by Brian J. Jarrett
“What the hell is that thing?” Mike Walton asked as he dropped from the tunnel and stepped into the cave.
Still in the tunnel John Donovan stared intently at the strange, reflective surface. “I don’t know. Is it a mirror?”
“It’s not like any mirror I ever saw.”
Dust from the rotten timbers they had broken through at the end of the tunnel still filled the air, drifting lazily through the sunlight shining in from the end of the tunnel. Their friends, Rob and Andy, were still in the tunnel behind John, bringing up the rear.
“Shine the light down there so I can hop out of this tunnel,” John said to Mike. Mike shined the light, then John spun himself around from a belly crawl to a sitting position. He tossed the pickaxe they’d used to break through the boards to the floor of the cave and then hopped down in after it. The cave was the size of his bedroom. Behind him was the tunnel they’d belly-crawled through.
Mike motioned for John to follow, which he did, taking his place beside Mike in front of the mirror. It was large; larger than any mirror he’d ever seen, and framed with what appeared to be a dull metal, engraved with strange markings. The markings reminded John of the hieroglyphics he’d studied in his world history class. These markings didn’t appear to be Egyptian though; he wasn’t sure what they were.
Mike scrutinized the surface of the mirror. “Does it look like it’s…moving?” he asked.
John moved in closer to inspect it, swallowing hard. “I think so.”
“Man, this is weird.”
“Tell me about it.” John glanced back toward the tunnel again, wondering where the other two were. They were always late. “Where are those two?”
Suddenly Rob’s head popped through the tunnel hole, followed by Andy. They both peered into the small cave, shining their small flashlights into the room.
Andy’s eyes fell upon the strange discovery. “Whoa! What is that?” he exclaimed.
“We don’t know yet,” John replied.
Rob also caught a glimpse of the mirror. His eyes widened. “Guys, I don’t like this. Don’t you think this is weird?”
Mike continued as if Rob hadn’t spoken. He did that often. “Shhhh. What’s that noise?”
“It’s humming,” Andy said. “Jesus Christ on a stick.”
“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, Andy,” Rob chastised.
“Don’t tell me what to do, Rob.”
John interrupted their argument before it could escalate any further. “Cool it guys,” he told them. He then peered into the surface of the mirror, as if scouring it with his eyes. What he’d first thought of as a mirror was now looking less and less likely to be anything of the sort.
Up close and under the light, it seemed…different somehow. Although they could see their reflection the surface appeared to move ever so slightly, as if it were refracting light as well as reflecting it. It was as if it was doing a modest and quaint dance. The humming sound faded in and out, like a sound effect from a 1960s science fiction movie.
“Touch it,” Andy said from the tunnel behind him.
John turned, annoyed. “You touch it, douchebag.”
“Fuck all that noise. I’m not going near it.”
“C’mon man, put your money where your mouth is,” Mike goaded. “Don’t be a pussy.”
Rob looked even more frightened. “I wouldn’t do that, Andy. It might not be safe.”
“Don’t tell me what to do, Rob,” Andy repeated. He hoped he sounded braver than he felt. He spun himself around and hopped down to the cave floor. Rob stayed in the tunnel, still on his belly.
Andy looked at John and Mike, who were both fourteen, and knew he couldn’t back down. He and Rob were only a year younger, but they might as well have been in Kindergarten. To earn some credibility he knew he couldn’t refuse; besides, he’d painted himself into a corner. There was now only one way out: walk through the paint.
He walked slowly toward the mirror. John and Mike parted to allow him through, watching him closely as he passed. Rob watched from the tunnel, his hand gripping tightly to his flashlight. As Andy made his way toward the mirror he realized just how tall it was; it was seven feet tall if it was a foot. He raised his arm, extending his index finger, moving almost like a zombie. No one spoke. He moved his finger toward the dancing surface of the mirror, then stopped an inch or two away. He swallowed hard.
“Do it, Andy,” Mike whispered. “C’mon.”
Andy looked at him, then at John. John nodded. The surface of the mirror seemed to vibrate, the humming sound droning, pitching up and down. Andy turned toward the strange object again and moved his arm forward, index finger still extended in a pointing gesture, his wiggling reflection staring back at him.
His finger touched the surface.
Then it went through.
The humming became louder. Andy pushed his finger inside the surface of the mirror just past the second knuckle. Little flashes and arcs of light appeared around the circumference of his finger. Both John and Mike looked at him in awe, their mouths agape.
“I can feel it all through me,” he whispered. “It sorta tickles.”
“Pull it out, for fuck’s sake!” John yelled. Andy quickly removed his finger and the humming went back to normal. Andy held his finger up in front of his face, staring at it. It was unscathed, as if nothing had happened. He glanced over at Mike and then John.
Mike had been speechless until that point, a rarity. “Holy crap! What just happened?”
John ignored the rhetorical question. “Andy, are you okay?”
“I think so. My finger still tingles a little.”
Rob, silent through all this and still in the tunnel, eventually spoke up. “We need to get outta here.”
“Jesus, Rob, pipe down. You’re such a pussy.” Mike said with a huff. He then glanced at Andy with a wild look in his eye. “I’m gonna try it.”
“You sure about that, Mike?” John asked. “We don’t know what this thing is yet.”
Mike nodded. He made a pointing gesture with his index finger and moved it toward the surface of the mirror. The reflection looked like two fingers touching each other from both sides. The finger in the mirror quivered ever so slightly, dancing like an image painted on water.
“Mike…” Rob began. John and Andy shushed him.
