differently had I acted otherwise than I did. If I had not left Charles alone to fulfill what both the law and my own conscience dictated to be my duty, would I have been able to stop the events which unfolded? Or were they perhaps unstoppable, destined to happen despite the pitiful amount of resistance that a single human being would have been able to oppose? Would we have found another way? Would we have been able to act before it was too late? And that terrible, soul-shattering misunderstanding at the end… could it have been avoided? These are idle musings, of course, but they are what keeps me awake at night in my old age. The ruminations, the conjectures, the cruel simulations of what could have been… I cannot stop them anymore. Not now, not with doom so close at hand. This will be, I surmise, the last peaceful night the world will know. I do not know what the morning will bring, but I am sure it will be laced with terror. I am too late. These memoirs will serve no purpose now, and they will bring no warning to those who might have acted, had we had more time. Nevertheless, they bring solace to me. The bittersweet act of recall cannot be equated with living, but it is the next best thing for someone who hears the hollow, patient, approaching footsteps of Death. I will not sleep tonight, and so I put pen to paper once again, shunning the typewriter on my desk and the abominable technological symbolism it stands for. If nothing else, I would like to remember, to think back on it all, one last time. *** I traveled to Albany to hire builders who could help us seal the crater for good. It was to be a short trip, one week at most, and yet I did not return to the Observatory for three years after I left. I remember saying goodbye to Charles, asking him whether he had reconsidered coming with me. He kindly but firmly declined – he was happy in his own little domain, isolated from a world which had too often ostracized him for one reason or another, and I understood when he said he would be happy where he was, waiting for my return. He kissed me tenderly in the privacy of our bedroom the morning I set out. I shall never forget that kiss. As for me, taking the car and driving back to civilization was a cathartic experience. I had spent nearly all my life in the relative bustle of a crowded city and, although I had enjoyed my time with Charles immensely, part of me was desperate for more activity, for human contact, for the excitement of news and the feeling of being part of the irrepressible current of progress which our country was relentlessly navigating. I also missed my family, and in fact, upon arrival, I spent the better part of five days in nothing more than idle chat with my mother and sister, as well as evening talks with my father and his colleagues. My father’s attitude towards me, now that I was both financially independent and ostensibly successful in my pursuit of scientific endeavors, was a mixture of pride and satisfaction. I basked in the glow of my father’s smile when he would brag about my position as a friend and colleague to one of the richest men in New York to his clients and acquaintances when they visited our home. I had always struggled with feelings of insecurity, of not being good enough for my father’s lofty expectations of his only son, and it was a wonderful sort of relief to know that now he held me in high esteem, even if there was an unspoken shadow between us, a silent question: why had I never shown any interest in any of the eligible bachelorettes with whom I might have started a relationship long since? It was also good to catch up with both the relatively unimportant family minutiae, which for us were nevertheless matters of great significance, as well as with the greater happenings in the world at large. On the personal front, my sister was finally engaged to one Hans Quaker, a lawyer my father knew well. Though older than my sister by some fifteen years, he was a well-established man, of good reputation both professional and personal, and his intentions towards her had never been anything but formal and serious. I met him and spoke with him at length for a couple of evenings, after which I became convinced that he was a good match for Melinda and would be a welcome addition to the family. It was during one of these late-night conversations, over thick cigarette smoke, that Hans brought up the matter of the Great War for the first time. I had read about it, of course, and had been following its course for some time now, but I had been greatly alarmed at the shift in tone in the newspapers from the time I had left the previous year to now. Whereas before only rumors of possible American participation had been spoken, citing mostly idealistic reasons, now there was an unmistakable hostility directed at the Germans and the Austrians that appeared to foreshadow the inevitability of our joining the conflict. President Wilson’s fervent stance of neutrality appeared to be losing supporters, and there were predictions everywhere forecasting that Congress would formally declare war before the end of the year. I thought about these developments for several long hours that night. The following day I went to the University and spoke with many of my former colleagues. A draft was all but imminent, some believed, and many more had already volunteered, registering of their own free will in the event something happened. I spent much time thinking that night, too. To this day, I do not really know why I volunteered to fight. Part of it was undoubtedly out of a deep sense of civic duty, but now I suspect that the real reason I did so was to impress my father. I wanted to prove to him, and to the world, that I was a man in spite of who the object of my love could be. It was a way to prove my bravery, my masculinity. It was a way for me to ensure that I would never be criticized again. Of course, my physical disability made me ineligible for combat – but qualified mathematicians and physicists which could use their talents in complicated endeavors such as code breaking were in relatively short supply, and so, in April 1917, less than a month after I had returned home, I was sent to Chicago to work in the nascent field of wartime cryptography. My time of service was challenging but rewarding. I felt not only the satisfaction of doing my part for the war effort, but I also received respect and recognition unlike anything I had known before. I was exposed to many things I did not know existed and I was able to glimpse the world at large for the first time. My organizational talents and my drive for self-driven initiative were praised, and it did much to boost my self-esteem, which had never been the best to begin with. I was never in any physical danger, of course, but nevertheless I was received as a hero three years later upon my return to my family home. Though the nature of much of my work had been classified, and I could therefore not elaborate too much on it, this in itself appeared to further increase the respect others treated me with, from former University colleagues, to professors, to my father. He beamed with pride when he spoke of me to others, and that was the greatest reward I could have hoped to receive in exchange for the privilege of serving my country. The time spent did not come without sacrifices, of course. Chief among these was the fact that I had not seen Charles in years, and I had not heard from him in months. He had spent all of this time still in the Observatory, and it was more than a month after my return that my letter notifying him of my intention to resume my work at his side received a curt, rather formal reply in which he stated that he would welcome my return and my contribution to his research. I was worried as I drove to the Observatory three weeks later, in mid-September of 1920. I did not know what to expect, particularly given the fact that communication with Charles had stopped altogether for nearly a year before I returned from Chicago. At the beginning, his letters to me had been lengthy, descriptive, and emotional. I still carried them with me everywhere I went. The first one he had sent after I had told him of my intention to volunteer had been encouraging and rather sweet. In it, he had told me that, while he would have preferred that I return to his side as soon as possible, he understood and respected my decision. He hoped for my safety and even mentioned that he was proud to call me his… close friend. After I was sent out of state, we exchanged monthly correspondence for the better part of a year. I always told him how I was feeling, how I missed our work together and how I hoped the war would be over soon so I could return. He, on his part, kept me updated on the progress of his various projects. He was very excited when he finally began construction of the parabolic array which would beam electromagnetic information out into the stars, calling out to whomever or whatever would be able to listen. He also explained at length how he had developed what he called a mechanical parsing station which would be able to decode incoming transmissions which his array might receive, a machine of his own invention which, he admitted, was woefully inadequate to the task but would still be a help in making sense of any patterns he might be able to detect. The general timbre of his words was hopeful and curious, two of the characteristics I prized most in Charles’s personality. This changed during the second year. I still sent him monthly letters, but his replies took longer and longer to reach me. When I inquired about this he merely said he was much too busy to dedicate time to anything but pressing matters of research, and during the third year I received only one letter from him – then silence. Had it not been for the fact that Charles was in regular communication with my father for matters of administration of his dwindling fortune, I would not have known that he was okay until after my return. I had even doubted that the letter I sent as soon as I arrived back in Albany would receive a reply, but I had gotten one, at least, even though its dry and professional tone was much removed from the warmth of our earlier correspondence. It was therefore with a mixture of anticipation and nervousness that I arrived at the gates of the Observatory complex late one Friday afternoon. Things had changed, and my first inkling of this was the fact that the gate was watched by two men who demanded that I identify myself before allowing me through. They appeared to have a direct wire line to the Observatory itself, since one of them disappeared for a length of time while I waited in my car, only to come back a short while later and say that I was expected. He gave me directions to the main building as if it were my first time visiting. I merely thanked him and drove through the gate, onto a paved road which I had not expected to find. Even from afar, as my vehicle rounded the bend in the valley which allowed me to see the property under the setting sun, I could see that the gate was not the only thing which had changed. Whereas before both the main building and the Observatory tower had been surrounded by small but orderly gardens and pathways which had given the place a charming air of both mountain resort and bucolic simplicity, now the impression I received at a glance was one of cold, efficient severity. Neatly-trimmed hedges at right angles served as boundaries between three distinct areas in the property. The first one, the main building, remained much as it had been a few years ago, with the exception that the walls had been painted a drab shade of gray which was extremely unattractive. The windows on every level were now barred with what appeared to be wrought iron, and there were electric lights set at regular intervals along the perimeter of the edifice which I saw turn on as I drove further along the smooth road ahead. Although utilitarian and no doubt installed due to a logical reason or another, I did not like the changes. They made the place seem like either a sanatorium or a prison, and the effect was oppressive. Not once, not even when Charles and I had visited this location after nearly a decade of neglect, had I felt unwillingness to approach the place. Now I did. Connected to the main building by another paved road which was both much too wide and much too short to have warranted asphalt, the observation tower stood stark against the darkening sky. It had not changed much itself, but now it was surrounded by a wall and the only entry into the inner courtyard which would then allow passage into the Observatory itself appeared to be a gate which, unless the distance deceived me, look heavy and imposing, and it was shut tight. Tall hedges grew along the wall as if trying to hide it from view from the ground. Whereas before it had been an inviting building, and one of my favorite places, I now felt not the slightest desire to go visit such a forbidding location. But, of course, these changes were small, unworthy of much attention, when compared to the largest transformation which had taken place on the section of the property which had previously been the crater left behind by the meteorite. There, instead of the familiar bowl- shaped indentation on the ground, I saw the culmination of years of work and undoubtedly much of the remaining Wentworth fortune, in the shape of an enormous parabolic antenna. It was an arresting sight, even from afar and with insufficient light. The antenna bowl appeared to be made of solid concrete and it occupied every square inch which the crater had formerly hollowed out. Its scale was such that it was only when I was far away and looking at it from above that I could properly get a sense of its structure and dimensions. The parabolic bowl was big enough to contain a small lake. I could not imagine the amount of raw material that must have had to be brought to this place simply to build such a structure. It had to be the largest of its kind in the world, of that there was no doubt in my mind. It could easily have been the centerpiece of a world’s fair, and I was surprised that no mention of the true scope of this endeavor had reached me, either through my father or through the newspapers. Surely the mere act of building such a gigantic apparatus would have been enough to get Charles’s name in print throughout the entire state. The fact that it had not been appeared to indicate that Charles was purposefully refraining from any fame which this endeavor may bring him. But why such secrecy? Had not one of Charles’s goals been to eventually become recognized and honored in his field of study? The futuristic array held my gaze all through the long drive down into the valley. Even when darkness threatened to set in I could still see the three tall pylons which were set along the perimeter of the bowl, each one easily half again as tall as any of the surrounding trees. Lights blinked along their length, and these slender but sturdy-looking towers were connected to the parabolic array and to each other by a series of taut cables which must have been made of metal, the purpose of which I could not fathom. A tall crane stood off to the side, mighty and robust. Its arm stretched out over the dish at a height of no less than 20 feet, and from its end there hung a complicated structure made of metallic scaffolding which supported a strange hemispherical device which must have been at least six feet in diameter. I knew enough about elementary trigonometry to recognize that this device hung at the precise point where the three-dimensional paraboloid’s focus would lie. Therefore, any incoming electromagnetic waves would be reflected by the dish and concentrated at this focus. Given the size of the thing, even minute signals could conceivably be amplified and analyzed. The opposite would also be true: resting at the bottom of the bowl, aligned with the suspended hemisphere of metal and glass, there were several smaller stations which reminded me of radio towers. I could only guess, but I suspected that their purpose was to beam a signal through the focus point and out into the dish, which would reflect the waves out into space very efficiently indeed. The entire contraption was futuristic to the point where I felt, more than at any other time, that Charles’s mind, its thought processes, and the consequences of such, were decades away from modern science or engineering. He was single-handedly advancing humanity’s understanding of the cosmos by leaps and bounds instead of steps. Whatever the end result of this, the mere act of its construction was already a monumental success and a testimony to the genius which acted as the driving force behind it all. I eventually reached the bottom of the valley and made my way up the immaculate yet stark driveway until I stopped the car in front of the strangely forbidding staircase which led to the heavy doors of the main building. A servant was already waiting for me, and I could not help but grin upon recognizing Mr. White, the butler, who opened the door to my vehicle with a smile of his own. “Mister Fenton, a pleasure to see you again,” he said, bowing slightly. His tone of voice sounded warm and genuine. “It has been too long, Mister White,” I replied. “Indeed,” he conceded. At a sign from him, a servant I had not noticed earlier approached the vehicle. I gave him my keys so he would be able to unpack my belongings, and I ascended the staircase with Mr. White. “It has been… three years, I believe?” “Just about, yes.” I said. He opened the heavy double doors for me. I stepped into the pleasantly warm space, the smell of which brought back memories very vividly. “How was the war? If you don’t mind my asking, that is. I – we, the old servants at any rate –, we hold you in high esteem, Mister Fenton. Volunteering to serve one’s country speaks volumes about a man’s character.” I could not help but smile at the compliment. I followed Mr. White to the dining room, which had been prepared for a single person. I sat down gratefully at the table and continued my conversation with him while a couple of servants brought me dinner. “The war was… interesting,” I said while I refreshed my face with a damp cloth and dipped my fingers in a water bowl to clean them. “I did not see combat action, of course.” “Of course,” Mr. White echoed. “You worked in the technical side of things, did you not? Highly secret, very important matters.” “Classified matters for the most part, yes. You must forgive me if I cannot elaborate too much on their nature. It was fascinating work, however. That much I can say.” He nodded to himself, as if confirming a suspicion he had held for some time. “A man of your intelligence, you must’ve done a lot of important things. Those Austrians never stood a chance.” I chuckled. “I’m afraid that would be overstating my contribution. I did learn much, though, and I feel satisfied with my time of service.” I ate while Mr. White stood nearby and our conversation continued quite pleasantly. I was served roasted venison, one of my favorite dishes, a fact which was not lost on me. Mr. White had obviously prepared for my arrival and he was succeeding in making me feel at ease and, most importantly, welcome. The one thing which could have made the evening even better was seeing Charles, and in fact, as I was finishing dessert, I began to feel slightly anxious and disappointed at the fact that he had not come yet. Surely he would have wanted to greet me? “Where is Mister Wentworth?” I asked White eventually, once my meal was over. Servants had cleared the dishes and I was enjoying a small glass of scotch. For the first time since my arrival, he looked somewhat uncomfortable. “Mister Wentworth –” “Is otherwise occupied,” another voice said. I looked to the left and saw a bespectacled man walking up to the table. I had never seen him before. “He sends his apologies and asked me to tell you to please make yourself at home. Tomorrow, time permitting, he will be sure to make some time for you.” I stood up, frowning. I had the distinct impression that the faint dismissive note in his tone of voice was no mistake. I walked over to him and offered a handshake. “Good evening, Mister…” “Giuliani,” he said, reciprocating the handshake weakly. His hand was soft and somewhat clammy. “Henry Giuliani, Assistant to Mister Wentworth. Please, call me Henry.” I blinked. “Henry. I am Daniel Fenton,” I said