Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
As the elevator cage rose, Phillip rubbed the numb area of his finger, though numb wasn’t the right word for it. He dug into the soft flush with the corner of his thumbnail. After a second or two he stopped. There was no doubt that he could still feel pain. There was like a kind of tingling. But not like an itch, or pins and needles.
His brother had suffered from tinnitus ever since college, having had the misfortune of being too near some industrial strength fireworks one summer. While he had tried to explain the sensation of hearing something that couldn’t actually be heard, Phillip had never quite understood it. He had said it was always there, but sometimes he just didn’t notice it. As Phillip stared at his hand, he was wondering if his own moment of recklessness would result in a similar kind of condition.
The cage lurched a little more than normal as it came to a stop. Pulling open the mesh door, he stepped into the hallway. During his ascent, he had also decided that it was time to talk to Martin. It wasn’t something he was looking forward to, but it had to be done before someone got seriously hurt.
Turning a corner he saw a distant movement. It looked like Gus hurrying into a bathroom. That boy is too high strung for his own good, Phillip thought. While Gus did a remarkable job of appearing laid back, Phillip was mostly convinced that it was just a facade, and underneath he was a tightly wound ball of anxiety. You’re just projecting, his inner voice chided.
Stepping into Martin’s lab, he noticed two things immediately. The first was the specimen tanks. They were now full. Each held a single large creature, almost too big for it’s tank. As soon as Phillip stepped into the room three of the four rotated, as if of a single mind. He had the disconcerting feeling that they were staring at him.
The second was Martin. He was sitting on a stool, his back to Phillip. His shoulders were slumped forward, and he almost looked like a person who had fallen asleep in front of a television. A flash of concern sparked across Phillip’s mind. Martin wasn’t exactly young, and he had been acting strangely of late. Stepping forward, Phillip reached out his hand, preparing himself to try and catch him if he slid off the stool.
“Martin,” he said softly.
Phillip jumped as the creatures in three of the tanks all started clicking their chitinous claws hard against the glass. The staccato rhythm was fast, and unified. It seemed to echo all around him, filling the room. Martin stood up from the stool, turned, and marched out of the lab. As soon as he cleared the lab door, the clicking stopped. Though Martin had passed within an just inch or two of him, it was as if Phillip hadn’t even been there.
Stepping closer to the tanks, Phillip leaned in to get a closer look. The three specimens had rotated again, turning their crown of eyes away from him. Looking to the fourth tank, he noticed the coloring of that creature was slightly different than the others. It was also not quite as large. At first he wondered if it was dead, but as he stared, it rolled around, and faced him.
An odd vibration rumbled through him, up through his feet. The water in the tanks sloshed. The pattern was that of a standing wave. But that can’t be, he thought. He noticed a soreness in his hand. Looking down, it was balled up into a tight fist, nails digging into his palm. The strange tingling sensation now enveloped his whole arm. A somewhat acrid odor climbed up the back of his throat.
The next thing Phillip knew, a roar like a freight train ripped through the hallway, filling the lab. He felt dizzy, and off balance, like he was standing on a pile of marbles. His legs tried to adjust, but couldn’t move. His feet were firmly on the ground. It was the floor that was moving, not him. Disorientation whipped around him like a tornado. There was a loud crash, like a shattered vase. He felt something strike his back, or was it his back hitting something. Cold dampness creeped around him. He felt something like the tickle of static electricity envelop his hand, and start to move up his arm. As he turned to look the lights went out.
A sensation of disorientation was so intense that Phillip felt like he was simultaneously inside and outside his body. A clap of thunder shook him to his bones, and pulled him together. Opening his eyes, he saw that he was seated in a small rowboat. It rocked gently to and fro. In the floorboard there was a single paddle. Looking up, there was a domed sky full of swirling clouds.
Something struck the bottom of the boat, hard. It was followed by another thump, and then another. Looking over the side, he could see what looked like hundreds of thick segmented eels churning just under the dark water’s surface. To his right there was what looked like a small island, or at least a beach. There was a flickering light, and he thought he saw a person, waving their arms, as if to get his attention.
The thumping under the boat intensified, and the little craft rocked with increased violence. Realizing he might capsize, Phillip grabbed the oar, and started paddling. He tried to steer as best he could towards the figure on the beach. He saw water start to leak through the boards at the bottom of the boat. Panic setting in, he paddled faster.
With a lurch the prow of the boat dug into wet sand. Looking over the side, he didn’t see anymore of the creatures. Without another thought, he jumped into the shallow water. The sand pulled at the bottoms of his boots as he made his way landward.
Reaching the edge of the water, he fell forward. The gritty sand pressing into his skin was almost a relief. Another loud clap of thunder dashed any scraps of relaxation he might have had. He could feel the air shake all around him as a single element, like he was trapped inside a speaker. A hand pressed against his shoulder.
“Get up! You have to get up!”
The voice was familiar. He struggled to his knees. His glasses, caked with wet sand, blocked his view. He felt himself pushed forward. His water logged boots clomped as the muscles in his legs burned.
Fuzzy lights were just ahead. He stepped onto something that wasn’t sand. A covering of some kind. A blanket? he thought. Another peal of thunder, though it seemed more distant. Pulling off his glasses, he brushed away as much of the sand as he could, trying to not scratch the lenses any worse than they already were. Putting them back on, he sank to his knees. Standing in front of him, just next to a small table with a strange looking television set, was Martin.
“How?” Phillip said.
“I don’t know, exactly. Time is … strange here. How long have I been gone?”
“Gone? What do you mean, gone?”
There was a rustle in the tree line, as if something was racing through, smacking aside branches as it went.
“Shhhhhh,” Martin said as he sat down next to Phillip.
“What is it?” Phillip asked.
“I’m not sure. It’s a new thing. Well, until you showed up.”
“Where is this?” Phillip asked.
A series of squeaking, chittering noises blew in from the water. Phillip felt himself growing cold, as if heat was being sapped directly from his core.
“Wait! Where are you going!”
Martin stood up, and looked around. Stepping forward, he moved right through Phillip, who watched as Martin’s leg passed through his chest, as if he wasn’t there. Looking down at his hands, he could see the rumpled blanket right through them. The icy coldness intensified.
Martin was pacing around the patch of blanket. He went to the television, and started banging on it. There was another loud crack of thunder as a bright blue streak of lightning ripped the sky in half. Simultaneously freezing cold wrapped around Phillip’s neck as existence blinked out.