Mike’s finger touched the surface of the mirror and then penetrated just like Andy’s finger had. He pushed it further in until his entire hand disappeared. Tiny arcs of light danced around his wrist.
“Holy shit,” Andy whispered, eyes wide.
“It’s cold on the other side,” Mike said.
Mike moved his fingers back and forth. The tendons and muscles in his arm flexed, the fingers hidden behind the animated, reflective surface of the mirror. He removed his hand from the surface of the thing and held it up for closer inspection. The humming subsided and the surface of the mirror became calm again. His hand was clean with no sign of any trauma.
“This is a trick,” Rob said. “It’s gotta be. This can’t be real. It’s smoke and mirrors. I saw something like this on TV.” He paused, as if considering whether to let the next statement fly. “Or maybe it’s demonic.”
There was a collective sigh within the cave.
“Did it feel like an optical illusion to you?” Mike asked Andy.
“No,” Andy replied.
“Well, it didn’t to me either.” Mike shook his head. “Demonic? Holy shit, Rob, really?” Rob didn’t respond. He knew not to start that battle.
The three boys took a step away from the mirror. Andy sat down, his back against the cave wall. Rob remained in the tunnel, still on his belly, his face alarmingly pale. All four stared at the unusual thing they’d found, speechless, for a very long time.
* * *
“I wonder what’s on the other side?” Mike mused aloud, breaking the silence.
John paused for a moment and then replied. “I’m not sure I want to find out.”
“Do you think it might be alien?” Andy asked.
“How the hell would I know?” Mike replied curtly.
John, always with the softer touch, responded. “Maybe Andy, I’m not sure. That’s as good an explanation as any.”
The four of them sat on the floor of the small cave, staring at the strange mirror. The surface moved slightly; the humming sound oscillating. They’d turned their flashlights off to conserve battery power, so the surface of the mirror was illuminated only by the meager light penetrating through the shaft of the tunnel leading into the cave.
“I want to go in,” Mike said flatly.
The other three boys looked swiftly around at him. John protested. “Look, Mike-”
“I want to go in. I want to see what’s in there. It didn’t hurt Andy or me, you all saw that. We were fine. We went right in and out. For all we know it’s just a door into another part of the cave.” He looked at Rob. “Smoke and mirrors, right?”
Rob nodded absently. “But what if I’m wrong?” he returned.
“Well, we won’t know until someone goes in.” Mike paused. “I’ll just stick my head in there and have a look around. You guys can grab my ankles and pull me out if anything goes wrong.”
John looked at him. “I hate to sound like Rob, but I think he’s right this time.”
“Geez, thanks,” Rob replied.
“You know what I mean.” John looked earnestly at Mike. “We don’t know what’s on the other side of that thing. It could kill you.”
Mike paused, staring at the mirror. Everyone watched him, waiting. After a considerable length of silence he shook his head and spoke. “I don’t think so. I’m going in. Are you guys gonna help or not?”
John knew that once Mike made up his mind it was set in stone. Mike had what the school guidance counselor had called an ’ESTP’ personality type. After looking it up on the Internet John felt it explained why Mike was always in trouble at school. It also explained why he now wanted to stick his head inside of an eerie and strange mirror they’d just found inside of a cave no one knew about.
“We can’t talk you out of this, can we?” John asked.
“What do you think?”
John paused for a moment. “Just your head, and then we pull you back in,” he said sternly. Mike smiled in the dim light of the cave. “We’re going to give you ten seconds and then we pull you back.”
John handed Mike the flashlight. “Better take this. Who knows if you’ll even be able to see on the other side.” He paused. “You’re sure about this?”
“I have to see what’s on the other side of this thing,” Mike replied.
Andy stood behind John, watching the exchange. “Dude, you’re fuckin’ crazy,” he said.
“That’s what my old man tells me,” Mike replied, grinning.
He dropped to his hands and knees, flashlight in hand, while John and Andy each took one of his legs in their hands. Both of them looked at each other grimly.
The thought that they might pull out a headless friend briefly entered John’s mind. There was something not right about that thing. He knew, however, that Mike would be inside it either way, with or without their help. At least this way they might be able to pull him back if something went wrong. It wasn’t exactly safe, but it was better than nothing.
Then, without a word, Mike lunged forward, plunging his head and the hand holding the flashlight into the surface of the strange mirror.
* * *
It was cold on the other side; that was the first thing he noticed. It felt like a refrigerator. The second thing he noticed was how bright it was. He could barely open his eyes for the glare. Everything he could make out was basking in a purple hue, as if the light was shining through a lavender filter above. He suddenly noticed he was holding his breath; he immediately sucked air deep into his lungs. The air smelled like a forest; organic and earthy. At first he thought he’d poked his head through a hole in the cave wall and into the open air outside.
That was until he noticed the mirrors.
There were hundreds, maybe thousands of them, placed sporadically upon the surface of a parched, sandy desert, as far as he could see. He snapped his head quickly from side to side to grab as much scenery as possible. Strewn about were large and small boulders surrounded by what appeared to be dried and parched vegetation. He caught glimpses of dark piles of strange objects spread among the boulders. Mixed within the rocks and dead vegetation were pieces of scrap metal and other objects he couldn’t readily make out.
Then the vision was gone as his friends yanked him back into the cave.
* * *
“What did you see?” John asked anxiously.
