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Scene 25

1753 words·9 mins
Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
Part 25: This Article

Phillip felt his footing give way as Martin’s claws dug deep lines of fire into his back. Time slowed as a feeling of weightlessness enveloped him. He had no idea how far the elevator shaft went, but he knew there was no time. The face of the thing that appeared to be Martin, a very young Martin, swelled. As a circle of dark spots darkened around his face, his jaw seemed to unhinge. It was almost like he was preparing to engulf him like a snake preparing to consume a creature many sizes larger than itself.

Twisting in the air, Phillip waited until he could feel his lab coat flapping away at the back of him. A strange blue glow seemed to be all around them. It was just enough illumination for him to witness the progression of Martin’s grotesque transformation. The air cooled around them, and Phillip sensed something in the back of his mind. It was a command.


While not exactly a word, Phillip understood both the meaning and import. With an effort, he shoved at the creature with all of his strength, screaming as he felt the claws rip their way across his back, and around the sides of his chest. The blue light around him intensified. Looking down at his hands, he saw that the luminescence was coming from his skin. He felt the air become damp as the sides of the concrete shaft vanished.

The creature emitted a shrill scream as its body struck the surface of the water, exploding like a balloon full of gelatin. Phillip had just enough time to pull his body into a tight ball, and snatch a gasp of air before plunging into the water. The chilled water stung his wounds like acid. He continued to descend, as if heavy stones were strapped to his body. His lungs burned as his descent accelerated. Pushing against the water, he thrust his arms and legs outward, trying to slow himself down.

In a moment of complete disorientation Phillip erupted from the the surface of the water, as the world around him seemed to have rotated a full one hundred and eighty degrees. What was down was now up. Gasping for air, he coughed violently as he aspirated salt water. Instinctively he kicked his feet and moved his arms, trying to keep his head above the water. The blue light was gone, though light from an unknown source seemed to flicker against the churning waves all around him.

“Over here! Over here!”

The voice came from behind. His muscles aching, he paddled around. Martin, now old again, was standing within a square demarcation of burning torches on a beach front. He was frantically waving for Phillip to come to him.

They approach!

Again the compulsion to action overtook him. He barely had time to wonder what might be approaching before he found himself swimming towards the beach. While a decent swimmer, his soaked clothing tried to stifle every effort to move forward. Salty water poured into his mouth, and burned as it pushed into his nose.

“You’re close enough! Stand up! Stand up!”

They approach! Hurry!

Letting his legs fall down, he felt the toes of his boots push against sand. Pushing himself forward, he tripped, catching himself as his hands dug into sand. He heard the sound of splashing behind him. He started to turn around, but the inner compulsion to move forward was overwhelming. Half crawling, he stumbled up onto the shore. His glasses, somehow still affixed to his face, were a mess of smears. He could still make out the torches, burning like beacons, and forced his screaming muscles to propel his aching body towards them.

It was only a dozen feet from the edge of the water to Martin, but it felt like a mile. Absently Phillip wondered why Martin didn’t come out to help him. He just stood there on his blanket, waving like a wild man. A rock caught his boot, and he collapsed into the sand. A sharp screech tried to tear his head in two. Shooting a glance over his shoulder he saw a horde of bulbous creatures emerge from the dark waters.


The inner compulsion gripped him again. He scrambled across the remaining distance like a crab. As soon as he crossed the perimeter formed by the torches he felt a strong hand grab the back of his coat, and drag him forward. Collapsing onto the sandy blanket, he saw the creatures, black beaks chittering, dark eyes waving on fleshy stalks, encircle the small space defined by the torches and blanket. They seemed to stay just outside of the light, like animals reacting to the invisible barrier of an electric fence. Exhaustion overwhelmed him, and he fell into unconsciousness while the chittering sound of the creatures filled his ears like a thousand buzzing gnats.

Phillip awoke to a gentle cool breeze tickling his face. Opening his eyes, a bright cloudy sky was directly above. His lips felt dry and cracked, and as he opened his mouth granules of sand fell into his mouth, causing him to roll over and cough. Everything around him was a blur. Frantically he felt around for his glasses. Finding them, he pushed them onto his face. The left lens was still badly cracked, and both were covered in streaks and smudges. Sand was caked everywhere, and he dared not try to wipe them off.