automatically. “A pleasure,” he said, smiling. The smile did not reach his eyes, however. I stepped back from Henry, half subconsciously I suspect. I took stock of him. He was shorter than I by a few inches, slim of build in a way which bespoke a certain fragility, as if he had never known manual labor in his entire life. Very pale skin contrasted sharply with black, wavy hair which he wore somewhat longer than I was accustomed to seeing in men after three years of war time. He must not have served, then, although he was younger than I by at least five years, which meant he was squarely inside the demographic for young men called by the draft and had been so since the beginning of the conflict. Odd. He wore very stylish clothing which made it seem as though he were just about to go to a ball, and his features were quite handsome and aristocratic. Nevertheless, I felt a slight but undeniable aversion to him which I could not quite place. Perhaps it was the fact that the flowery perfume he wore was overpowering, or the way in which had spoken to me, or even the appraising look he gave me at that moment which must have mirrored my own. “I finally meet my predecessor,” he said with a thin smile. “I have heard much about you from the servants, I must admit.” Aversion was quickly kindled into outright dislike by that utterance. It implied several things, none of which I liked. “Where is Mister Wentworth now?” I asked rather directly. Henry shrugged apologetically. “I’m afraid he is busy at the Array. We have just had a burst of quite promising emissions which we hope to parse and in which to perhaps find a pattern other than simple chronological recurrence… But you must forgive me for mentioning such boring and complicated scientific details. Charles and I scarcely think about anything else, odd and dull as it may seem to outsiders.” “Is that so,” I said in a steely voice. His overtones were not lost on me. The implication that I would not understand their work. The casual familiarity with which he referred to Charles. “Please, let me show you to your room,” Henry said. “You must be tired after your trip. White, is everything ready for Mister Fenton?” “It is,” Mr. White answered, and he and I exchanged a glance that spoke volumes. “Should I show Mister Fenton…” “Nonsense, we want to make him feel welcome after such a long absence,” Henry interrupted. Then he directed himself to me. “Please, this way.” I followed him down the hall, nodding acknowledgment to the servants I recognized along the way. Force of habit let my steps straight to the door of the bedroom I had shared with Charles. I stopped and waited for Henry to open the door. He chuckled. “Your room is this way, Mister Fenton,” he said to me, pointing to the bedroom I had originally occupied when I had just moved into the property. I frowned and hesitated. I could have imagined it, but upon seeing my hesitation, Henry’s thin smile got wider. I decided not to argue and followed him to my previous lodging. He opened the door for me and showed me in. Mrs. Thompson, one of the maids, was busy at work preparing the fireplace and the bed. “Mister Fenton, it is so good to see you again!” she said to me, making an adorably archaic curtsy. “Likewise, Mrs. Thompson. I hope you have been well?” “Very much so, thank you. It has been too long.” Henry cut in. “Mrs. Thompson, if you would kindly finish here as soon as possible, I’m sure Mister Fenton has had a tiresome trip and he wants nothing more than to rest instead of having idle chitchat. Please make haste.” This time I actually turned to look at the obnoxious youth pointedly. He merely kept smiling in that annoying way of his. I then exchanged an apologetic nod with Mrs. Thompson, who looked hurt by the way in which her warm greeting had been cut short. I did not know what game Henry was playing, but the war had taught me many things. Chief among them was how to recognize an enemy when I saw one. I decided to bide my time and offer nothing more than bland pleasantries until both Mrs. Thompson and Henry had left me alone in my room. They left rather soon, thankfully. It was as if Henry could not wait to take his leave. Once on my own I wondered where Charles was, and whether he really was working. Why had he not come, even to say hello? We had not seen each other in three years and I was… I was hurt that the servants had seen fit to prepare for my arrival and make me feel at home and yet he had not taken even five minutes out of his day to come greet me. I wondered just to what extent things had changed during my absence. I wondered whether Charles even wanted me here anymore. Though I was tired, the first few hours of that night brought me no rest. Sleep eluded me. Thoughts and memories went round and round in my head, both from my time away and from the time I had spent within these walls. I finally gave up on trying to sleep when I saw the first hints of tenuous moonlight through the small window across from my bed. I got dressed once again and decided to seek Charles out in person so we could talk. I could have waited for the morning, of course, but I knew that I would not be able to rest until I found out exactly where I stood with him. What had happened in the interim from my departure to my return? Who exactly was this person who called himself his assistant? And why was I getting the distinct impression that there had been an ever so slight hint of fear in the demeanor of all the servants? It could have been that my mind was running wild, but I needed to be certain and so I opened the door to my room and stepped out into the darkness of the hallway. It was well after midnight by then, and the silence was nearly complete. The only thing I could hear, faintly, was the low hum of the electrical generator in the basement. I walked quietly in the direction of the main entrance, not wishing to disturb anybody. I still knew my way around well, and walking through the Observatory at night was second nature to me from the many nights spent watching the stars in Charles’s company. I left the main building and stepped out into the warm night, unbuttoning my jacket. Once outside, I took a moment to simply breathe and take in the calm wonder of nature which surrounded me. I had missed this, I realized right then. Being away in a large city had been good, interesting, and very stimulating, but it could not compare to the serenity of a mountain valley like the one in which I found myself. I could hear crickets hidden in the bushes, and the low rustle of leaves as they swayed under a gentle breeze. The air smelled clean and invigorating, possessing qualities which I could not quite place but which appeared to reach deep within me and give me clarity of mind as well as an unexpected sense of strength. If only it had been as dark as I remembered. This one detail was missing, and after my brief pause, as I started walking down the path which would lead me to the Observatory tower, I found the harsh illumination from the new lamps increasingly jarring. Before, when Charles and I had first moved here, the darkness of night had been all but impenetrable. Now I felt as if in the middle of the city, making my way on a paved road and passing post after post crowned with a harsh bright lamp which shone down on me. It made the place seem larger, in a way. It also made the once-familiar path to the telescope unnerving. It felt as though I were being watched by an unseen guard, despite the late hour. It made me feel, somehow, as if I were trespassing on private property without an invitation. The sound of my footsteps seemed much too loud for me, and I hastened to reach the Observatory tower as fast as I could. Once there, I arrived at the gate I had seen earlier. It was closed. I looked through it – the cupola which housed the telescope was dark and the windows showed no signs of light either. Nevertheless, I wanted to go inside and see whether I could find Charles upstairs, perhaps, like he had so often been in the past, puzzling over his incomprehensible data ledgers. I tugged on the gate experimentally near the place where it would open, but it was shut tight and it would not budge. I do not know why it bothered me so much, but my mood turned sour after a few more seconds of trying to get in unsuccessfully. No door here had ever been closed to me in the past. There had been no need. Now everything was different for some reason, and the vague air of obsessive secrecy that I had detected ever since my arrival took on a more evident, more oppressive air. I was annoyed. As I made my way back to the main building I caught sight of the Array, as Henry had called it: the parabolic antenna and its surrounding apparatus. The tall pylons blinked in the night sky, and without really deciding to, my steps took me in that direction. I wished to see, up close and for myself, the complete transformation of what had been a crater and which now was a gigantic, slightly monstrous machine for beaming information up to the stars. Perhaps I would find Charles there, I told myself as I got closer. At the very least I would be able to gaze upon the fruits of what had been, undoubtedly, a titanic undertaking of engineering which proved beyond a doubt that Charles was able to make his concepts and visions into physical reality. With slight bitterness, I realized that part of me was regretting having left for three years. I had been preoccupied about myself only. I had wanted to prove to my father, and to the rest of the world, that I could display bravery. I had done it. Nobody could fault me having postponed my own desire for scientific investigation in favor of helping my country in its time of need. Why, then, could I not shake off the thought that I had acted selfishly, leaving Charles alone? His letters to me, at the beginning, had been full of mentions of how much he missed me. I had liked reading those letters. The fact that he had then stopped writing had bothered me more than I had been able to admit up until this moment. I needed to talk to him. That would set everything right, I was sure. I had always been prone to making perceived problems or difficulties bigger than they really were, through my tendency for obsessive thinking. It would be best if I could sit down with him for a while and talk things through. I thought I was sure to find him at the Array. When I got there, however, I found it impossible to get close to the actual parabolic dish. There was a wall, a fence, surrounding the area. The path I had been following ended in yet another forbidding, heavy metal gate which proved as impossible to move as the one barring access to the Observation tower. Worse, this gate was made of solid metal plates which did not even offer a glimpse of the terrain beyond. I did not understand. The entire architecture of the complex now reminded me more of a classified military facility than a mountainside retreat, which this place had formerly been. And yet now nothing was accessible, everything was harshly illuminated even in the dead of night, and I could not shake the distinct impression that I was still being watched, though by whom and from where I could not say. The night was as calm as ever, but my mind was in angry turmoil as I made my way, disappointed, back to the main building. What was going on? Why was everything so familiar, and yet so very different? It made no sense. The scale of the Array and all the security measures everywhere bespoke a very large enterprise with a correspondingly large demand of manpower, and yet, aside from the two new guards I had first encountered when I arrived and Henry himself, I had not seen any new people around. It gave the place an eerily empty atmosphere where before I had only experienced peaceful isolation. I reached the main building again, walking quickly in my annoyance. As I was rounding the corner in the path which would take me to the entrance, I saw a flicker of light above me. Curious, I stopped and looked up. The light was coming from one of the windows in the attic above my own room, but it was very faint and erratic, as though generated by candlelight alone. I was surprised to see it, both because of the late hour and because, during my previous time here, the attic had remained stubbornly empty of anything and anyone since Charles had claimed that, from time to time, he enjoyed being up there by himself to clear his mind and focus his thoughts. The light died off quite suddenly, almost as if its source had been snuffed out. Then I heard the moan. It was a low, grating, and yet somehow shrill sound which reached my ears through the window. At first I thought it was a person in pain, but the moan shifted, acquiring a gurgling tone which no human throat would have been able to produce. I felt goosebumps and actually took a step back from where I was standing in an irrepressible reflex of aversion and primal fear. I experienced the irrational desire to cover my ears, to block out that horrid sound, the source of which I could not place and the notes of which threaded themselves through the darkness of the night and made it menacing when before it had merely been watchful. I took another step back without looking, without thinking. I tripped on something and stumbled back, barely avoiding a fall, my heart racing. At the sound of me tripping, the moan stopped. I was still looking up. I might have imagined it, but the fickle moonlight and the radiance of the pathside lights appeared to show me a dark outline which walked up to the window high above me. The dark outline stopped where it was, motionless. I could see no details. I was not even sure whether I was really seeing something, and yet… At that moment I was sure, absolutely sure, that someone or something up in the attic was looking down at me, staring from the darkness, pinning me down with its glare. I could see nothing, hear nothing, and yet there was an avid quality about the shadows that appeared to want to reach out and engulf me. I broke the spell of my own terror come out of nowhere and left that place with quick strides. I pushed the heavy door of the main entrance open and all but slammed it shut behind me, remembering only belatedly that it was very late and I might startle someone. Indeed, as I made my way to the physics laboratory to get something for my nerves, I saw Mr. White emerge from the servants’ hallway with a mildly alarmed expression on his face. I excused myself with a gesture and he nodded with a strangely understanding smile. I did not question this – I was much too flustered and I did not want to speak with anyone just then. I went into the laboratory, which thankfully was not locked, and poured myself some scotch. Only after finishing the glass did I begin to feel foolish about my irrational outburst of baseless fear. If there was someone in the attic, I would soon find out. I would simply go check. I left the laboratory and walked down the hall. I reached the narrow staircase which led up to my destination, and went up the stairs, two at a time, without giving myself time to hesitate. At the end of the climb I stood in front of another confounded door which had not been there before. It was heavy and appeared to be reinforced by metal, almost like the door to a prison cell. I grabbed the handle and pulled. Locked, of course. Fuming, I stormed back downstairs in the direction of my room. As soon as I was in the hallway, however, I noticed something that drove everything else from my mind. Charles’s door was open and there was light coming from within his bedroom. My heart leapt in my chest despite myself. I headed there and crossed the threshold without knocking. Charles was sitting on his bed, wearing a sleeping robe, looking just like I remembered him. He glanced up, and our eyes met. There was a pause. Hello, Charles, I said then, smiling. It has been a long time. Daniel, he signed, sitting up straight in a way that suggested alarm, or surprise. You’re here. Yes. I walked up to the bed. I had planned to sit down next to him, but something about his demeanor made me hesitate. Instead, I remained awkwardly standing. They told me you were busy. Charles glanced at the door, which remained open, then back at me. I was. We are making a lot of progress. I am decoding a particularly interesting signal that appears to be suspiciously regular. I am almost certain it comes from a pulsar, but in case it does not, there is some mathematical analysis which can help me determine whether the regularity is merely… His gestures trailed off as he appeared to realize that he was doing the silent equivalent of mumbling, expressing things very fast as though afraid of the silence, or perhaps afraid of my questions. I held his gaze until he looked away. It was not my imagination – he was uncomfortable. I worried about you. I told him. I wondered why you stopped sending letters. He would not meet my gaze now. I was busy. Much has happened since you – since you left me. I blinked. Left you? Charles, there was a war. A war for able-bodied men to fight, he retorted, and there was a clipped curtness to his gestures which had the same effect as words spoken in a resentful tone. You didn’t need to go. They wouldn’t have drafted you. They didn’t draft me. I felt myself getting defensive. I am proud to have served my country. It would have been cowardice not to act. “Implying what, exactly?” Charles said aloud. I knew him well enough to realize that, for him, using spoken words was a way to distance himself from the conversation. “Am I a coward, then?” “That’s not what I meant and you know it.” He shook his head dismissively. “It does not matter anymore. My work continues and it is more important than any war.” “Is that why you did not come see me earlier today? Have things really changed so much?” He looked at the ground for an instant as if remorseful, but then his expression hardened. “You do not understand.” “What do I not understand?” When he next spoke, Charles’s voice appeared to waver between anger and sadness. “I thought you would never come back. I thought you would stay in Chicago. I was very surprised when you sent me that letter a few weeks ago asking to return. But now you are here and I don’t…” I don’t what? I prodded, reverting to sign language again. It forced Charles to look at me instead of away. He looked up at my face and for an instant he was the old Charles I remembered, vulnerable and open and kind. His lower lip trembled. He lifted his hands as of about to speak, to explain what he meant. “Here’s your sandwich, Charles!” a jarringly bright voice called out from the doorway. “Extra pickles because I know you love them before bedtime.” Charles looked down as if trying to disappear. I glanced over my shoulder to confirm what my ears had already told me – Henry was standing at the door, carrying a silver tray on which two sandwiches rested, as well as a couple of steaming cups of tea. He was shirtless. He smiled at me in that particular way of his as he sauntered into the bedroom and set the tray next to where Charles was sitting. Then Henry sat down next to him, on the bed, with easy familiarity. I felt the blood drain from my face at the same time that my heart beat painfully fast in my chest with the anger and betrayal of my sudden realization. I hid it behind a bland noncommittal smile to mirror Henry’s own as he watched me, blinking innocently, almost as if daring me to make a move. I looked at Charles. He was still glancing away, as if hiding from me, and his silence could have spoken no more loudly. “Good night then, Charles,” I said formally, using the practiced tone I had used when speaking to my superiors during my service. “I look forward to us working together again.” I received no answer. I declined acknowledging Henry any further and left with slow, dignified steps which eventually led me to my own bedroom. I opened the door and shut it tight behind me. As I was undressing for bed, Henry’s loud laughter reached me through the wall which connected the two rooms. I got into bed in the dark, telling myself I did not feel anything in particular. My quick pulse was surely due to the strenuous journey of the day. The pressure in my chest was probably just stress and nothing more. The sweat beading on my brow must have been there because the night was unseasonably warm. The tears rolling down my cheeks, as I sat alone in the big empty bed, were due to anything but the pain of a broken heart.