Mike sat with his back against the cave wall, the unused flashlight still turned on and lying between his legs. All three boys looked at him impatiently. No one said a word. Mike continued to sit, eyes open, staring straight ahead, as if shell-shocked. Just when John thought that his friend had gone completely mad from what he’d seen behind that mirror, Mike spoke.
“Mirrors. Thousands of them. In some kinda purple desert.”
John thought Mike actually had gone mad after all. He felt sick. He had allowed his best friend to do something incredibly stupid, and now he might never be the same again. What if Mike had gone crazy after all? How would he explain this to Mike’s parents? Or to his own parents, for that matter?
“Mirrors?” Andy asked.
“What do you mean, mirrors?” asked Rob.
Mike looked at Rob. “Mirrors, I said. Mirrors like this one here. They were everywhere, some lined up and others just scattered. As far as I could see; like it never ended. It was bright on the other side, like the brightest day of summer. All that light, but it was so cold.”
The boys sat there for a moment, contemplating what they’d just heard. John began to worry less about Mike’s sanity, but he still didn’t like the look on his friend’s face.
“You’re not shitting us are you, Mike?” asked Andy. Mike stared intently back at him. Andy got the point.
Mike continued. “It was crazy, man. I’ve never seen anything like it. It looked like some sort of wasteland, or maybe a dump.” He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts, as if he were gathering the courage for his next statement. “I think what’s on the other side of that…thing over there isn’t part of our world.”
“Mike, you know what you’re saying sounds crazy, right?” John responded.
“I know it does, but it is what it is. You don’t know what I saw. What I saw wasn’t like anything on Earth I’d ever seen. The color was so weird. Everything was purple and the air smelled strange, like a cross between a forest and a dumpster.” He looked at the others. “It was an entire fucking desert in there!”
“Holy shit,” Andy said. “I don’t know what to say.”
“That’s a first,” Rob retorted, breaking the tension a bit. Andy waved him off.
All eyes were immediately back on Mike. He simply sat, still looking stunned, and if there was any point where they were all convinced of his story it was then. Mike took a deep breath, held it in for a few seconds and then released it. “I’m going back in.”
“No way,” John replied, shocked. “Once was enough. We have to go get somebody; our parents, the cops, anybody, before we even touch this thing again.”
The arguments erupted in a rabble. Mike was already up on his knees looking at the mirror again, oblivious to the fervor. “Give me the flashlight,” he said to Andy. The rabble died and Andy obliged.
“Mike, seriously, if that is a doorway to another world, and those were your own words, then you have no idea what’s on the other side,” John argued.
Mike sat on his bent legs. “Exactly. Don’t you see how important this is? If we let somebody else come in here they’ll get the credit. They’ll be the first to see. If anybody’s gonna do this it’s gonna be me.” His voice dropped to a mumble. “It’s my turn, for once.”
John knew that Mike had made up his mind. In reality he felt all along that Mike wouldn’t have been able to stop at just poking his head through the surface of that thing. If what was on the other side didn’t kill him then he was going to investigate it. It was his nature, the way he’d been his whole life, ever since they were small children.
“Fine,” John replied. “We’ll give you thirty minutes on the other side. If you’re not back by then we go get help.”
“That’s all I need. I’ll go in and have a look around, then get the hell out. Andy, do you have your cell phone?”
Andy perked up. “Yeah.”
“Good. I need it.”
“Pictures. Whatever’s on the other side of there I want to get on camera. It’ll also prove I was there.”
“The camera’s shit. It’s just a crappy prepaid phone. That’s all my dad would buy me.”
“That doesn’t matter. It’ll be good enough. You’re the only one who has one anyway, so it’s better than nothing, crappy or not.”
Andy fished the phone out of his front pocket and handed it to his friend. Mike placed the phone into his own front pocket. “Thanks,” he said.
Andy beamed with accomplishment. “No problem.”
Mike then stood up and faced the mirror. John and the others did as well. John looked Mike directly in the eye. “You’re really gonna do this.” It was a statement more than it was a question.
“You really have to ask?” Mike replied.
John shook his head. “Just be careful.”
Mike grinned. “I always am.” Both of them knew that wasn’t true.
“Here goes nothing,” Mike said, and without hesitation walked into the surface of the mirror, one leg in front of the other. Within a couple of seconds he was gone. The arcs of light sparked and cracked when he stepped through; the hum grew louder.
Once he cleared the doorway the hum died back down to a low oscillating murmur and only a faint outline of his body remained. Then the surface rippled again, and within a few seconds looked as if he’d never been there.
After fifteen minutes they became worried. After a half an hour they were full-blown afraid. After a little more than an hour Andy found himself running off the mountain, back toward civilization, getting help for a group of boys who’d gotten in way over their heads.
* * *
Mike felt a mild buzzing throughout his entire body as he passed through the surface of the mirror and to the other side. He again noticed how cold it was. There was no noticeable air movement. The air had that same organically stinky quality he’d noticed earlier. He breathed deeply; if he was in another world the air was at least breathable. He turned around and what he saw made him literally forget to breathe.
The mirror he had stepped through was simply a vertical rectangle standing in the open air, surrounded by nothing on all four sides.
This was no mirror. This was nothing like a mirror at all. It had to be a portal of some sort; some doorway to another world, another time, or maybe another dimension.
There was no sign of the cave surrounding the portal. There was only open ground, peppered with the large and small rocks he’d seen earlier, as far as he could see. He then remembered to finally take a breath.