Pushing himself up, he stood, and stepped off of the small blanket, onto the sand of the beach. Strips of his torn lab coat fluttered in the wind like loosened wrappings from a mummy. Looking down, he felt along his ribs and back. While his clothes were torn, he couldn’t find any damage to his body. Looking out over the water, there was a storm brewing miles out. The shore itself seemed undisturbed. There was no sign in the sand that anyone, or anything, had been there.

Turning, he saw Martin sitting on the large blanket. He was sitting on his knees, staring at a small black and white television set. To Phillip, the screen looked to be covered in static. Stepping back into the perimeter defined by the torches, Phillip knelt down on one knee beside Martin. Putting one hand on his shoulder, he spoke softly, saying his name. There was no reaction.

“Martin, can you hear me,” he said louder.

He continued to stare at the fuzzy screen, as if Phillip wasn’t there.

“Martin!” he said louder still, and gave his shoulder a shake.

His head whipping around like a striking snake, Martin snarled, “I’m busy! Go away! Come back tomorrow!” He then returned his attention to the static.

Phillip reached over to the television set, and turned the bottom knob. It spun in place, offering no resistance. It felt like it was just something stuck onto the front, and not a functional piece at all. He tried the other knobs, and found them to be the same. Even though his arm was blocking his view, Martin seemed not to notice.

Standing up, Phillip looked up and down the beach. It was empty. Turning around, he stared at the palm trees, denser than any collection of palm trees he had ever seen. He could only see a few rows in before darkness set in. It was a strange effect, in stark contrast to the brightness of the beach. As he stared, he thought he saw something shimmering, like the distortion caused by heated air, just within the tree line.

Without even thinking about it, he stepped off the blanket, and walked towards the shimmer. He hadn’t gotten more than a few feet when he heard Martin’s voice behind him. It had a mournful tone, like someone calling after a lost pet.

“Phillip? Was that you? Are you here?”

Turning, he saw Martin standing on the blanket, looking all around. At one point their eyes met, but there was no indication that Martin had seen him. Phillip also noticed that the screen on the television was blank, as if it had been turned off. Phillip walked up to the very edge of the torches’ perimeter. Martin continued to turn, calling after him.

“Martin, I’m here,” Phillip said loudly.

Martin continued to turn, his wild white hair shining in the light. Phillip stepped onto the blanket. Martin saw him instantly, and an expression of relief mixed with joy overcame him.

He grasped Phillip by the shoulders, and said, “Phillip! Is it really you?”

Instantly Martin recoiled from him, his face scrunching up with suspicion.

“Or have you been …. how can I know for sure.”

Martin grabbed Phillip’s hand, and examined his palm, as if he were doing a reading.

“Martin, it’s me, Phillip.”

Looking up at him, Martin squinted, and sniffed the air. He looked out to the water, then up to the sky, and then back to Phillip.

“There’s not much time,” Martin said, his voice now a whisper. He stepped close to Phillip, still clutching his hand. “Things have gone very wrong. I …. I …. I …. it’s getting harder to remember.”

Whipping around, as if he’d heard a loud sound behind him, Martin continued, “You shouldn’t be here.”

“Martin, what is this place? What happened with the tardigrades.”

Martin turned back to Phillip. “They … they.”

Releasing Phillip’s hand, Martin began to pound at his temples. Phillip grabbed both his hands.

“Martin! Stop!”

Martin opened his eyes. Phillip watched as their strangely grey color fill with a bright blueness.

“Oh, I see. Interesting. I think you can let go now, Phillip.”

Phillip released Martin’s hands.

Martin, acting more like himself, bowed his head for a moment in contemplation before taking hold of Phillip’s arm.

“Listen closely. I will tell you everything I know, but I don’t know how long I’ll be able to. Even now I can feel myself fading. And you can’t stay here. They’re looking for you, but have been confused by your … situation. Yes. It makes sense now. The control specimen. But now they’ll know too.”

“Martin, you’re not making any sense,” Phillip interrupted.

“Here, sit,” Martin said, pointing to a spot on the blanket. “I’ll tell as much as I can, as long as I can. Then you have to leave, and destroy them. They can’t be allowed to escape the facility. Any of them.”

Phillip started to say something, but Martin waved him to silence.

“There’s no time,” Martin said, and began to explain everything.

Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
Part 25: This Article