Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
The door swung open, and Thomas stared dumfounded. Through the door was a forest of palm trees. He could taste salt in the air as it pushed all around him, snapping the wet corners of his tattered shirt. The sound of waves lapping against sand seemed to call to him, urging him to step through the door. Wisps of sand blew across the stone floor. The tiny grains formed a pattern that resembled smoke, and soon obscured the threshold of the door.
Thomas looked behind him. The tunnel he had traversed seemed to stretch away from him, looking to be further away the longer he stared. A collection of buzzing insects flitted about his face. He could feel tiny wings tickling the inside of his nose. Shaking his head, he blew out coughs of air from his nose and mouth. Waving his hands in front of his face, his eyes closed tight, he stepped backwards. The buzzing sound melted into the sound of rustling leaves. The soft ground beneath him shifted, and he felt his leg sliding out from underneath him as he fell into sand.
Opening his eyes, he saw a kaleidoscope of palm leaves against dark swirling clouds. Scrambling to his feet, he looked for the door. There was no sign of it. He ran from one palm tree to another. He rubbed his hands against the rough segmented bark. Touching his face, grains of sand scraped against his skin.
This can’t be real, he thought. I’ve hit my head. I’m unconscious. This is a hallucination. Or I’ve gone…
A massive thunderclap shattered his train of thought. Ducking down, he instinctively put his hands over his head. He felt the thunder’s aftermath more than heard it. His insides seemed to be trying to vibrate along with the rumbling. He was painfully conscious of his own heart beating. It almost seemed like it was trying to synchronize its beating with the fading echos of thunder. Reaching out for a nearby palm tree trunk, Thomas steadied himself. He focussed on his breathing, taking long deep breaths.
As he regained his composure, the wind shifted, and he heard voices.
“..have to get up! Hurry!” a man’s voice yelled.
Thomas moved towards the sound. The light grew dim as he moved forward. Brush pushed around him. Sharp twigs tugged at his clothes and skin like grasping claws. Looking up, he saw sparks of blue lightning arcing through a slowly rotating dense cloud formation. A memory pushed forward. He had been a child. His parents had woken him up. It was dark outside, and wet. They pushed him into the car as the wind roared. The car rocked as radio static tried to chew through the speakers like a rabid ghost.
A bright flash of lightning blinded Thomas, but also illuminated a section of beach directly in front of him. Pushing through the bramble, he saw four lights. At first he thought they were lanterns, but as he grew closer, he saw they were flames from torches placed at the corners of a checkerboard blanket on the sand.
His eyes adjusting, Thomas could see it was two men. One was older, a head full of white hair. The other was younger, with most of his face covered with a thick beard. They were both wearing white lab coats. Thomas pushed through the brush to get a better look.
“Shhhhhhh!” the older man said, looking around. The man’s bright blue eyes seemed to shine in the dim twilight, and for an instant he thought the man looked right at him. A buzzing tingle lit up at the back of his neck. He swatted at it, like it was a bug, and shook his head.
“Wait! Where are you going?” the older man yelled.
Thomas could hear a strange clicking sound blow in from the water, but his attention remained with the two men on the beach. His eyes widened as he saw the form of the taller man begin to shimmer. His form stretched and twisted like a television picture losing it’s vertical and horizontal control. Another crack of thunder caused the brush all around him to shake. The sand beneath him started to shift. He couldn’t tell if he was sinking or if the sand was being pushed up around him. Struggling, he took a deep breath as sand enveloped him. The sound of crashing waves blended into the roaring of blood rushing about his eardrums.
Like a popped bubble, the sensation of cold hard stone pressed against his back. With a gasp, he sucked in air. The clean salty taste of the beach had been replaced with acrid ozone, burnt oil, and decay. There were a handful of spot lights illuminating the space. Looking up, there was only darkness. The air above seemed be nothing more than a light consuming shadow.
A strange sound pushed itself into his attention. It was a gurgling sound, almost like an aquarium being aerated. Looking to his left, he saw two large glass tanks, each nearly as tall as him, and filled with a greenish opaque liquid. He could see bubbles snaking around the inside of the glass. Struggling to his feet, he went to get a closer look.
As he approached the first tank, he saw a shadow move in the brackish liquid. Leaning forward he saw a large ring of jet black eyes emerge from the soupy haze.
“Jesus!” Thomas yelled, backing away until he bumped into another tank.
Spinning, he saw the tank he had backed into was badly damaged. The glass was cracked and splintered into hundreds of shards. He was surprised that the whole thing hadn’t fallen around him. Glass crunching under his shoes, he peered through the spiderweb of cracks. Inside was a small withered body. It looked like it had been drained of all fluid, almost mummified. The skin about the face was drawn back tight against the skull, and thick wet strands of white hair stuck to it like albino leeches.
“Who …. are …. you?”
Thomas jumped. To his right, at the edge of shadow, stood a short man. He was wrapped in a lab coat that looked looked more like a painter’s smock covered with dark smudges. He looked strangely familiar, but the stilted cadence of the question had caught him off guard. The syllables had been drawn out, as if the words sounded as strange to the man speaking them as they did to Thomas.
“I … I …” Thomas stammered.
The man stepped forward into the light. Two bright electric blue eyes stared at him. Wild white hair shot with streaks of black framed a face that somehow looked old and young all at the same time.
“You! … it’s you! … from the beach!” Thomas exclaimed.
The man slowly tilted his head to one side at such a severe angle that Thomas almost thought his neck was going to snap. A strange clicking sound filled the room. The sound was coming from all around him. The cloudy liquid in the two tanks began to froth. Multiple sets of black claws emerged, tapping and scratching at the glass. Looking back to the man, he watched as his posture straightened. The movements were almost reptilian. A smile stretched across his face, like his skin was being pulled back from behind.
There was movement at the man’s side, and Thomas saw a bulbous creature the size of a large dog pull itself into the light, dragging its bulk across the stone floor with long sharp claws. A ring of solid black eyes stared at him. From their center a chitinous beak protruded, and began to chitter.
A piercing shriek filled Thomas’ head. Slamming his hands over his ears had no effect. The sound was inside him. Frantic, he looking around, as space seemed to tilt on an invisible axis. Animal instinct took over, and Thomas bolted headlong into the darkness.