The surface of the portal on this side looked the same as it had within the cave. He found himself staring back at his own reflection, the open expanse of the alien land acting as a backdrop behind him. The same strange lettering he and his friends noticed on the other side bordered the mirror on this side as well. He looked up and saw only solid purple. No clouds, no sun, just diffused light.
“Fuck me,” he muttered to himself. His voice sounded thin and weak; almost as if he was underwater. He wondered if the air was different somehow on this side of the portal.
He turned around again, facing away from the portal and took a couple timid steps. Now I know how Neil Armstrong must have felt, he thought to himself. He was very likely the first person from Earth to ever step foot on this ground. This was monumental. He’d have to tell the world. He’d be famous, possibly the most famous person in history, even more famous than Armstrong.
First, however, he would need proof. He reached into his front pocket and pulled out Andy’s cell phone. The battery was nearly full, but no reception bars. He wasn’t surprised. No doubt AT&T didn’t provide service anywhere in this alien world. He fiddled with the camera until he found the correct buttons, then raised the phone and snapped three pictures before the screen suddenly went dark. At first he thought Andy hadn’t charged the battery; then he noticed his watched had stopped too. Apparently electronic devices didn’t work as expected on this side of the portal.
There was nothing he could do about the camera. He’d gotten what pictures he could, if he’d gotten any at all. He took a dozen steps away from the portal before a frightening realization occurred to him. With literally thousands of portals around him he could easily lose the one he’d come through.
He spun around quickly and for a brief second panicked when he thought he couldn’t find his portal. He quickly located it, however; it was the only one with footprints in front of it. He walked back to it and drew a large arrow pointing to the door in the dirt with his foot. That would do for the time being.
He began to venture away from the portal, taking in everything he saw. The ground was hard and dry, covered by a powdery brown dust. It rose in little clouds as he stepped, but then quickly returned to the ground. Almost too quickly. The cold was beginning to bother him a bit; luckily he had jeans on, but his tee-shirt still exposed his arms to the cold air. The air seemed to smell worse than he originally thought, but that could have just been his imagination.
He made his way around a large boulder and found a pile of what appeared to be scrap metal. Strange markings adorned the twisted pieces. Most of them were mangled, many of them burned. Looking around he found more of these piles, as well as individual pieces randomly littering the ground. The piles looked almost like trash heaps. Mike thought that maybe that’s exactly what this strange place was; an alien junk yard of some kind.
He moved around in a circular arc, keeping his portal in view every few steps, and studied the things he found. Odd vegetation, long-since dried up and dead, remained anchored to the soil in which it had once grown. What looked like alien tumbleweed lay motionless behind some large rocks.
He saw other strange objects, things he’d never seen before, made of materials he couldn’t readily name. Things that looked like plastic, but weren’t quite. Scrap equipment littered the ground, adorned with various markings that looked like foreign script. He had no idea what these devices had once been used for, but it was clear that these no longer functioned. None of them looked like anything he’d ever seen on Earth before.
He walked behind a large boulder, just after glancing back again to check his location. He quickly located his portal, again settling his mind. A little further down from where he stood he saw a large pile of grayish-white objects lying on the ground, bathed in the purple glow from above. He walked to them and then bent down to get a better look.
He stopped cold.
They were bones.
Quick movement caught the corner of his eye. He glanced toward the portal to check his bearings. That’s when he saw the thing standing there, between him and the portal.
It stood there, motionless, staring at him.
* * *
Andy Baker ran through the woods as quickly as he could. All he could think about was getting home and telling his father everything that had happened. With his cell phone on the other side of a strange doorway he had no way to contact anyone immediately, if he could even get reception. He had to do it the old-fashioned way. Why had they thought it had been a good idea to allow Mike to go into that damn thing? He hoped his father wouldn’t be too upset with him.
He kicked into high gear, ignoring the occasional whipping of branches in the face, jumping over small logs, and careening down the gradual slope of the mountain side. Anything could be happening to Mike inside that mirror, on the other side of that strange doorway. He might even be dead. The thought made Andy sick. They could have stopped him if they’d tried. He had been in there for an hour, twice as long as they’d agreed to, and even though he knew Mike often lost track of time he didn’t think he would have stayed later than he promised given the circumstances.
This is bad, this is bad, this is bad… The thought played over and over inside his head as he scrambled quickly down the mountainside.
* * *
“What are we gonna do if Mike is dead?” Rob asked aloud. He looked solemn. Sweat beaded on his forehead.
John was somber and reserved. His best friend was in there. He wanted to go in; he wanted to push his head through that mirror or door or whatever it was to see what was going on. He wanted to, felt he needed to, but the truth was he was afraid. Really, really afraid. Especially now, since Mike hadn’t come back.
He knew something had happened to him; he only hoped that once some adults showed up they’d know what to do. He and his friends were in over their heads, big time. He was the responsible one, the one who made good decisions, the one who kept the others out of trouble. He was the voice of reason, the mature one. Now he felt more like a child than ever.
Andy had been given instructions to get both his father and John’s father, since they lived less than a mile apart and closest to the mountain. John was confident his father would know what to do. He always did.
He looked at Rob; the clean line of a tear cut through the dust on his friend’s face. “Mike’s not dead. He’ll be okay. We’re just gonna wait until my dad gets here.”
“What if there’s nothing he can do?”
“He’ll figure something out. He always does.”
* * *
When Mike saw the thing standing between him and the portal all the strength seemed to drain from his body. He felt a hot, tingling sensation in the pit of his stomach and he knew he’d gotten himself into a situation much more serious than he’d expected.