  7. Several questions, and I can’t wait to reveal the answers! Thank you as always - I hope the coming chapter will prove as intriguing as this one!
  8. I have never been more relieved to welcome the arrival of spring than I was that year. The receding snows and increasing hours of sunlight appeared to free the world all around us from the iron grip under which it had remained, helpless, during the long dark and the icy weather. The skies cleared up as the weeks progressed, and by the end of March the regular overcast gloom under which we had lived had been completely replaced by cloudless, blue magnificence. It lifted my spirits to know that we were not completely isolated from the world anymore, and I could certainly tell that my feelings were shared by several members of the household staff. Ever since Ms. Avery’s disappearance, a persistent gloomy dejection had been evident in some of their visages, while others betrayed, from time to time, naked and superstitious fear. I did not need Mr. White to come and tell me that some of the servants had grown convinced that the property was haunted. I feared that, once the roads became traversable, Charles and I would be facing mass desertion and would be forced to hire new people for most if not all the positions which were likely to be abandoned. All of this changed radically, however, when we received a rather shocking surprise on the day when the first supplies of the year were delivered to the estate from the village of Tupper Lake. The driver, a young man by the name of Richard Sorenson, had news which he could barely hold himself back from sharing, apparently – and, indeed, no sooner had Mr. White begun to unload the truck full of foodstuffs, firewood, fuel, paper, and liquor, that Sorenson sought out both Charles and myself. While under the pretense of wanting to speak to us privately, and yet talking loud enough to be heard by all the nearby servants, he told us that Ms. Sarah Avery was alive. “She came in the middle of winter, suddenly like,” he told us, speaking mostly to me once he realized the extent of Charles’s hearing impediment. Shock and relief warred within me, preventing from speaking at first. “Impossible,” I replied at last. “How? When?” “I thought you’d tell me,” he replied with a conspiratorial little grin. “Seeing as how she was s’pposed to be working here.” I did not dignify him with an answer, but merely glared. The lad looked barely eighteen years old and appeared to fail to grasp the seriousness of the situation. “She, um, asked me to give you this,” Sorenson stammered after a rather uncomfortable pause. He reached into his coat and took out a small wrapped package, which he handed over to me. I promptly gave it to Charles. “What is it?” I asked. He shrugged. “Just said she found it out in the woods, Sarah did. Mentioned she thought you might be interested in reading it. Anyway, she came into the village a few weeks ago, in bad shape. Dr. Gordon thought she had frostbite in her feet but thankfully she only lost the one toe. No one knows how she managed to walk the entire way and she’s been really quiet about it. Staying with her sister now.” “Has she given an account of the events which led her to wander off?” I asked. “Funny thing, that,” Sorenson admitted. “She keeps saying she had an attack of the nerves. Won’t say why, but one of my cousins, Roberta, asked her and she says that Sarah said that she can’t remember. The way she tells it, Sarah remembers going to sleep in her bedroom and then waking up in the middle of the forest. She knew the area, so she came home, but it was snowing pretty hard and she wasn’t wearing very many clothes, or so Dr. Gordon says. Some folks thought that she might’ve been escaping, or something, but Sarah says she wants to come back as soon as her feet get better. Told me to send you her apologies. Says it won’t happen again.” I had dozens of questions, but I doubted this uninformed youth would be able to answer them with anything but idle gossip, and so I merely replied, “Thank you. Anything else?” Sorenson waited for a beat, as if expecting either Charles or myself to be forthcoming with a particularly juicy tidbit of information he could carry back to his village, but he was soon disappointed and excused himself to help with the unloading of the supplies. For the next couple of days, nobody in our household talked of anything but the mysterious and frankly miraculous survival of Ms. Avery. Nobody asked either Charles or I any direct questions regarding the matter, but I overheard enough whispered conversations in the hallways, in the basement and in the kitchen, to know that the general sentiment was a mixture of awe, suspicion, and relief. It was annoying to have to deal with such gossip, but the news did have the positive effect of preventing anyone from quitting, and I must admit that the knowledge that Ms. Avery had not perished in the woods brought me comfort, even though the manner of her survival gave me much to think about. For his part, Charles spent the better part of the next morning and well into the evening reading the contents of the package which Sorenson had delivered. I was curious, but I occupied myself with other things until it was time for bed, when Charles handed me the object: a tattered notebook, quite thick, which looked as though it had been soaked and dried several times. The pages were brittle and sometimes sticky, but its contents appeared to be quite legible. “You should read this,” Charles told me. “I think you’ll find it… interesting.” “Is it Ms. Avery’s diary?” I asked him, already wondering how a maid which I had thought to be all but illiterate had managed to produce page after page of intricate, neat writing. “No. It belonged to the reporter. Eoin Caine.” I blinked. “The one who was found…” I did not finish the sentence, but Charles nodded. He was the man whose corpse had been discovered by the surveyors Charles had hired. The man missing a hand… And the man which, by horrible implication, must have perforce attacked Charles years ago, and stolen the meteorite which we had discovered at the bottom of the crater. “What does it say?” I asked. Charles shook his head. It is best if you read, he signed. Trust me. I don’t know whether it is meant to be factual, but if it is… He left the sentence unfinished and climbed into bed. I disrobed and joined him, settling down into our comfortable nighttime routine. I caressed Charles’s hair with my left hand until he fell asleep, but I remained awake, reading by candlelight. The more I read the lines penned by Eoin Caine, the more suspicious I became. Surely the conjectures this man had made were nothing more than the result of an overstimulated imagination. After all, this had been a man who reveled in reporting about the macabre and the horrifying, a man who had been obsessed by the disappearance of the hikers and who might have had a vested interest in exaggerating the details relating to their story in order to make it seem more mysterious than it really had been. He might have been planning to publish his wild theories with no evidence whatsoever simply to draw attention to himself again, and to sell more newspapers. This journal had been his personal property, however. Why would he have written it as though attempting to deceive even himself? Was it not more logical to assume that these pages contained his honest opinions, before he gave them the shape of a journalistic article? I did not sleep that night at all – morning found me still reading. The next day, around noon, Charles and I set out by tacit agreement in the direction of the crater. We went alone. We were hoping to find no hint of the things the journal mentioned… But we did. We did. ** Eoin Caine’s journal. September 3 Just arrived at Tupper Lake. There’s a big story here, I can feel it. There are too many unknowns, too many unsolved things. Mattson back at the paper thinks I’m wasting my time chasing this, but I know I’m not. This is big. Just how big, I’m going to find out. I have enough money to be here a couple months, maybe longer. I’ll make sure it’s time well spent. I booked a room in the village. Small, but I don’t expect to be using it too much. I leave tomorrow, straight for the place where the abandoned campsite was found, the last place the hikers were all together and alive. It’s important that I go there quick – there might be some more evidence lying around, things the detective missed. The investigation was sloppy and hurried. I won’t be. September 5 I’m on the trail now, following the same path Smith and the others followed. I know exactly where they went. I didn’t tell the fellows at the paper this, but I went all the way to Maine and managed to convince Smith’s family to let me copy the travel log he kept during the trip. They found it in his tent along with the rest of his things. He didn’t write much – just the path he was following, the miles they covered each day, that sort of thing. It’s going to help me a lot, though. I’m going to retrace their steps. September 6 I came to the first place they set up camp. I must admit I am disappointed. There isn’t much here, not after so much time. I expected to find some clues but there is nothing of interest and I can’t say I wasn’t afraid of this. I spent all day looking around the area. Waste of time. Tomorrow I will try to cover the remaining distance to the main camp, the last one they built and the one they abandoned so suddenly. I hope the weather holds. So far it has been good, and no animals have bothered me. Now that I think about it, I haven’t seen very many animals at all. The forest is quiet. I hope it’s not a sign that there is something out there hunting. Something dangerous. There have been no large predators sighted around these parts that I know of, but I did bring a shotgun just in case. I still don’t know what happened here, and I need to be prepared for anything. I will set up camp here for the night. September 7 Spent a bad night. Why is it so quiet? After setting up my tent I had some food and tried to sleep. But there was no noise… I couldn’t hear any crickets or birds or anything, really. It spooked me for some reason. Maybe I’m just imagining things, but something about this place does not feel natural at all. I’ve been camping plenty of times and there are always bugs and small critters about. Not now. It was so quiet when I lay down to sleep that I swear I could hear my own damn heartbeat. Took me a while to actually doze off. Then the noises came. I woke up right away, my heart was pounding. I don’t know why but it’s like I was expecting something like this. I heard what sounded like careful, dragging footsteps through the leaf litter. They were faint at first, but the more I waited, the closer they came. They would start, then stop. Then they would start again, closer. They sounded odd, not like something a person would make, I don’t think. I thought it was a bear. I waited until I was reasonably sure that the creature was close enough to shoot and then I jumped out of my tent, gun in hand. I had a flashlight but I didn’t even need it. The moon was very bright. There was nothing out there. I looked. The strangest thing is that the footsteps had been heavy, and I’m sure I didn’t imagine them. Whatever made them, it somehow disappeared in the couple seconds it took me to leave the tent. Next morning I looked: there were tracks. I’m not an expert, but they looked like wolf tracks to me. I’ll have to be much more careful. Something is not right. September 10 I’m sure I’m being followed. I reached the main camp today, the place where the hikers set up their tents for the last time. I put my tent up in the same area just a few minutes ago. Investigating will have to wait for the morning. I’m in no mood for investigating, though. The last few nights, every single night, I’ve heard the dragging footsteps. In the morning I see the tracks. The forest around me is still quiet, much too quiet, and it’s beginning to drive me nuts. I haven’t seen as much as a rabbit for days now, it’s all plants and trees and rocks. And I feel… This is going to sound crazy but I feel like I’m being watched. All the time. The strangest thing is that the same thing happened to Smith. He wrote a little note the night before he and his friends disappeared. It was the only note he wrote on his travel log that didn’t have anything to do with mileage or food or water. He said that some of them were worried that they might be followed. He wrote that he would set a watch for that night. That’s the same night everything else happened to them. The same night they all went crazy. Am I going crazy, too? I don’t know. But those steps… They come closer all the time. Last night I heard them right outside my tent. Scared me so bad that it took me almost five minutes to work up the courage to leave the tent and see whether there was something I could shoot. I thought I saw a dark shape bounding away through the trees, but I couldn’t really tell. Not looking forward to tonight. Particularly not in this place. But I’m 50 miles away from the village and I need to follow this through or I won’t hear the end of it when I return to New York. I need to tough it out for a little while longer. September 11 The thing bit me yesterday. It’s either a wolf or a really big dog. It arrived in the night again, but I was ready. I hadn’t even slept. The second I heard the steps close in, I kicked the tent flaps open and jumped out. I saw the shape and shot. Then the animal was upon me. It clamped its jaws over my left arm, but I was able to use my other hand, where I still had the shotgun, to smack it on the head as hard as I could. It yelped and let go. I reloaded and shot again but I think I missed it. The shot scared it off, though. The creature stank. Strange, though – not like I imagined a wolf would stink. It was more like rotting fruit, or bread left out until it gets moldy. The bites on my arm aren’t deep, thankfully, but they smell the same way and it’s disgusting. I spent most of the morning washing and disinfecting them as well as I could. They still smell like that, though. I don’t like it. The rest of the day I dedicated to investigation, my gun always nearby. I looked all over until I found the same kind of mushrooms that Smith lists as having picked and eaten on the day before the disappearance of the group. I have a theory that maybe they were hallucinogenic, or poisonous, and that’s why everyone went crazy. The investigators dismissed that theory last year when I suggested it, but I still have my doubts. I’m going to carry a sample of the mushrooms back to the city and see whether I can get them identified. They look very normal to me, though. Like your typical forest caps. I shouldn’t forget, either, that