The figure was dark, almost black, and wore no clothing. It was impossibly thin and impossibly tall. It stood upright like a human, with two arms and two legs, but this creature was anything but human. Its skin had no hair, just the look of the black, leathery hands of a primate. Its legs and arms were long and lanky, its torso short and narrow.
An incredibly wide mouth stretched below the creature’s eyes, wrapping to almost halfway around the thing’s head. Sharp, vicious teeth filled its mouth. There was no sign of a nose. Its two large eyes were a deep and ominous black.
Mike stood where he was, frozen, unable to move. He was terrified, more terrified than he had ever been in his short life. The creature stood where it was, almost motionless, simply watching him. Its head cocked to the left and then to the right a bit, as if contemplating him. The smooth, black skin of its neck wrinkled as its head moved from side to side.
Mike had no idea what to do next. His only escape route was blocked and he was quickly running out of options. Maybe it’s friendly, he thought to himself. Then he remembered the bones he had just seen. That was not a coincidence; it couldn’t be.
The creature charged.
The thing had an exaggerated gait; arms and legs moving in an oddly fluid effort. It started out slowly, picking up tremendous speed as it ran. Mike looked behind at the creature as he ran away, his eyes wild with fear. If he had any thought that this creature didn’t want to hurt him that idea was long since gone. He was now fighting for survival, and if he wanted to survive this and get back home again he knew he needed to think of a plan.
Right then the plan was just to run.
So he ran. He watched in terror as the alien beast quickly gained on him. He faced forward again, running faster, sprinting in a straight line. He knew he needed to be able to find the portal again. That was paramount to getting away from this thing and back home again.
He spotted a piece of scrap metal lying up ahead. It was a metal bar of some sort, with a hunk of splintered and burnt metal near the end. He sprinted for it, already out of breath and sick of the horrible smell of the place, then picked it up. The metal must have been incredibly dense because it was heavier than it looked. As he turned to face his attacker he was astonished that it was only a dozen feet away and gaining momentum fast. Its stride was uncanny, almost unbelievable.
Without thinking he swung the bar as hard as he could, aiming for the creature’s head. He missed its head, instead connecting below the shoulder and against its chest cavity. It let out a scream that caused Mike to almost drop the bar and cover his ears. It was a scream of both intense pain and frustration.
It went down hard on its bony back; its arms and legs flailing as it fell. When it hit the ground it laid there, screaming, the wide gash of its mouth opening each time to reveal those horrible rows of sharp teeth.
Mike simply ran; he could think of nothing else. It wasn’t until later that he realized he should have tried to kill the thing right then. By then his opportunity had passed. He soon saw a set of large boulders just ahead and decided to hide out under them. Maybe there he would be safe for a while. There he could think, and maybe come up with a plan. There were perhaps a dozen or so of these rocks close to him, stacked up in various configurations, so Mike wiggled underneath a few of these. He hid behind the largest rock in the pile, pulling his new weapon in after himself. He watched, heart racing and head pounding.
The black monster was stunned, but it was getting up again. It slowly pulled itself to its hands and knees then used those bony and outrageously long appendages to push itself to a standing position. It touched the area where Mike had hit it, wincing at the pain. I can hurt it, Mike thought to himself as he hid under the boulders, watching it assess its injuries. If I can hurt it then maybe I can kill it, he thought.
The creature was now in a standing position again, scanning the horizon for its prey. Mike lay under the boulders, panting from the pursuit. The monster was looking for him and if it found him he had a strong suspicion he’d end up in that pile of bones with the rest of its victims.
He wanted to cry. He desperately wanted to go back in time, to do it all over again. That was impossible, though, he knew. The realization that this was life or death fully settled upon him. He attempted to calm himself by getting his bearings and forming a plan. If he was going to make it out of this alive then he’d need to calm down and think. No more wishful thinking. That would only get him killed.
When he was younger he’d once stupidly climbed a cliff only to find he’d gotten himself stuck. He’d panicked at first, but after calming himself down and thinking he found a way down. He had to do that now if he wanted to live.
He glanced at the alien thing. It was standing right where it had fallen, now recovered and searching the area for its victim. It appeared not to move without cause. He thought maybe it was starving and conserving energy. The thing was, after all, incredibly thin.
Or maybe it wasn’t very agile. It seemed to have trouble making quick turns, but once it got started it covered a tremendous amount of ground in a very short while with those grotesquely long legs.
He’d have to plan for either scenario. His goal was simple; get back to the portal without getting caught. It sounded simple enough, at least.
The creature’s head moved left, continuing to scan the landscape. Then it kept moving until it was looking almost behind itself. It then moved its head the opposite direction in the same turning radius. It could see almost 360 degrees without moving its body.
Then the creature’s mouth opened and a long tongue extended. It moved up and down, as if it was tasting the air. Mike almost screamed at the sight. He sat, silent, biting his lip, trying to focus on his escape plan and keep from going mad.
Suddenly the creature’s tongue stopped moving. It turned its head toward Mike and its large, black eyes locked on his. It took some time to rotate its body until it was facing him head on. Its mouth remained slightly open for a moment Mike thought for a moment that the thing was smiling.
He didn’t have long to contemplate it because it then took a single, slow step in his direction. Then it took another, and another, each step faster than the last. He’d been spotted, he knew. It was on the hunt again. Mike thought the boulders might offer some protection, but he didn’t want to get cornered in there. If he did, the thing would simply just wait until he came out. Then it would kill him.
He had to run. He knew that he couldn’t outrun the thing once it got started. Its apparent inability to maneuver, unable to change course quickly, might be a weakness he could exploit. It was risky, but he had little choice. He didn’t plan to die under a pile of rocks in this hellish world, not without a fight.
He stepped out from under the boulders, holding the metal bar in his hands like a baseball bat. The creature caught sight of him and immediately screamed. The sound was terrifying, worse than anything Mike had ever heard. He had to fight the urge to just drop the bar and cover his ears.
He stood firmly in place, waiting for the black nightmare as it charged toward him. It raised its long, slender arms toward him, continuing to build speed at an alarming rate until it was almost upon him.
It let out another scream as it readied to strike. With just a few steps to spare Mike stepped off to the left of its path. He was now banking everything on his theory of the creature’s limited agility. It extended its incredibly long left arm, trying to snag its prey. Mike spun quickly around with the bar then brought it down on the creature’s back as hard as he could. One of the monster’s sharp claws nicked his cheek as it sped past, slicing open the skin. Blood trickled down his cheek.
The creature shrieked as the bar connected with its back. Mike yelled as he felt the claw tear his skin. The monster kept running, apparently unable to stop and turn quickly. Mike took this opportunity and turned toward the portal, ready to make a break for it.
He couldn’t find it.
There were so many of them that they all looked the same. The fight with the creature had disoriented him and he now didn’t know which way he was pointing. He frantically identified two portals that might be his; they were relatively close together and looked familiar, but he couldn’t find the one he needed. He had to choose one and hope he was right.
Behind him the creature was slowing down, slowly attempting to turn and double back. It screamed again. This prompted Mike to finally choose one of the portals. He darted for it, hoping against the odds he was right. He had to get close enough to look for the arrow he’d drawn in the dirt. Then he’d know it was his.
He ran as fast as he could. As he approached the portal he looked into the dirt for the arrow he’d drawn. He couldn’t yet see it; he wasn’t close enough. He continued to run, approaching the portal quickly until he stopped short.
His heart sank. He’d chosen the wrong one.
He looked at the other portal, the one he hadn’t chosen, and was now close enough to see the arrow he’d drawn in the dust on the ground in front of it. He ran quickly, without hesitation, attempting to make a beeline for his doorway back home.
Suddenly a large black object appeared in his peripheral vision, moving at alarming rate, heading directly into his path. Purely on reflex he swung the metal bar; the swing was premature and it missed the creature entirely. The weight of the metal bar dragged him down to the ground and he fell in a heap, rolling as he struck the dusty, hard ground.
He sat up, shaking his head, attempting to shake off the disorientation caused by the fall. He looked and then saw the thing running toward him again, its grossly exaggerated stride bringing it frighteningly closer with each stride. It was relentless in its pursuit.
In three steps the thing was on top of him. Mike swung the bar again, but this time it deflected the blow with a thin, bony hand. Its fingers, each disproportionately long with at least one extra knuckle, wrapped around the pole, ripping it from Mike’s grip, tossing it to the side. The creature lifted its clawed hand high above its head. Mike rolled to the side just as it brought the hand straight down in into the dirt, its claws raking deep trenches in the ground like a plow.
In an instant Mike was up again, dashing away. He was now headed away from the portal. That way was blocked and there was no way he could make it past without the element of surprise on his side. The creature’s lack of agility saved Mike again; he was up and off before the thing could reorient itself. It screamed in frustration, bringing its bony fists down upon the ground in frustration.
Mike ran as fast as he could, looking for the largest object he could hide behind and buy some more time. He had to regroup and rethink; then he could try again. He also needed another weapon to replace the one he had lost. He looked back and was shocked to see he wasn’t being followed. Instead he saw it walk slowly toward the portal through which Mike had originally stepped into this horrible world.
What the fuck is that thing doing? he asked himself. He stopped and watched curiously as the thing knelt in front of the portal. At first he panicked when he thought the creature was going to attempt to step through. His friends would be helpless against this monster; trapped like rats in the cave.
But it didn’t try to pass into Mike’s world through the portal. Instead it dropped slowly to its bony knees and then placed an open hand upon the ground.
It then began to wipe away any trace of the arrow Mike had drawn in the dirt.
* * *
When Andy arrived home he was out of breath, his words almost indecipherable. His father was in the garage, engaged in his monthly cleanup schedule. Andy barged in then doubled over, trying in vain to get the words out between rapid breaths.
“Dad!” he cried, panting. His muscles ached and he had a painful stitch in his side. He tried to slow his breathing and get the words out, but he couldn’t.
“Andy, what’s wrong?” his father asked, looking concerned.
“Mike…cave…he disappeared,” Andy stuttered.
“Whoa, whoa, slow down. Take it easy. What happened?”
Andy tried again. “Mike’s gone…don’t know where…come to the cave.”
“Mike’s gone? What cave?”
“Just come…with me…dad. We have to go…now.”
* * *
A little more than thirty minutes later Andy Baker slid through a narrow tunnel leading to a small cave; a cave hosting an unearthly portal and two very frightened boys. His father Stu crawled through behind him, barely squeezing through the tight tube. Behind both of them Rick Donovan, John’s father, appeared. He handed a first aid kit and a coil of rope to Stu and then lowered himself to the ground. Both John and Rob stood up, reverent in front of the adults.
“What the hell is that thing?” Stu asked, pointing to the portal. No one answered.
Rick spoke first to his son. “John, tell me what happened.”
John explained everything. Rob commented where necessary and they left out no detail. When they finished their story both boys stared at the ground.