Smith was a seasoned outdoorsman. He wouldn’t have eaten dangerous mushrooms, that’s for sure. If it wasn’t the mushrooms, though, then… I don’t know why they all went crazy. It was like they caught rabies or something. Particularly the two men that fought each other to the death. I was there when they found the bodies at the bottom of the ravine. Gruesome stuff. The bite marks in particular were awful to see. What kind of a person bites someone else hard enough to tear off a chunk of their arm? Then there’s the mystery of the others, the ones who dug their own grave. I saw the place. They did it willingly, but why? Maybe I’m in over my head here. I’m just a journalist. I thought I could get a good story out of this maybe something supernatural – not that I believe in those things, but those kind of headlines sell. I suppose I could blame it on the yeti, on Bigfoot. Wouldn’t be too hard. I have a camera with me; I could forge footprints and bring the pictures back. Maybe some hair from that thing that bit me – there’s some lying around. I will sleep on it. September 12 For the first night ever, I heard regular forest noises. It must’ve been that creature keeping the animals away, and it didn’t come last night so things are now back to normal. I was relieved and slept well. Good thing too, because I think I needed it. I’m feeling under the weather today. Kind of feverish. Maybe the water I got from the stream yesterday was bad, although I boiled it. Not sure. I’m just glad that the wolf didn’t come back. I must have scared it off for good. I spent the day walking to the ravine and then back. Not sure what I expected to find. I dug up a tattered undershirt that must’ve belonged to one of the two men. I brought it back, but it’s not much. I should’ve thought this trip out better. I’m not even a good tracker. What the hell was I expecting? September 13 Tonight, I’m setting up the camera outside the tent. I need to know what that thing is. It’s back. I knew it would as soon as I settled down for the night yesterday. The forest was quiet again, and there was this strange pressure in the air, like the way it feels when a storm is about to break but it doesn’t. I was awake when I first heard the dragging steps. I waited, and then… The creature howled. I say howled because I don’t have a word for what it did. It sounded like – I don’t know. I don’t know. Like a mixture between a growl and a gurgle, along with something else… I’ll just go ahead and say it. It sounded like something trying to speak using an animal’s throat. It sounded like a thing possessed by the Devil. It spooked me so bad that I didn’t manage to leave the tent at all. Part of it was the fever – it got worse throughout the day, and by the time night came I was exhausted. I had the shotgun in my hands, but I felt paralyzed by fear. The creature left eventually, but it came very close to the tent. The moon was full tonight and I saw the thing’s shadow through the tent canvas. It’s bigger than a wolf, definitely. And it stinks. My arm stinks the same way. I washed it again yesterday, several times, and the wounds are healing but they are healing strangely. I saw what looked like fuzz growing over the scabs. I washed it off but it came back. I don’t know what it is, but as soon as I get better I’m getting the hell away from this forest. It’s cursed. Whatever is out there, it’s dangerous. I shouldn’t have come. No story is worth this. September 20 I finally feel well enough to write again. These past few days have been awful. I’ve been delirious with fever but it’s finally broken. My arm has healed – there’s no sign of the bite marks anymore. Tomorrow, I leave with sunrise. It should take me just over a day and a half to get back to Tupper Lake. Then I’m heading straight for New York in my car and I’m never coming back to this horrible place. I won’t write a story about this even though I have something now, in my possession, that would cause great sensation if I were to publish it. It’s a picture of the creature. I took it two nights ago. I was feeling worse than ever, but the creature had kept coming back every night, and so I decided to at least see my enemy. I strapped one of my flashlights to the top of the camera and left it on all night. It drained the battery, of course, but it served its purpose. I also arranged the aperture trigger in the camera so that it would open when I tugged on a cord which I carried into the tent with me. I was slightly delirious from the fever yet again, but I stayed awake as long as I could. I didn’t have to wait long. The thing came, and it didn’t even seem to mind the light. The dragging steps came closer and closer. When I was sure I would get an image, I activated the camera. The creature escaped at the sound, of course. But I have a picture. I brought with me some developing fluid and I spent all day yesterday developing the picture in the dark. Not ideal circumstances, but the chemicals I brought were effective and today I was able to see the thing that has been stalking me for so long. The photograph itself is low-quality and, did I not know that I myself took it, I would immediately suspect it for a forgery. It is not a forgery, though. It shows the thing in stark contrast, under the glare of the flashlight, surrounded by the darkness of the forest at night. I wondered, that night when I took the picture, why the creature appeared to not be bothered by the flashlight. I know now. The thing is blind. The photograph is blurry but it leaves no doubt. The animal is a canid, much larger than a wolf, approaching the size of a Great Dane, emaciated, with large patches of skin visible where its fur has fallen off. Its eyes are gone. Where they should be, there is instead what looks like horrible scar tissue, crusted over, covered in places by that… that fuzz… that I have seen before. It looks like it’s dying, starving to death. I can see its rib cage clearly in the image, and its body appears weak, distorted somehow. Perhaps that is why I was able to fight it off so easily on the night it attacked me. This would also explain why it feels drawn to stalk me. It must be hungry enough that its natural fear is no match for its urge to feed. What happened to it? Is this some sort of disease? The way the creature’s skin looks where the fur has fallen off reminds me of one of the corpses I was able to see during the investigation last year. It looks infected, and yet not gangrenous. Rather, it looks as if there’s something growing out of it, something… I don’t know what to think. I’m afraid of the conclusions I might reach. I’m leaving this place now, for good. I will keep the photograph but I will not publish it, nor will I write anything concerning this cursed place. Whatever happened to those hikers will have to remain a mystery forever. I want to forget I ever involved myself in this, as soon as I can. September 22 I don’t understand. I followed my path but I can’t reach the village. The creature stalks me every night, still. Why haven’t I reached Tupper Lake? September 24 The fever came back. I think I’m lost in the forest. Concentrating is… Hard. I am running out of supplies. I hope to reach the village soon. Am I going in circles? October 2 Arm feels odd. Heavy. Ran out of food today. Not sure if I’m hallucinating, but I see a building in the distance. October 3 I reached a sort of crater today, huge. I feel hungry. The fever comes and goes in waves. I… I think my arm is having spasms. Uncontrollable. It looks odd, too. The skin… October 4 Tried to walk away but came back to the crater. It’s in my dreams. There’s a light… A light I want to reach. Where is it? Where am I? October 5 Woke up underground today. In water. Climbing out took all my strength. Thinking of burying this journal so another may find it. They aren’t spasms. My arm moves on its own. It reaches, it grasps. I don’t know what it wants. The skin is moving. Swaying. I cannot bear to look at it. October 6 The creature came to me in the night. It didn’t attack. I feel… I feel it. In my head. I don’t understand. We are kin. I want to go back down. I want to go to the golden light. That was the last entry in the journal, but the pages held one final horror, something which prevented me from dismissing what had been written inside as either a hoax or the ramblings of an unsteady mind. There was a photograph there, blurry and poorly developed, but its subject was recognizable nevertheless. It showed an animal, harshly outlined against bright light, which at first reminded me of an emaciated coyote. It was blind, just as the author of the journal had described. It looked sick. Something was wrong with it, something which went far beyond the disturbing physical characteristics I could barely make out in the picture. I did not know what it was, but it awakened in me a primal sort of aversion and I well understood Charles’s almost violent reaction when I attempted to show him the picture so we could discuss it. He shrank away from it and refused to look at it for even a second. How had Ms. Avery found this journal? What did it mean? I was greatly disturbed, but it was nothing compared to Charles’s evident unease. He could not sit still, and it was he who suggested that we go investigate the crater on our own. There is something there, he said to me in the physics laboratory. We need to find out what it is. Perhaps it would be prudent to bring some of the servants – “No!” he interrupted me, the sudden volume of his voice shockingly loud. He continued in silence, the gestures he made with his hands somewhat unsteady. No. This is important, Danny, I can tell. If there is something there, the fewer people who know about it, the better. You will help me, won’t you? Of course, I told him. Let’s go. We made as if to go to the Observatory tower and from there we headed for the crater. I did not deceive myself – one of the servants was bound to see where we went, since it was all but impossible to keep secrets in a place where we all lived in such close proximity to one another. Nevertheless, I hoped they would leave us alone, if only so that Charles could satisfy his curiosity and life could go back to normal without strange obsessions and mysterious events. As before, however, the two of us had woefully underestimated the complexity of descending into the crater, particularly given the fact that part of it was still frozen since the cold of winter had not left entirely. We spent most of the day there, trying to puzzle out a safe way for one of us to descend. I brought the car over like I had done the first time and secured a rope to it, but even with that done we could go no further than a few feet down the shaft of the crater because of all the ice. Charles was stubborn. He refused to send for help and the two of us, alone, hacked away at the hard ice in what, to me, became an increasingly evident exercise in hubris and futility. Dusk came all too soon and still Charles refused to give up. It was his turn to dig, below me, and as the shadows lengthened and the temperature dropped, I finally made up my mind to call this stupid enterprise off. “Charles, it’s no use,” I called loudly down into the shaft. “Let’s have the servants dig. We have to return.” There was no answer except for particularly intense digging. I had no way of knowing whether Charles had not heard or was simply ignoring me. “Charles!” I all but shouted. “Let’s go!” The digging ceased abruptly. I heard a sharp intake of breath. “Danny?” Charles asked, his voice tremulous. “Yes?” “Climb down. Tell me if you can see this.” The shaft was much too narrow for two people, so Charles climbed to the surface and I, somewhat impatiently, obliged by jumping down. My feet landed on hard ice and I slipped, stumbling in the near-total darkness at the bottom of the hole which could not have been more than eight feet deep. I was about to ask Charles for a flashlight so that I could see whatever it was he wanted me to observe. But it was then that I saw the radiance. It was hard to distinguish because it came from directly below me, through the thick layer of ice that separated me from the watery cave that I knew lay beneath the crater. Nevertheless, there was no denying I could see it. My eyes perceived a faint luminescence which appeared to oscillate between shades of lemon green and deep gold. It reminded me, very strongly, of the light I had seen coming from the meteorite when I had first discovered it underwater. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that it was the very same radiance, warm and peaceful yet somehow deeply disturbing. Something was down there, beneath the ice. Could it be the meteorite itself? But if so, how had it gotten back into the crater after it had been stolen from Charles? The more I looked, the more enraptured I became. I crouched down as best as I was able to in the cramped confines of the shaft so that I could look at the light a little bit better. It was an interesting light. I felt as if I wanted to get closer to it. To… To understand it. “Danny! Daniel!” Charles’s voice, edged with worry, was like a bucket of cold water poured over my head. I shuddered, feeling confused for a split second. Then I climbed out of that shaft as fast as I could. We need to seal the crater, I said to Charles as soon as I was out into the blessed crispness of the cold evening air. He nodded, his expression troubled. Agreed. Did you feel it? The pull? I think I did. Come on. Let’s go. I ignored the puzzled look Mr. White gave us as both Charles and I came back to the property. We ordered dinner to be brought to us in the bedroom, and a warm bath to be drawn. Afterwards, feeling much cleaner and far less hungry, I felt less alarmed. I climbed into bed with Charles for the night. What is happening, Danny? he asked me before falling asleep. Is everything connected? All of the odd things that have happened? And if so, how? I don’t know. But some things are better left unknown. I suppose you’re right, he said, yawning. We should seal that place tomorrow. I waited until he was asleep before turning off the lights. I considered lighting a candle and reading for a while, but decided against it. I reached for the switch and flicked the electricity off. I shuddered, and it was only through sheer force of will that I did not shout or scream or push Charles away. Because, as soon as the darkness in the room was complete, I saw that the pendant Charles wore, that malignant fragment of the meteorite he carried with him always around his neck, was luminescing softly with the same green-gold radiance I had seen at the bottom of that frozen crater.
  9. Thank you for your comments! Estiveo - I agree, squirrels have a dark side their cuteness can't make me ignore 😀 drpaladin - Thanks again for your analysis!
  10. Though I cannot say that the numerous poorly-educated and traditionalistic servants took enthusiastically to the change in the sleeping arrangements which followed, they were nevertheless prudent enough to not voice any sort of complaint or negative remark while in our presence. The very next morning after Charles’s nightmare, I sought out Mr. White and promptly informed him that I would like to have my clothes and belongings moved into the master suite. A startled blink was the only thing which showed his surprise, but he was an efficient and trustworthy fellow, and he saw to it that my wishes were carried out promptly. I suspect it was thanks to him that most of the household came to accept the fact that Charles and I were now sharing a bed without too much commotion. In fact, during the first week after the change, the only incident which might have betrayed the feelings of our servants was a scandalized look which I perchance caught, shared between two of the maids as they were preparing the bed for two occupants one night. Aside from that, very little changed in our routine. Charles and I went out regularly for walks in the woods, and we dedicated our days towards fascinating scientific observation, analysis, and experimentation. In the evenings, after dinnertime, we retired to his – to our – room, and together we would talk for long stretches until Charles felt tired enough to risk attempting sleep without too much fear. It was clear to me that Charles suffered from a malady of the nerves which was the culprit of both his nightmares and the anxious attitude with which he always seemed to greet the night. As soon as the shadows grew long with approaching darkness, I would notice the steady but ever-increasing nervousness in his attitude, his gestures, and his movements. By the time we were in bed, about to turn off the lights, he would often resort to a glass of wine in order to calm himself. Then he would hug me, and only thus was he able to reliably fall asleep. It saddened me to see Charles suffer so, but aside from being there for him and offering what comfort I could, I did not know what else to do. I myself had had a period in my life when I had been accosted by nightly troubling dreams, and I knew how debilitating it could be to have the certainty that each night would bring with itself a nightmare to torture the mind as it tried to rest. Often, Charles would wake in the middle of the night, sweating, sometimes even shouting. We would then talk for a little while, burning a single candle because the glare of the electric lights appeared far too harsh at those late hours, and Charles would eventually fall back asleep. As the weeks went by, it appeared that my company was helping him, because Charles’s nightmares slowly became less frequent and less severe. He regained a measure of motivation and zeal during the days, and his energy levels improved steadily, according to what he told me. This had many benefits, not the least of which was to allow Charles’s brilliant mind to once again focus fully on whichever project he deemed worthy of the honor of his attention. Back then, the subject illuminated by the floodlight of his intellect was the hypothesis that there were objects which could theoretically orbit the Earth, unseen, at fixed distances from the planet due to fascinating quirks of orbital mechanics. Lagrange had, of course, more than a century before posited that certain points located between two orbiting bodies possessed gravitational properties such that a third object, placed at those positions, would orbit the two-body system without changing its distance relative to either of the other two. These Lagrange points fascinated Charles. Of particular interest to him were the points located between the dual system of the Earth and the sun, and the dual system of the Earth and the moon. Imagine the possibilities, Danny, he said to me one evening as we sat next to the roaring fireplace in our room. Outside there was heavy snowfall, along with unyielding, howling wind. The firelight was the only illumination, and it lent our cozy enclosed space a magical quality of safety and romanticism. I was sipping some mulled wine, fragrant with exotic spices, feeling thoroughly at ease on the comfortable armchair which I occupied. Charles sat nearby, wearing a heavy sleeping robe against the chill. I remember thinking that I was happy – that life, such as it was, was perfect for me. About what? I answered, mouthing the words because my hands were occupied with the wine glass. The beauty of my conversations with Charles was that they could take so many different forms – signs, code, words either spoken or merely suggested. Sometimes we combined two or more forms of expression, adding nuance and depth to our ideas in a way which the spoken language could never hope to match. If I wanted to observe a planet from space, such as the Earth, positioning the observation device at the Lagrange points L1 and L2 would be the logical choice. It would offer a fixed position, with none of the uncertainties associated with establishing an observation base on a moon, for example. Provided the technology for such a feat could exist, I reminded him. I am convinced that humanity will be able to create such observation devices within a hundred years, he asserted, his expression one of total confidence. Consider how much information we have been able to gather using my modest telescope here. Consider how much further out into space we would be able to see, were we to possess the technology to position a telescope at the top of the tallest mountain ranges on the planet, such as the Andes or the Himalayas. And, finally, imagine the wealth of information which would be available to us, were we able to send a telescope out into space, orbiting the planet, looking out at the stars without having to filter light through the murk of our thick, protective atmosphere. Were such a thing possible, I imagine we would be much more interested in looking out than looking back at our own planet, I told him. Why would we aim such a magnificent telescope at something we already know so well? Charles grinned. At this hour of the evening, his jaw was already shaded by light golden stubble, which made him look more mature, and wiser. Ah. But that is because this is our own planet. We know it well. Others… Might not. Others? I asked, smiling. I liked to tease Charles about his conviction that intelligent life was out there, waiting to be contacted. I myself was a little bit more skeptical and tended to believe that the universe, or at the very least our own solar system, was devoid of intelligent life aside from humans. You’ll see, he retorted. I have been calibrating the telescope very precisely to catch minute fluctuations in apparent brightness at L1 and L2 in the Earth-moon system. I-K, I signed. I helped you do it. Yes, but only I have been gathering data, since apparently you find the task too dull, he said to me, his expression making it clear that he was being playful. I already have months of observations. I have a theory… But, of course, we need more data. Let me guess. There is an observation device, sent by an intelligent species, hovering at one of these points and observing the Earth. I raised my eyebrows in evident skepticism. You are a cheeky little know-it-all sometimes, Danny. I’ll prove you wrong yet. I will get the Nobel for the discovery, you mark my words. It is evident that such an object has not been discovered because it is either too small to be noticed or because it is being deliberately concealed. Nevertheless, nothing can be made completely invisible. Careful calculations and tiny gravitational anomalies leave their mark everywhere. Fluctuations in brightness will inevitably be made obvious even if artificial material is being used as a cloak. If there is something there, I will find it. The entire world will marvel at my discovery and nothing will ever be the same. I might very well get more than one Nobel at the same time! I will make sure not to include you in my acceptance speech when that happens, hopeless skeptic that you are. I smiled, happy that Charles was feeling well enough to employ humor despite the late hour. It was good to see him climb out of his erstwhile depressive state little by little, and seeing him relaxed and content made my own heart feel lighter. I cared deeply for Charles, and wished for nothing more than seeing him smile. January give way to February and the cold became ever deeper and more biting, despite the fact that I would not have thought it possible. Our isolated valley was blasted by icy winds from the north, and I saw our reserves of wood dwindle rather alarmingly fast during this period. It gave me a not insignificant measure of worry to realize that we were now effectively cut off from the world until the roads became traversable again once the snows melted. The last shipment of goods had come from Tupper Lake at the beginning of the year, and nothing else was expected until late March. Our world became, therefore, reduced to the Observatory grounds and their immediate vicinity. Aside from us and the servants, we might have as well been the last human beings on the planet – and, some days, it really felt thus. The bitter cold forced us to stop taking our regular sorties into the woods, and many days on end were spent shuttered indoors, as close to the fire or to the heating pipes as we could, the world outside appearing to shift between impenetrable darkness and overcast, grey gloom. It was a challenging time for Charles, since the lack of sunlight appeared to affect him particularly strongly, and the fact that we could not leave the property during the worst of the season, not even to go to the Observatory tower, made him restless and somewhat moody at irregular intervals. It was not only us suffering the hardships of winter, however. One morning, Mr. White came into the chemistry lab, where Charles and I were experimenting with different salt concentrations on a moist substrate in order to find the optimal ratio for electrical conductivity. Quite unusually for Mr. White, he appeared somewhat ill at ease and begged for a moment of our time after apologizing profusely for interrupting us. “What is the problem?” I asked him aloud, for, although quite capable a butler and a reliable administrator in household matters, the employment of sign language appeared to either surpass his intellectual capacity or merely his drive towards self-directed erudition. “You see, Mr. Fenton,” he said to me, “It’s Sarah Avery, the youngest maid. She says she wants to leave. She’s been talking… Saying the place is haunted and the like. I’ve told her to keep her thoughts to herself, because I know how superstitious some of these folks can be. They know about the tragedy which happened here so long ago and their imaginations run wild. Most of them have settled in quite well, but Sarah, if you will forgive me for saying so, appears to be losing her marbles.” “In what way?” I asked politely, glancing at Charles to exchange a puzzled look with him. “She says she has nightmares every night now,” Mr. White informed us. “She says they terrify her and she believes they are not normal. She told me it’s always the same thing, too. She’s trapped in a dark cave. She’s drowning. She wants to reach a light but she can’t.” At this description, Charles started so violently that both White and myself turned to look at him. Almost as quickly, however, Charles turned his back on us and pretended to be very interested in the readouts from one of our instruments. “Please go on,” I said to White. “Well, she’s been complaining about the nightmares for weeks and weeks, but last night she became hysterical, according to Mrs. Thompson. They share a bedroom. Mrs. Thompson says that Sarah started shaking very violently, as if she were having a seizure of some sort. When Mrs. Thompson went to wake her up, Sarah was still shaking and it was several minutes before she calmed down. Then she kept repeating the same thing over and over again, which spooked Mrs. Thompson very badly indeed and now Sarah is saying that she wants to leave. I’m afraid that, if we don’t address this, Mrs. Thompson will follow very soon and then who knows how many of the staff might imitate them. They will talk, too – it’s going to make it tough to find replacements if the entire village of Tupper Lake listens to their rumors and others refuse to come and work here. We need to nip this in the bud, so to say. That’s why I took the liberty of coming to talk to you, sirs. All of us here respect you greatly, and we know you do important intellectual work and the like. You know more about the world than we ever could hope to learn, and I’m sure that Sarah will listen to you if you reassure her there’s no such thing as spooks or ghosts around. Or evil plants,” he added with a smirk. “Evil plants?” I echoed. “Yes, that’s what Sarah kept repeating last night, according to Mrs. Thompson. She kept saying that the mold was evil. That’s why she wants to change rooms, too – but I told her I need your okay to give permission for them to occupy a different bedroom. I hope you won’t find it too inconvenient. I think that, if we allow the two of them to move, and after some talking to, they’ll come around and stop whispering about things they don’t understand.” “I will go talk to them,” I offered, glancing at Charles for agreement. It was always easier for me to talk to the servants, since Charles had a tough time making sense of their often muttered words, and they always appeared, with the exception of Mr. White, ever so slightly unsettled at being in conversation with a man who was practically deaf. I’ll be here, Charles said to me, and resumed his work as though he had not been disturbed. I noticed, however, that his hands trembled slightly as he lifted the cathode cable of the electrical array we had built. I followed Mr. White out of the laboratory and down the hall, past the kitchen, and into the servants’ quarters. Despite having lived in the property for months, I had not had either the desire or the need to visit this area of the household, and I noted idly that the bedrooms on either side of the narrow hallway which we now traversed, although lacking the sumptuous expansiveness of the suites, appeared nevertheless quite cozy and comfortable. Most of the doors were open, offering glimpses into small but tidy spaces with beds, desks, and closets full of personal belongings. Each of the bedrooms had a window looking outside, although at the moment there was not much to see but murky gloom because of the heavy, overcast sky. All the spaces but one were empty of occupants, since the servants were all working at the moment. It was only in the last bedroom that I saw a young woman sitting on her bed, legs drawn up to her chest, staring blankly at the wall ahead of her. She was young and slim, looking scarcely older than twenty years old, with long blonde hair which was almost white and faintly aristocratic features which clashed rather sharply with the careless way in which she had dressed. It looked as though she had merely draped a blanket around her shoulders while still wearing her sleeping gown even though it was now almost noon. She did not look up when Mr. White and I stopped outside her door, so I knocked to draw her attention. “Sarah, this is Mr. Fenton,” White said to her. “He’s here to talk to you about your problem.” “Good day, Ms. Avery,” I said to her, stepping into the room. She looked up and nodded, but did not stand up or otherwise indicate that she welcomed our presence. After an awkward pause where I waited for a word of greeting which never came, I decided to be direct. “Mr. White here tells me that you have been experiencing trouble at night. Would you care to elaborate?” Her eyes darted to me and then back to the wall. “There,” she said curtly. “Look if you want.” Mr. White gasped softly. Her tone and attitude were decidedly far away from respectful deference, but I decided to overlook it because it was clear that she was in a state of high agitation. “Certainly,” I answered, and obliged by looking at the place her gaze appeared to be inexorably drawn to. She had directed my attention to the brickwork underneath the window to her bedroom. I at once saw that, between the cracks in the bricks, a fuzzy growth of very dark green had sprouted. It looked like mold, which I confirmed when I stepped closer and knelt to observe it. I was puzzled, since it was certainly too cold for mold of any kind to survive, but then I immediately considered that our building was always much warmer than the freezing temperatures outside. I also recognized the particular variety of mold – it was the very same I had found all along the crater’s surface when Charles and I had first explored the area. Mystified, I reached forward. “Don’t touch it!” Ms. Avery shouted. I jerked my hand back. Mr. White appeared to be about to scold her for her tone, but I spoke over him. “Why not?” She merely shook her head. “I don’t know. I just… I don’t want to disturb it. I think.” “Is this why you have been having nightmares?” I asked her, standing up again. She shrugged. “I’m not sure. It’s always the same dream. Like I’m trapped. Like I want to go out and – no, not escape. I want to find something.” “Find what?” She shrugged again. “I don’t know. This place is haunted, I reckon. This bedroom. I can feel it.” Mr. White and I exchanged a worried glance. I then spoke up. “If it is this place which is causing you to feel unwell, we can arrange to have your belongings moved to one of the empty bedrooms on the far side of the hall. Would that be agreeable to you?” She met my eyes. “Really?” I nodded. “Certainly, it is no trouble at all. Mr. White, see to it that both Ms. Avery’s and Mrs. Thompson’s possessions are moved by the end of the day. I will also personally see to it that you get some tea to help you sleep tonight, Ms. Avery, the same one which Mr. Wentworth uses when he cannot fall asleep. It is quite effective and should provide you with relief from anxious thoughts and nightmares alike. We are all suffering to some degree or another under this oppressive weather, and it may very well be that your negative mood is due to nothing more than the long winter nights – but do not worry, spring is just around the corner and, in the meantime, I will see to it that you get a cup of this tea every night until you feel better.” She blinked several times, almost as if she were waking up from a dream. She focused on my face more intensely. “I… Thank you, Mr. Fenton. Thank you. I’ll be glad to never sleep in this bedroom again.” “Then consider it done. If I may, I would suggest that you get ready to resume your duties for the day as soon as you are able to. Being occupied is one of the best ways to distract the mind from idle brooding, and you may find that your mood improves as you work.” She nodded. Satisfied, I left with Mr. White. A few hours later, he notified me that the change had been completed and that the supposedly haunted bedroom was now completely empty. I thanked him, and went back to the room with a petri dish and a wooden spatula. I scraped off a generous portion of the mold into the dish, since its resilience at surviving even in the wintertime and its possible as-of-yet-undiscovered properties interested me. While I assumed that Ms. Avery’s bad mood was indeed nothing more than seasonal depression, perhaps, there was also the slight possibility that this mold possessed either hallucinogenic or otherwise psychoactive properties which could explain the consistent nightmares and the conviction Ms. Avery had that her bedroom was haunted. I intended to discover what I could, and so I carried my sample back into the chemistry lab, indicating to Mr. White that he was to completely eradicate whatever had been left of the mold by any means possible. Back in the lab, I presented the sample to Charles, who appeared ill at ease but nevertheless agreed that some proper experimentation on this new fungus was in order. We placed the mold in a container with suitable humidity, along with a substrate, and I placed the glass container next to one of the heating pipes so it would enjoy advantageous temperature which might encourage the growth of its contents. Having done that, I went back to helping Charles with our previous electrical experiment. The next few days were quite uneventful and, in all honesty, more interesting matters had chased both the incident with Ms. Avery and the strange mold from my mind. Charles and I were hard at work devising an optimal schedule of observations from the observatory once the skies cleared up. I was also helping him build a small and quite unique generator which, he assured me, would be able to precisely modulate both amplitude and frequency of radio waves within his desired specifications for when his great antenna was finally