“You mean Mike went through that mirror?” Stu asked.
“It’s not a mirror,” John replied. “I think it’s a doorway.”
“How long has he been in there?” Rick asked John.
“I’m not exactly sure. Maybe an hour and a half.”
“And you’ve seen no sign of him since then?”
“No. None at all.”
Stu thought for a moment. “If this is some kind of a joke-”
“It’s not,” John replied solemnly. He stood up, gathered his courage and then shoved his hand into the mirror for proof.
“John, no!” his father yelled. John snapped his hand back, startled.
Rick stepped toward his son. “Are you okay?”
“But that’s impossible.” Stu looked at Rick. “Isn’t it?”
Rick looked at the portal. The surface moved slightly, the humming constant. “I don’t think I know what’s possible anymore.”
“Did you tell Mike’s dad?” John asked.
“Your mother called just as we left. She also called your folks, Rob.”
Rick paused, collecting his thoughts. “Have any of you three been in there?”
John and Rob looked at each other. “No,” they both answered.
“Good. You shouldn’t have. And neither should Mike. It was stupid to go in there. We have no idea what the hell that thing is.” He looked at Stu. “We have to get him.”
“Rick, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”
“No, it’s not, but we’ve got no choice.”
“What about the cops? Or the army? Somebody. Why us?”
Rick looked solidly at Stu. “We don’t have time for that. Besides, what if it was Andy in there?”
Stu nodded. “Well, we should wait for his father to get here at least. We can’t go in there halfcocked. Besides, Tom should go after his own son.”
“Stu…” Rick began to protest.
“No, they should hear this. I like Mike well enough, but we all know he’s constantly up to his ass in alligators.” He pointed to the portal. “Case in point. His father needs to help fix this mess.”
Rick sighed. He found it difficult to argue against Stu’s logic. “Okay,” he said. “We wait ’til he gets here.”
* * *
Mike watched in disbelief as the black creature wiped away any ability he had to distinguish his portal from the thousands of others littering this horrible alien world. He stood there, horrified, mouth open, tasting the pungent air. If he got disoriented again, if he lost sight of that portal, there was no guarantee that he could ever find it again. He would be stranded in this strange, purple world.
Then eventually that black monster would eat him alive.
What was worse was this wasn’t some stupid animal hunting him; this thing was clever. Intelligent, even. It was trying to outsmart him, and it was currently succeeding.
Slowly it stood up again in the same awkward fashion as before. It immediately spotted him and released an ear-piercing scream that made Mike’s blood run cold.
I’m going to die here, he thought. This is how it ends. I’m going to die here, alone, in this wasteland. He could never have expected it would end this way. How could anyone?
Then it was off again, beginning with the same slow start followed by quickly progressive speed. It ran, long legs striding in the powdery dirt, arms swaying back and forth, coming faster and faster. Its black tongue tasted the air. It looked frighteningly surreal, like a terrible nightmare come to life.
Mike began to cry. He didn’t want to die, especially like this. It wasn’t fair; all he wanted to do was explore. He never expected any of this. He only wanted to go home, to never see this world again, to never see this monster again. He considered giving up, just waiting for it, but when he thought he’d seen the thing smile as if it was enjoying the pursuit he became angry. He decided he wasn’t going down without a fight.
He looked around and then his gaze fell upon a small, jagged chunk of burnt metal. Sitting beside it was a rock the size of a softball. He picked both of them up, not noticing that a sharp edge of the metal cut his hand as he took aim on the creature’s head. It was moving so quickly that it was difficult to calculate the trajectory he needed to hit his target.
He drew back, the rock in his right hand, and threw it as hard as he could at the creature’s head. It missed its target, but not by much, just a little high. He switched hands, holding the hunk of strange metal in his right hand, taking aim again. This time he wouldn’t throw high.
As it approached Mike wound up and threw the metal toward the creature’s head. He didn’t care where he hit it, just that the object made contact. His life depended on it. The object flew through the air then struck the thing in the corner of its left eye.
It screamed in agony. It continued to scream even as it dropped to its knees, its mouth stretching wider than Mike had ever thought possible. It held its black, bony hand over the eye, writhing in pain. Mike saw brown liquid ooze from the injured eye, running through the thing’s thin fingers. He backed away, stumbled and then fell right on his backside. Pain shot through his tailbone and then up into his spine. The monster continued to scream, thrashing its head from side to side violently.
He tried to get up and run, despite the pain in his back. He knew it was his only chance.
That’s when something grabbed him from behind.
* * *
“Can somebody tell me what the fuck is going on here?” Tom Walton belted as he lowered himself down to the cave floor. His pot belly had almost prevented him from crawling through the narrow tunnel leading up to the cave. Sweat and dust covered his body. A dark circle had appeared front and center on his shirt, accompanied by satellite dark circles under his arms.
Rick looked at Stu. This was normal behavior for Mike’s father; they’d all seen it before.
“Tom,” Rick began, “I’m not sure how to tell you this, so I’m just gonna come out with it. Mike’s gone.”
“What do you mean, gone?”
“I mean he’s disappeared.”
“Where? In this cave somewhere?”
Rick pointed to the portal. They could all see themselves in the low light of the cave.
“What the hell is that thing?”
“That’s where Mike went.”
“What do you mean went?” He wrinkled his nose, looking incredulous. “You people are fuckin’ crazy.”
Stu stepped in. “It’s true, Tom.”
Tom looked into the portal. The reflective surface danced before his eyes.