built. It was fascinating work, and quite demanding. Half the time I did not truly understand what it was we were doing, but I was a capable and reliable colleague and I knew Charles valued my help enormously. He would often compliment me on this or that task well done, and the warmth of his smile made my heart skip a beat sometimes. I was glad to be able to share my days with him, to pursue our lofty academic goals, and to know that each of our days was but one more link in the chain which would eventually connect us to discoveries which would make us famous. Nights, just being with Charles, talking or merely holding one another, made me feel both thankful and happy. Slowly, I had tried to show him that the long winter nights were not necessarily something bad, or something to be afraid of, and little by little he began to share my way of thinking. We would sit up on the bed together, looking out the window when the moonlight permitted us to see the landscape beyond, covered with glistening snow, and marvel at the beauty of nature. One such night, under a waxing moon which was particularly bright, we even saw the first stirrings of life which signaled approaching spring. A single squirrel with a light gray coat came into view, and Charles and I watched with amusement and fascination as it dug in several apparently random places, plunging into the snow as it ostensibly looked for nuts which it might have stashed during the fall. It was fun to watch its antics, and when it hopped closer in the direction of the window I was able to see that it was a particularly large and beautiful specimen. It appeared well-fed despite the season, and its movements were fluid, graceful. Perhaps that is why I laughed so hard when it crashed into the window by mistake, evidently not having seen the glass. I would have expected for the squirrel to dash off immediately, terrified, but instead it merely glanced sharply in the direction of my laughter, paused for a beat, and then left as fast as it was able to. I shared a good chuckle with Charles over that, and I was glad to see him laughing too, able to enjoy the small things in life once again. These days of carefree and intellectual enjoyment came to a rather abrupt end, however, the very next morning. Mr. White knocked more than an hour before his usual visit to bring us breakfast, and he appeared bedraggled when I opened the door for him. “It’s Sarah,” he told me without preamble. “She’s disappeared.” That entire day was spent searching for the maid. Everyone participated and we all feared the worst. Mrs. Thompson, her roommate, was the last person to have seen her last night before sleeping. According to her, she had woken up very early in the morning only to find that Ms. Avery’s bed next to hers was already empty. Mrs. Thompson had assumed that her companion had simply begun the day early, but after an hour of searching for her and not finding her, she had gone to Mr. White and shortly thereafter it had been established that she was not in the building. It was a blustery day, but even so we all set out to search for her. The cooks and Mr. White were sent out into the forest, while the maids and Mr. Scott were to search the observation tower. I myself accompanied the groundskeeper and Charles in an exploration circuit of the gardens around the main building to try and find footprints or anything which might tell us where she could be. It was grim work, chilly and uncomfortable, all the more so because we knew that, with every passing minute, the probability of finding Ms. Avery alive decreased significantly. None of the servants could offer us any explanation for the disappearance aside from what everybody already knew – that Ms. Avery had believed the place to be haunted and that she had suffered from nightmares, even after changing her lodging to a different bedroom. I could not help but wonder whether Ms. Avery had been more seriously unwell than any of us had suspected, and whether she had simply succumbed to a nervous breakdown or a panic attack of some sort, which had forced her to escape into the deadly winter night. She had not taken any of her possessions with her, and in fact we would later discover that she had not even put on a coat before she had left. What sort of blind terror could possess a person to leave everything behind like that and wander off into the wilderness to meet almost certain doom? And why was the situation and the echoes of memory it disturbed so unsettlingly familiar to me? Charles and I made a complete circle around the building but found no tracks which could have belonged to a human. There were some animal tracks in the snow, however, particularly around the area near the window of the master suite. Johnston, the groundskeeper, joined us there. He stopped and looked at them with a frown. “What is the matter?” I asked him, thinking that perhaps they held a clue as to the whereabouts of our missing person. He shook his head. “Those tracks are lookin’ weird,” he answered. “How so?” He nodded in the direction of some faint indentations in the snow. “Those look like rabbit tracks, maybe a squirrel. But those critters don’t walk like that. See the prints? Too far apart. And this big one here, it just looks wrong.” “Does this have anything to do with Ms. Avery?” I asked, rather impatiently I admit. “No sir.” “Then we keep looking.” Our thorough observations demanded several hours of toil. We were freezing by the time we reached the crater’s edge, around which we made an entire circuit without seeing anything. However, Johnston’s keen eye picked up the faint imprint of a human foot within the crater bowl as we were preparing to return to the Observatory. Puzzled, yet excited at this first hint of the fate of Ms. Avery, Charles and I waited at the crater’s edge while Johnston went forward alone so as to disturb the ground as little as possible. Daylight was fading by the time he finally returned with his report. “Don’t make no sense,” he told us, scratching his head. “I see just a couple tracks, they lead to the center. Then they stop.” Charles looked at me. I knew what he was thinking. “Is it possible that she… That she fell into the crater hole?” Charles said aloud. Johnston shook his head. “There’s no hint of that, no sir. It’s weird, is all. But she’s not around here. Maybe the others found her.” We returned to the building, where, to our dismay, all other parties reported not having found any trace of Ms. Avery. Darkness had fallen by then, and we were forced to suspend the search. The next day efforts were redoubled, but we found nothing. It was a grim time indeed, particularly because by now we knew that we would probably not find Ms. Avery alive anymore. It was simply not possible for a human being to survive without protection in such inclement weather for two days. The third day, Charles ordered Johnston, Mr. White, Mr. Scott, and two of the cooks to explore the crater hole, the only place which had not been investigated. They came back after a few hours, reporting that the endeavor was hopeless – the hole was found to have been frozen solid under a layer of snow that had been at least six feet deep and there was no way, according to them, for someone to have fallen through somehow and yet left no trace. This left us with no closure to the tragedy, and the morale of all in the household suffered greatly. There was talk among some of the servants of not coming back once springtime came and the roads were passable again. Charles took it hard, feeling as though it was his personal responsibility somehow, although I tried to reassure him that, if Ms. Avery had indeed been deranged, she would have eventually found a way to hurt herself despite our best intentions. There was also the possibility that some other factor might have influenced her actions. I therefore dedicated the next week or so to careful analysis of the mold culture which I grew in the lab, and which was the only possible lead into whatever had happened. It was fascinating study, and indeed for a while, despite the horrible circumstances, I was thrilled to have stumbled upon such a remarkable organism. The mold had taken very well to its controlled environment and had grown to fill the entire glass container within just a few days. I was strongly reminded of fungi because of the way it appeared to grow, but examination under the microscope revealed that this was not a simple fungus, but also some form of plant, paradoxical as that may sound. The chloroplasts were clearly visible, although the cellular structure appeared somewhat more complex than I was used to. I spent several nights reading as much as I could about similar plants and fungi in the many books which Charles had purchased for the library. In this I was alone, since Charles himself refused to have anything to do with the mold and would actually make a point of going somewhere else whenever I studied it. Nevertheless, I was able to quickly ascertain that the mold, if indeed that is what I should call it, was more akin to a colony of single-celled, symbiotic organisms reminiscent of phytoplankton encased by a larger unicellular fungus, rather than a multicellular plant or a mushroom of some kind. This gave it remarkable resilience and flexibility, as I was able to find out in the course of my experimentation. I discovered that the mold would survive both very low and very high temperatures by encasing itself in a sort of cyst which bore a very strong resemblance to a fungal spore. Indeed, the way it multiplied reminded me of the way a fungus’s mycelium grew and spread, and I began to suspect that I was indeed in the presence of an organism which straddled the division between the kingdoms Fungi and Plantae– a very remarkable discovery if that were the case. The microscope showed me that, although individual cells were relatively simple, when grouped together and under the right conditions they would spontaneously organize themselves into rows of three-dimensional structures which, when viewed macroscopically, gave the mold its characteristic fuzzy softness as it grew like a carpet on any surface it could attach itself to. These structures were remarkably efficient at transporting water and nutrients where they were needed, or at least that was my conjecture given the limitations of my equipment. The organisms themselves were not indestructible, of course – I lost nearly the entire culture when I thought about using chlorinated water to test its resilience to a harsh chemical – but, overall, I was certain that I was in the presence of a form of life with remarkable potential, and which had certainly never been documented before. Learning all of this offered no insight on the fate of Ms. Avery, however. I used myself as a guinea pig, deliberately spending lengthy amounts of time with the mold such that any fumes or chemical effluvia which it may produce might have a chance to affect me as well, but I did not experience any nightmares nor did I have any hallucinations. It soon became clear to me that, aside from its remarkable survival abilities and its puzzling combination of attributes from both fungi and plants, the mold was not particularly noteworthy when it came to interacting with more complex organisms such as human beings. I shared my conclusions with Charles one night, a week after the disappearance of Ms. Avery. The day had been clear and sunny, and the night was bright under a full moon. Winter was losing its hold over the land, but it was hard to feel cheerful about that under the circumstances. Nevertheless, I told Charles that, now that I had essentially eliminated the last extraneous factor which might have led Ms. Avery to escape in the night to her death, we could essentially exonerate ourselves from having had a part, either through oversight or direct action, on her ultimate fate. It was all but evident that she must have been a disturbed individual, and her irrational actions were proof of that. It was lamentable, certainly, but there was little we could have done to prevent it. Strangely, the more I spoke, the more Charles frowned. It was as if my words were the exact opposite of what he had expected to hear, and in the end he settled into a sullen silence out of which I could not move him. We sat on the bed without saying a word, looking out the window as if it would somehow offer us answers, or closure, or something. That was when I saw the squirrel approach. It was undoubtedly the same individual which we had seen once before, judging by its lustrous silver coat and its unusually large size. I pointed it out to Charles, hoping to distract him, and I was glad to see that the sight of the curious animal did indeed appear to wake his interest. The two of us watched as the squirrel hopped with very little hesitation across the snow, approaching in a slightly erratic but determined fashion. The moon outside was bright, and by its light we saw clearly not only the squirrel but a sizable portion of the landscape beyond, beautiful in shades of white and black. The snow had not receded yet, but it was a matter of time. Now that the end of winter was in sight, I could allow myself to enjoy the majesty and calmness which the cold brought when it settled over the land, like tonight. The quietude around us was not the empty silence of death – it was the gentle pause of dormant life, waiting to awaken once more to the warmth when the time was right. The squirrel hopped closer until it was standing less than an inch away from the window. This time, however, it did not crash against the glass. It appeared to remember what had happened the last time, and I watched, fascinated, as it reached forward with tentative gestures of its front paws. It was almost like watching a small child explore a clear glass window for the first time. The squirrel appeared unsure of whether it was going to encounter resistance again, and when its claws brushed against the glass, it did a minute and adorable double take. It recovered quickly and reached forward again. This time, it pressed both paws against the glass and explored the surface with quick motions, looking like the smallest mime I had ever seen. I could not help it – I chuckled. Charles did as well. We looked at each other, and in that moment I was able to see past the worry, gloom, and foul mood which had plagued Charles for so many days and behold the man beneath. He was an attractive, brilliant, and thoughtful man. The smile he gave me at that moment dazzled me with its genuine joy. I leaned forward and kissed him gently. He returned the kiss and soon I was lost in the warmth of his embrace, our caresses alternating between tenderness and passion. His lips were soft, his fingers eager, and his scent wonderfully intoxicating. Sex with him was a wonderful release, all the more so because it happened so seldom, and for once Charles appeared to let go of the fearful hesitation and slight embarrassment he would often seem to feel when he shared such intimate moments with me. I felt happy afterwards, holding him close while he rested his head on my chest. “I like it when you hold me,” he said in the moonlit night, his deep voice rumbling in my chest. I did not answer, but stroked his hair gently in peaceful contentment. After the uncertainty and unpleasantness of the last few days, it was a great relief to be able to simply feel at peace with the world for once. The wonderful silence dragged on and my eyelids grew heavy with the approach of welcoming sleep. Something crashed against the window so hard it made it rattle in its frame. Both of us jumped up, startled out of our wits. “What in the seven Hells…?” I said, looking over at the window. It had sounded like someone had tried to smash it open. But I saw nothing under the moonlight. Charles reached for me, evidently scared, and I squeezed his shoulder in reassurance. Then I stood up and went closer to investigate. There was a small crack in the glass, about knee height, but no trace of the projectile could I see anywhere. It could not have been a person, since there were no large tracks in the snow outside. Neither could it have been a bird, since such a violent impact would have stunned it, and there was nothing lying on the ground either. Puzzled, I looked back at Charles, who appeared to be as confused as I am. Can’t see anything, I signed. Maybe it was nothing, he answered. There was a slight tremble in his hand gestures as he spoke. Come back to bed. I did so, still puzzling over what could have happened. I could find no explanation, and as the minutes dragged by and I started feeling more and more sleepy, I decided to simply ignore the matter. I settled down onto the pillows, still holding Charles, and closed my eyes to try to get some sleep. It felt like only an instant later that I was awoken by Charles shaking me. When I opened my eyes, however, I saw that the moonlight now spilled into the bedroom. At least an hour must have passed since I had fallen asleep. I was groggy, but then I saw Charles’s terrified expression not two inches from my face. Danny, he mouthed, eyes wide. “What’s –” I couldn’t finish because Charles placed his hand over my mouth before I could say anything else. I felt him trembling. Danny, he mouthed again. We are not alone. At once I sat up in bed, adrenaline surging, looking for an intruder. There was a revolver under the mattress which I could get, and – But I saw no one. I looked all over but saw no intruder. Charles tugged on my hand lightly to draw my attention to the window. There, standing inside the room and not three feet away from our bed, was the squirrel from before. I was so relieved that I almost laughed, but then I noticed something odd. The squirrel ought to have bolted at my sudden motion, and yet it remained great was, head held high… Watching us. I felt a cold shiver crawl up my spine when, as I moved to rest my back against the pillows, the squirrel turned its head slightly so it was looking directly at me. Something was not right. Now that I saw it inside the room, I had the distinct impression that the squirrel was much too large for a member of its species. I could also see that its coat, while mostly silver, had a dark and irregular stripe running along its tail and its back and which stopped at its neck. I didn’t know why, but upon seeing that dark splotch on the otherwise flawless fur, I felt keen revulsion at a visceral level. Things were not helped by the fact that the creature did not blink. It merely stood there, looking at me, its eyes glassy and yet horribly alert. When I made as if to stand up, its eyes followed me although the rest of its body was kept rigid, standing on two legs, almost as if it were analyzing me. I settled back down on the bed as a result. I risked a quick look at Charles, who appeared paralyzed by fear. Seeing how afraid he was, a wave of terror washed over me which had nothing to do with the potential threat such a little animal posed. It was evidently not affected by rabies or it would have been much more aggressive. Aside from the fact that it was not moving, there really should not have been anything particularly terrifying about it – and yet there was. I could not explain it, but I felt it, more with every passing second. Charles sniffled next to me. It sounded as though he were trying to contain a sob. The squirrel turned its head slowly at the sound so it would be looking at Charles now. Then it hopped closer, once. Charles gasped. The squirrel looked at him for a long, horrible moment, and turned its head to the side like a bird analyzing prey it was about to devour. It was then, since I was seeing it from the side now, that I realized the reason for the horrified disgust which the creature caused in me. The dark sections in its coat did not look like fur at all. The strands looked thicker, like dense plant growth or moldy fuzz. And they were moving. They swayed ever so slightly this way and that although there was no wind inside our bedroom. With an angry cry, I finally broke the spell and stumbled out of the bed, reaching for the revolver. I yanked it out of its hiding place and pointed it at the creature, but the squirrel took one look at me and then dashed away, climbing one of the curtains near the window with dizzying speed. It then disappeared into the darkness near the ceiling, but just a couple of moments later I saw it fleetingly through the window on the other side of the glass. It must have jumped, because I saw it fall down from considerable height and then land on the snow just outside. It stood up immediately, shook itself once… And glanced back at us. First it looked at me, but it was a glance I could not help but interpret as dismissive. Then it looked at Charles for nearly five charged seconds. It lifted a paw in his direction. Then the horrible creature was gone, leaving in its wake a stench which I only now sensed: the earthy rot of vegetable matter left in the dark and damp for too long.
  11. You're right – mental institutions a hundred years ago were places where many people ended up who could have otherwise had productive lives. To this day, the word 'sanatorium' is creepy, to me at least, because of the connotations of the way mentally ill people used to be treated back in the day. Also, a hug might seem like a simple thing, but when you really need it, it can be really powerful. There is something very special and wonderful about holding someone else in your arms when they need it, or being held when it is you who needs support. I like the way you said that Charles needed Danny's hug just like his body needs oxygen. Sometimes it really does feel that way – you need the physical closeness, the support, the encouragement. It can help you keep going.
  12. After that rather eventful summer, my life returned quickly to unremarkable routine. I continued my studies at the University as before, sharing most of my classes with Charles, and becoming close friends with him in the process. The awkwardness of the expedition to the wilderness remained with us, unspoken, although neither of us made any mention of that night when I had refused Charles’s advances. We focused instead on the subjects which fascinated us, physics, mathematics, and particularly astronomy. It soon became clear that Charles was far above the intellectual level of everyone else at the Faculty of Physics, myself included. This, compounded with the fact that his hearing loss continued to isolate him from most of our colleagues, made it so that most of the time Charles spent his time with me. I valued his friendship, his brilliance, and his insight, and together the two of us became a rather formidable academic team, with many lesser publications to our names by the time we graduated. A bright future was forecast for us both by professors and colleagues alike. On my part, in a couple of years I had become quite proficient at sign language. However, the common form of American Sign Language that was in use at the time lacked complex scientific terminology, and Charles and I quickly developed our own personal variation of discourse, with many abbreviations, shortcuts, and simple logical representations of concepts which we used very often. Upon graduation, our communication had become so specialized that we did not need to utter a single word in each other’s presence unless it was convenient, and we had developed a wide variety of ways to communicate as we worked. Direct signs with our hands were the easiest way, of course, but we had also become quite fond of Morse using light, or vibrations, or any sort of input which could be decoded and expressed in binary fashion. Abbreviations became commonplace, with acronyms and sequences of letters replacing our most commonly used phrases. I-K became ‘I know’, C-T became ‘check this’, and so on. Much more specific terminology was quickly given its own sign, with gestures or sequences specific to things like angle of incidence, standard deviation, observable error, weighted correlation index, and many more. In retrospect, I see that developing what essentially came to be our own private language further isolated us from everyone else, but at the time I did not experience it thus. I did not have a need for extensive social companionship when I was with Charles. He was both friend and colleague, mentor and confidant. Our friendship came to mean a lot to me, and I know he appreciated my company as well. Together, we were sure we would accomplish great things. Throughout our years as undergraduates, and fueled by the rather reckless spending of a considerable amount of the Wentworth fortune, construction of the observatory Charles had envisioned was swift and efficient. His initial project had been scaled down significantly due to practical considerations, but its core remained unchanged. A main compound was built as both housing and research central, using the foundations of the old Hotel as had been originally planned. It featured three separate rooms intended for habitation: Charles’s own master suite and two guest bedrooms for his future colleagues or assistants. I remember my amazement at seeing the sumptuous style in which the rooms had been decorated the first time I visited the building once finished. Charles had spared no expense, and the bedrooms, with their thick ornate rugs, woven tapestries, fireplaces and imposing four-poster beds, easily exceeded the luxury with which Charles’s father had decorated the suites of his hotel so many years ago. The bedrooms were far from the most remarkable rooms, however. The main building also featured, at ground level, two large laboratories, a library, a kitchen, staff bedrooms, and two bathrooms. One of the laboratories was eventually outfitted as a mixture of apothecary and chemistry lab. Charles incurred an almost baffling amount of expense in procuring reagents of every possible kind to stock its shelves with, but it was clear to me that he was glad to spend the money in something he thought worthy. He repeatedly expressed the wish to be completely independent from the outside world once he finally decided to move into his scientific hermitage, and the chemistry lab was a good example of the thorough self-sufficiency which would characterize nearly every other specialized room in the property. There were large experimentation tables made of brick and metal, rack upon rack of dried plants, salts, seeds, and even animal parts believed to possess this or that specific property. The lab had running water at every possible desirable temperature, a large furnace, and containers and decanters of glass, metal, marble, and even wood. Charles had also had the foresight of building a large tub at one end of the laboratory, made of reinforced porcelain, crafted well enough to withstand the strongest of acids or acid mixtures which Charles might one day need to employ in the course of his studies. Electricity was supplied to this laboratory, as well as to the rest of the compound and the annexes, by a series of generators which Charles himself had optimized upon installation. Fuel for the generators had been generously stockpiled, and Charles had plans to eventually supplement the energy generated by the fuel with energy from chemical sources which he himself planned to develop later on. Once he even spoke of harvesting energy from the sun itself via something he called solar sails. I marveled at both his inventiveness and resourcefulness. It is a testament to his genius that most of his plans for the Observatory, as the entire compound was eventually named, came to fruition in good time. Opposite the chemistry lab, a much more important physics and astronomy lab had been built. It occupied nearly double the area of the former, and it had been outfitted with all manner of instrumentation for both observation and also data analysis. There were telescopes and lenses of every kind to be found there, as well as samples of nearly every chemical element which could be safely contained in a laboratory. There were devices which ranged from the simple, such as an array of prisms for investigating the properties of light, to the mysteriously complicated, like mechanical devices for storing information and making certain calculations easier – each of them Charles’s own invention. This lab became, eventually, the place where Charles would spend most of his time. A library had been added to it, and it was full of priceless volumes in many different languages. They ranged from the famous and incredibly expensive, such as two prominently displayed copies of Newton’s Principia Mathematica and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, to the obscure and mysterious, like several tattered manuscripts dating from medieval times which only Charles could read, but which, he assured me, contained interesting insights on the nature of the world and the universe beyond it. Charles had even somehow procured actual scrolls from Persian and Alexandrian times, as well as one other book, Arab in origin, which he always kept under lock and key and which I never saw directly, because Charles appeared strangely averse to mentioning even its title. All of this wealth of information was staggering, and yet it was not the end of the Observatory compound. Besides the large kitchen, which Charles kept staffed with three capable although taciturn cooks from a rather horrible seaside town in New England, an entire basement level had been dug out to serve as both larder and storage for every possible thing Charles thought he would need in the future. Foodstuffs were regularly delivered, and one of the large storage spaces was entirely devoted to fuel. There was also a water reservoir, in addition to a deep well which had been dug up beneath the property and whose waters were always crystalline, and ice cold. Some of the partitions of the basement were simply empty spaces at the beginning, awaiting whatever contents the years would see fit to deposit into them. Others held dangerous reagents and substances which Charles did not feel safe in keeping upstairs. Of particular note was a generous hunk of radium, kept in a lead box, stored in one of the otherwise empty rooms, access to it barred always by a heavy iron gate and a padlock which only Charles could open. Above the ground floor, a smaller level had been built. It functioned as a sort of attic, although an empty one. I was always mildly disturbed by the emptiness of the attic whenever I chanced to go up there. It had many windows and magnificent wooden flooring, but whereas, with some decoration, it could have easily been turned into a dance hall or a studio or an art gallery, the fact that the walls were kept bare and that there was no furniture anywhere gave it always an air of abandonment and dread which I could not quite place. I avoided the space most of the time, but Charles would eventually go up there and spend hours upon hours thinking. I supposed, and still do, that genius such as his required isolation and calm at regular intervals so as to produce the truly groundbreaking ideas, concepts, and theories which Charles regularly grappled with. Outside the main compound, a generous space had been designated as a garden where food was grown. A gardener was hired to keep it in good shape: a bearded man named Hank Scott, originally from the village of Tupper Lake. He was efficient and kept mostly to himself, qualities which Charles appeared to prize very highly. He lived in a small shack which had been constructed for him at the edge of the garden and it was thanks to his efforts that the occupants of the Observatory could regularly enjoy fresh produce as a welcome supplement to their summer and autumn meals. Beyond the garden, the erstwhile observation tower had been transformed into the actual Observatory. It was expanded and extensively remodeled, its cupola almost a work of art. Charles imported builders from Italy to help construct the magnificent edifice, and although it was in building this that he spent a sizable portion of his resources, the investment was well worth it. The telescope at the top of the Observatory was powerful. Its lens array was large enough to offer the viewer relatively detailed images of even far-off Andromeda. It could be swiveled nearly 60 degrees so was to follow the movements of the stars, and inside there were many delicate measuring instruments and volume upon volume of ledgers to record information, which Charles slowly filled with his observations. Of all the places in the entire property, the Observatory was always my favorite. I would often go there during troubled nights and simply look up at the stars. They never ceased to amaze me – not until they started to horrify me. At the beginning, however, my love for the universe burned bright and through the telescope I was able to contemplate the majesty of Creation in a privileged way for which I am still thankful to this day. There was another building still, although its completion took nearly four years, and during the first year of my stay at the Observatory, it was merely that – a work in progress. However, this was the focal point of Charles’s scientific endeavors. It was to become the locus of the obsession which eventually drove everything else from his mind. Upon completion, it was a marvel of engineering, completed decades before its time. Both in conception and execution, it was true genius which guided it. Through it, Charles was able to pierce the veil of ignorance which shrouds our world, and look beyond. How I wish he had never done that. How I wish I had destroyed or sabotaged that abominable radio antenna while it was still being built. For that was what it became eventually – a gigantic parabolic dish which, by means of geometry and electromagnetism, was able to focus radio waves and beam them out into the void of space. I spoke with Charles about the device many times, although I was never able to fully grasp how it worked. When it was completed, though, years after the first stone of its foundation was set, it was a device capable of not only transmitting modulated electromagnetic waves, but also of receiving them, and interpreting them. A crucial part, that. Or so Charles thought in his naïveté. In the end it did not matter. The household staff of the Observatory was supplemented by a butler by the name of George White, several itinerant maids from the village of Tupper Lake, and the groundskeeper which had watched over the property for many years hence. Each was carefully instructed by Charles and, over the years, they became rather adept at working unseen so as not to disturb him. It was good, in a way, because delicate experiments and crucial sessions of intense mental deliberations could be carried out without fear of interruption, but it also had the consequence of making me, at least, feel as though the property were empty most of the time. It was a peaceful yet also unsettling sensation, to which I got accustomed only very slowly, and which I do not miss in the least. Even now, in my old age, I routinely seek human companionship so as to avoid recalling the isolation to which I willingly subjected myself in those times. Back then, however, I did not consider it isolation but a privilege. Scarcely four months after our graduation, Charles formally offered me the position of colleague and partner at the Observatory. I must admit I did not even think about my decision, accepting on the spot. My father was pleased, because he knew that my future was all but assured as Charles’s scientific partner. My mother was less thrilled, urging me to perhaps consider spending a year abroad, traveling through Europe to get to know the world better. I should have listened to her, of course, but I did not. After a few weeks of preparation I packed my few belongings into a single suitcase, and I left my hometown to move in with Charles to dedicate our lives to the noble endeavor of scientific discovery. The first months of our stay were wonderful, albeit slightly awkward. I remember still the excitement with which we both crossed the threshold of the Observatory’s main building for the first time. The servants had all been hard at work for several weeks to make the place habitable and welcoming, and their efforts had not been in vain. It felt almost like arriving at a luxurious resort where Charles and I were the only guests. Meals were served promptly whenever we wished. Entertainment was never far away, either in the form of scientific literature, experimentation, stargazing, or simply strolling through the wilderness in the crisp air of the valley in October. The landscape around us was breathtakingly beautiful as always, but the scenery reached new heights of poignant contrast when the leaves of the trees began to turn golden and red. I had a room all to myself, adjacent to Charles’s own, and it was the largest space solely for my use which I had ever occupied. It had a beautiful view of the garden tended by Mr. Scott, a generous fireplace, and an enormous bed. There were even electric lights, which I could burn for as long as I wanted in the night should I be engrossed by calculations or literature pertinent to whichever area of study I had decided to dedicate my attention to. Not even during my days at the University had I known such academic freedom, and, despite the fact that my mind was nowhere near the level of Charles’s genius, I had my share of epiphanies and important discoveries every now and then. I also kept lively correspondence with many colleagues around the country, in London, in Vienna, and in Prague. Mail was delivered to the Observatory once a month, weather permitting, and so I was never too far separated from current events or the latest scientific papers, journals, and discoveries. Sharing the same living space opened both Charles and myself to learning about facets of the other which, despite our close friendship, we were only now experiencing for the first time. Some of them were slightly annoying, I must confess. Charles dressed meticulously each and every day, as though he were expecting company or as though he were just about to go out to a social event. It took him nearly an hour every morning simply to get ready, and this meant that some of our time-sensitive experiments and studies in the early hours were mostly left to me because Charles was either still in the bath, or shaving, or picking an outfit for the day. I suppose that, from his perspective, I could have been seen as something of a slob – the clothes I was wearing were the least of my concerns, and often I would just don the previous day’s habiliments if they were not particularly dirty without thinking too much about it. Charles would sometimes suggest, only half-jokingly, whether he should not invite a tailor to stay with us for a season so my wardrobe could be appropriately supplemented. Something else which I had not expected, and which required a certain measure of coordination on both our parts, was deciding what to eat. Because of his upbringing, Charles was used to simply eating whatever the chef or cook had prepared for him that day. I, on the other hand, liked to have a more active involvement in my diet, and this led to some interesting discussions regarding the instructions which should be given to the cooks as to what they should prepare. It did not help that I was not particularly fond of seafood or fish, which the cooks obviously loved with disproportionate, mildly unsettling zeal. The first thing resembling a fight Charles and I had happened during the third week after moving in. After having four dinners in a row on four different days featuring nothing but cod, salmon, trout, and octopus, I loudly declared I was sick of the fare and would greatly appreciate something a little different, like beef or, my favorite, venison. I may have remarked on the quality of the food before me rather negatively, which the cooks overheard – sadly, from that point on, the three already oddly quiet and secretive fellows made it a point of avoiding me whenever they could. Charles was none too pleased, either, reminding me that I was being rude, which naturally angered me and I stormed off to my room proudly, not coming out or talking to anyone until late the next day. Overall, however, things went quite well and both Charles and I quickly adapted to each other’s quirks. Our shared love of science certainly made everything run much more smoothly. Now unhindered by limitations such as we had had at the University, and free to pursue whichever area of investigation struck our fancy, we made gigantic leaps in very short time in areas which may initially have appeared unrelated, but all of which had the ultimate objective of enabling Charles’s dream of communicating with the stars. It was thus that we quickly perfected a porous membrane which selectively allowed charged salt ions through itself in precise quantities – the foundation for Charles’s later creation of a chemical battery. We developed sophisticated mathematical notation for calculations involving the modulation of electromagnetic fields. We even dedicated some time to refining the existing models of the solar system and all relevant bodies within, work which later allowed Charles to precisely pinpoint the expected location of planets, satellites, and even some comets to a degree of exactitude which, he said, would be crucial for his communications endeavors in the future. Our life settled into a very comfortable routine and I had high hopes for the future. For the first couple of months, nothing of significance occurred to challenge this idea. Only when the weather turned colder did things change somewhat. It was in early November that Charles began to express a certain vague discomfort which, he said, appeared to follow him around. At the beginning I merely attributed it to the fact that we were both in a relatively new environment, getting adjusted to a new rhythm of life, but when weeks went by and November turned into December, the long nights appeared to bring along with them a certain malaise of the mind under which Charles suffered increasingly. He would appear taciturn, withdrawn. Some mornings he would simply refuse to get out of bed and only come out well after noon had come and gone, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and looking haggard despite his careful manner of dress, claiming that he could not wake up early and that he needed a prodigious amount of sleep in order to feel well rested. He began to eat more than usual, indulging in sweets and desserts which the cooks were quick to provide him with. His temper was also rather short at seemingly random intervals, and he would get discouraged very quickly and abandon projects which he had with great enthusiasm started only a few days hence. He would also go to bed very late indeed, even on nights when we did not carry out any observations through the telescope. He became less talkative, more focused in the theories and concepts of great complexity which appeared to be his only source of solace. In January, when the cold was deepest and the darkness seemingly interminable, he began to have nightmares. He would wake up late in the day, exhausted, still immaculately dressed but with dark circles under his eyes which grew more pronounced as the days went by. Worried, I suggested we do something to try and address the source of his discomfort. Charles appeared despondent, but receptive to my suggestions. It was thus that we began to take long walks through the forest around the property, a custom which later became a thrice-weekly routine. The wilderness was never far away, living where we did. The first time we went out, we did so around noon to take advantage of the fleeting sunlight. It was mid-January and snow was everywhere. A path of sorts had been prepared for us by the gardener the previous day: Mr. Scott had salted the ground in a wide circuit which led from the main Observatory complex into the trees, around the crater, and through the gardens. It was thus relatively easy going for us both, and we were free to admire the still majesty of nature, dormant in the throes of winter cold. Charles was hesitant to leave the comfort of being indoors, but I insisted and in the end he relented. For the first ten minutes or so of our walk he dragged his feet, looking at the ground and appearing lost in dark thoughts. However, once the path led us into the trees, I noticed a slight improvement in his demeanor. It’s beautiful, I gestured, looking all about. Almost reluctantly, he nodded. I-K, he signed. I know. Our breath misted in front of our faces every time we exhaled, but despite the chilly temperature, I realized I felt quite comfortable out in nature. The two of us stood there for some time, surrounded by trees devoid of leaves, and I could not help but marvel at the fact that this entire property was off-limits to all but a few people, like myself, fortunate enough to have been granted access to this fascinating and mostly wild region. It was normally easy to believe that the entire world had long since been discovered and explored, but being out in places such as this one was one of the best ways for me to realize that, even within our own country, there were still countless places which no one had explored thoroughly, and where untold mysteries might still be hiding, awaiting discovery. I felt Charles’s hand on my shoulder. Look, he gestured with his eyes and his lips, yet without making a sound. I followed his gaze and was startled to see a magnificent stag standing less than twenty feet away, half hidden by a large pine tree. His head was crowned by an impressive set of antlers, the tips of which appeared frosted with ice overlaying a very slight patina of dark fungoid green which, although slightly out of place, gave him a more imposing presence. He was the very embodiment of strength and confidence. The stag appeared to have long since seen us, and yet, after a pause, he simply walked away, unhurried. Both of us could do nothing but admire him in silence. It was only after he had disappeared that I realized that it was rather early in the season for a stag to have fully grown antlers already, although I had never been much of a chordate naturalist and I was not at all familiar with the wildlife in this region and all its quirks. We continued our walk at a slower pace, and now Charles appeared to have forgotten all about his dark mood. By his frequent comments highlighting this or that beautiful icicle, a lonesome bird spotted by chance between the branches of a tree, or the beauty of a small stream turned to ice, I could tell that my idea to bring him out of the Observatory was working as intended. The change of scenery and the fresh air did wonders not only for him, but for me as well, and I was quite relaxed and at ease with the world by the time the path rounded and led us closer to the edge of the crater. Curiously, neither Charles nor I had dedicated a single evening towards further exploration of that place and the cavern we knew lay beneath. I did not know why Charles had not attempted to explore it again, but for me, the strangeness associated with our single foray into that cavern had been enough and I was happy to leave it be. Now, in the middle of winter, the crater appeared much less like an odd scar on the surface of the earth and more like a quite ordinary gentle depression of the terrain, completely covered by snow as it was. It blended in nicely with the rest of the landscape, the only remarkable thing about it being that it was such a wide open space where no trees grew. We sat down on one of the fallen tree trunks left behind from the bolide explosion, and we had just begun eating some mixed nuts I had brought along, when a squirrel descended from the branches of a nearby conifer and jumped onto the snow. Charles was quick to offer it a nut, but the squirrel dashed back up the tree at the motion of his arm. Curiosity must have gotten the best of it, however, because it eventually came back down and appeared to be caught between the instinct to run away and the desire to get some food. Charles threw a cashew at it. The squirrel bolted again, and it was nearly five minutes later that it gathered enough courage to once again return to ground level. It located the treat straight away, pounced upon it, and stuffed it in its cheeks. I laughed. It was the first sound either Charles or I had made since starting our walk, and it felt somehow out of place amidst all that natural stillness. The squirrel, evidently alarmed, disappeared up the tree and this time did not come down. Charles and I finished our snack and resumed our walk. Must be a new variety, Charles said to me silently a little while later. What? That squirrel. I didn’t know their tail fur could turn so dark. Looked almost green around the base, don’t you think? No idea. I didn’t even notice. The rest of the walk was uneventful but quite invigorating. That day, Charles was much more energetic and upbeat than usual, even suggesting we spend some time properly outfitting a corner of the physics lab as a sort of biological analysis station, bringing expensive microscopes and lenses out from storage in the basement and arranging them around and on one of the larger workstations at the southern end of the physics lab. It was satisfying work, and by the time midnight came around I went to my room feeling pleasantly tired. I fell asleep almost immediately. I was awoken by Charles’s scream in the night. It was quite startling and I was awake instantly. Not only was it the first time it had happened, but, because Charles and I rarely needed to speak at all, hearing his voice had become an odd occurrence over the weeks. Hearing him scream – I had not heard him do that, not since our expedition years ago. Half-dressed, I stumbled out of my room. The butler, worried, met me in the hallway. “It’s okay, Mr. White,” I said aloud. “I will go check on him.” I knocked at Charles’s door but there was no answer. I entered slowly, wondering if I should turn on the lights. “Charles, it’s me,” I said in the dark. I could scarcely see. “Danny?” “Yes.” “I’m so sorry. I… I had a nightmare.” “Ah. I thought something had happened to you. I’m glad everything’s okay.” I made as if to leave, but Charles’s carefully modulated voice stopped me. “Danny?” “Yes?” “Would you mind… Would you mind staying for a while?” I opened the door briefly to notify Mr. White that everything was okay. Then, after closing it, I walked to Charles’s bed. He had not closed his curtains, and faint moonlight streamed in from the enormous window which flanked his four-poster bed. The window stretched from floor to ceiling. It was about six feet wide and the thick glass was so exquisitely clean that it felt as though we were still out in the wilderness in some way. I could see snow falling just outside. The effect was quite calming, although it was obvious that Charles was feeling anything but calm at the moment. I came to a stop next to the bed. Charles was sitting up under the covers, his knees drawn up to his chest. Now that my eyes had adjusted to the dimness and I could see better, I could tell that he appeared terrified. What’s the matter? I signed, looking around for a chair to drag so I could sit next to him. Charles noticed and instead shuffled to the side on his mattress, clearly inviting me to sit next to him, which I did straight away. It was obvious that he needed the comfort of physical closeness. Settling down at his side, I waited for him to feel ready to speak. I could hear him breathing rather fast, but it seemed to me that it was best not to press him and to simply wait for him to describe whatever he had dreamt which had disturbed him so. It was just a few minutes later that he spoke, aloud, staring straight ahead, as if afraid to meet my eyes. “You will probably think I’m such a bother,” he said. “I don’t think that.” “I’m a grown man disturbed out of his wits by a nightmare. It is something more appropriate to a child.” “I don’t think so. Nightmares can be bad.” He looked at me briefly and then looked away. “I have always had them, you know?” I said nothing, waiting for him to continue. “Ever since that night so many, many years ago. I will see them – my mother, my father. Dead. Or I will relive the funeral, for example. Or I will remember that horrible hand… Or it will be something mundane, like dreaming of a sunset. I don’t know what it is, Danny. It’s like I’m always sad. I try to be upbeat and get on with life and our projects, but there are periods of time when it just feels like such a chore to wake up. Have you ever felt like that?” “I don’t think so,” I said carefully. He smiled sadly. “Of course you haven’t. I’m glad. I’m happy for you, really. This sadness that follows me around… I don’t like it. Most of the time I can just ignore it, especially if I’m working. That’s why I like it here so much. There’s nothing but work and I don’t have to fit in anymore, or compensate for the fact that I can’t hear well. I built this place for me – for us. Here I can be myself. That’s good, most of the time. But then the sadness comes, and also this other thing, this kind of… Fear, I think I could call it. When I’m okay I scarcely notice it, but then something will trigger it and I can’t get rid of it at all. It could be anything: maybe a project not working the way I wanted to, or maybe waking up with a toothache, or just the long nights of winter like now. “I can tell when I am having a… a spell of negativity, because I sleep much more. At the same time, I don’t like sleeping that much because I get dreams. They make me feel bad, and they scare me. I know it is cowardly of me to say this, but sometimes I have these horrible feelings… Like I will never be happy again, or like something horrible is about to happen, only I don’t know what it is. I can’t really explain it very well. There is no rhyme or reason to it. I just want it to end when I get like this, but the more I obsess about it, the more difficult it is to break free of the horrible cycle. “It helped me to go walking in the woods today, actually. I’m so thankful that you thought of that. I believed that I would be able to sleep better tonight, and at the beginning I did, but then I had this nightmare… I can’t even remember it well. Some shape moving in the dark, threatening me. I was sure it had seen me and there was no way out. I was trying to cry out for help desperately, drowning, and there was a light, gold and green – I think I may have cried out for help for real. I apologize for waking you up.” There’s no need, I gestured, sitting closer so he would be able to see my hands. For some reason, speaking silently felt much more meaningful and natural to me whenever I was with Charles. I knew it was an effort for him to speak aloud, and I suspected that he might have been doing it right then as a way to distance himself from what he was feeling, but I wanted him to know that it was okay. I’m glad you’re not hurt. I thought something had happened. He looked at me, his eyes bright as though he were about to cry. However, when before such a display of emotion would have made me uncomfortable, I was now fully at ease. Is there anything I can do? I asked. Anyway I can help you feel better? Charles said nothing for several long, long moments. He appeared to be fighting with himself and I actually felt him trembling slightly. Then it was as though he had reached a conclusion, because he shifted the way he was sitting so he would be facing me. He leaned a tiny bit closer. Could you stay? he asked me. Then he looked away, as though embarrassed for having asked. I placed my hand on his shoulder so he would look at me again. Of course. We sat together rather awkwardly, in complete silence, for the better part of a minute. Charles was crying softly now, and I was alarmed but did not know what to do. I was afraid of doing the wrong thing and so I merely stayed right where I was, worrying. It seemed like a long time before Charles was able to regain some composure. Then he took a long, shaky breath, looked at me tearfully and said, Danny, I think I need a hug. I nodded and opened my arms. He all but crashed into me, hugging me fiercely, crying again, and clinging to me as though he were clinging to a raft so he would not drown. “It’s okay,” I kept saying aloud. “It’s okay.” A long minute later I pulled Charles back slightly and wiped the tears from his cheeks. I felt bad because I cared for him deeply and I hated seeing him suffering so. I wished I knew what to do to make him feel better. Our faces were inches from each other. Charles leaned forward slightly but caught himself and drew back. His body trembled in my arms. Suddenly, I knew what to do. I leaned forward and gently touched his cheek. Then I closed my eyes and drew him close. He acquiesced, unresisting, and I lay down fully on the bed along with him, pulling the covers over us in the process. He hugged me fiercely and I stroked his hair, whispering words of comfort out of instinct although I knew he would barely be able to hear them. Minutes passed by and eventually Charles relaxed. I held him gently, until he fell asleep, comforting him all through the night.
  13. Wooo! 3000 reputation points! *blushes*

     

    1. Show previous comments  1 more
    2. Daddydavek

      Daddydavek

      Congrats!

    3. albertnothlit

      albertnothlit

      Thank you guys! :D

       

    4. Lux Apollo

      Lux Apollo

      Keep up the posting and just being you!

  14. Insightful as ever! Something came down from the sky that night and it is already affecting its environment. Just what it is, the how and the why, I hope you and everyone else reading will find somewhat surprising… I’m finding it very interesting to imagine how people would have dealt with something not from this world one hundred years ago, before the Internet, before science fiction was popular, and back when knowledge was something not everybody had at their fingertips. Then there is also the attraction Charles feels for Danny, at a time when most people had no concept of what being gay even meant, at least not in the way we understand it now. These two things together make for cool subject matter, because humanity as a whole has changed so much in a hundred years, and the way in which we even think about them is so radically different, that I’m having a lot of fun writing this story. I hope it shows! Hugs, -Albert
  15. albertnothlit

    Shamrock Lite

    Wow, thank you very much for the kind feedback! I put a lot of myself into this story, short as it is, and it is quite rewarding to know that it resonates emotionally with others. I personally love fairies ever since I read the Artemis Fowl books when I was growing up, but this was the first time I tried my hand at actually writing something featuring them. I’m glad you found it entertaining!
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