“Hear that, Mr. Walton?” John said. “It’s that…thing, humming. We thought it was a mirror at first, but now we think it’s a doorway. Watch.” He placed his hand into the mirror, his father flinching as he did. He then removed his hand, holding it up and wiggling his fingers.
“Holy shit,” Tom remarked. He looked back at Rick. “He’s inside there?” Both Rick and Stu nodded. “Well, we gotta go get him,” he continued.
“You have to go get him,” Stu said, glaring at Tom. “He’s your problem.”
“You little bitch. You little fuckin’ bitch,” Tom scolded though gritted teeth. They had a history that was flaring again.
Rick stepped in. “Shut up, both of you. Tom, watch your mouth. Stu, back off.” He paused and looked at both of them. They continued glaring at each other. “I’ll go in too.”
“It’ll be okay, John, I promise.”
Rick then turned to Tom, fixing him with a deathly serious stare. “Listen to me. Your boy is inside that thing, wherever that thing might happen to be, and every second you waste out here with your bullshit is more time he’s in there alone.”
Tom nodded. “Understood,” he replied.
* * *
Mike wasn’t sure what had grabbed him, but he knew it was strong. He struggled to get away, but it was no use; this thing had him in a vice-like grip. The more he struggled, the tighter it held. He watched in horror as the black creature took its hands away from its eye. It shook its head and then slowly stood up again.
It then began walking slowly and methodically toward him.
He had definitely injured it, but it apparently wasn’t enough to stop it. He continued to struggle to free his arms, but the thing that had him wouldn’t let go. The black creature continued advancing. Mike struggled, but his efforts were futile. “Please,” he said aloud, out of options. “Please don’t do this.”
He found himself crying again. This was the end. There was no reasoning with this thing. There was no life passing before his eyes; just sad regret. The creature inched forward, each narrow foot stepping lightly on the ground. It left almost no footprints behind.
I’m sorry Mom and Dad, I’m so sorry, so sorry, was all he could think of. He closed his eyes and waited; all he could hope for was merciful quickness; if the monster killed him quickly enough he might not even feel it.
Suddenly he heard a scream behind him and felt whatever was holding his arms relax. He quickly opened his eyes and rolled away, surprised he wasn’t dead. He saw a large, flat brown animal caught in the grip of the black monster. It looked very much like a horseshoe crab or a stingray, only with four long tentacles coming from beneath its flat back.
The black creature pried at the crab-thing’s head; its tentacles wrapped around the black creature’s bony arms. This was a life and death struggle. Both creatures screamed and the concert of that sound was almost unbearable.
A sickening reality occurred to Mike.
They were fighting over food.
This was his chance for escape. He ran. He didn’t know where to go; he just ran. He had already lost all calibration that he had before, so he ran just to get away. He ran to buy some time, he ran because he didn’t want to die. The black thing’s head turned toward him and it screamed again. Its food was getting away.
He ran, searching for his portal, but it was nowhere to be found. He was completely disoriented, frightened, and pain still raced up his spine from the spill he’d taken earlier. With no markings on the ground to tell him which portal was his he was flying blind, playing a deadly guessing game.
He considered stepping into a random portal to hide to maybe buy some time. Problem was he wasn’t sure what that could do to him. What if he stepped out off a cliff on the other side? What if he ended up in the deadly vacuum of space? Or maybe at the bottom of an ocean? Even if what lay on the other side didn’t kill him he could get lost for good. He might never see his friends and family again. He hoped he wouldn’t have to take his chances.
He heard the two creatures still struggling in the distance; he hoped that would buy him some more time. On a whim he walked to a portal he thought might be his. It looked like all the others, so he moved on. He then went to another. The same scenario. They were all just so similar.
Suddenly he heard two mighty screams sound from the distance. One sounded triumphant; the other was a death scream.
He didn’t even have to look to know his black nightmare was about to continue its hunt.
He saw another portal in the distance that looked like it could be his. He was running out of time. With the crab-thing dead he was next. He had to duck out and then wait for his opportunity. He spotted another large collection of boulders and quickly ran to them, ducking underneath.
He wiggled into a vantage point where he could see. Within a few seconds the black creature appeared. It looked shaken and injured. Its narrow, black hand covered its eye. One of its arms looked misshapen, possibly broken during the struggle. This had slowed it down, but it hadn’t stopped it. It was determined.
It was then, out of sight on the other side of the boulders, behind both Mike and his black predator, that a head appeared through one of the ubiquitous doorways.
* * *
“What did you see? Did you see him?” Mike’s father looked earnestly at Rick.
“No, I didn’t,” Rick replied. “Just rocks, scrap metal, and some weeds. It looked like a desert, but everything was purple. Cold, too.”
“Let’s go in,” Tom insisted. “Now.”
“You’re going first Tom. I want you to take this rope. Tie it around your waist. I’ll follow. I’ll be holding the rope as well.”
He looked at Stu. “If we tug on this rope then pull us back in.” Rick then looked over at the three boys. They looked petrified. “You boys help pull if Stu needs you.”
“Dad, don’t do this,” John pleaded, almost in tears.
“It’s okay, son. It’ll be fine. We won’t take any chances.”
“I promise. In and out. We’ll find Mike and bring him back.” He only hoped he didn’t return with a corpse. All he could do was hope.
He turned to Tom. “Let’s go.”
“Fuck me runnin’. This can’t be real.” Large beads of sweat were forming near Tom’s hairline.
“It is real. Very real. Now let’s go.”
They stepped through the portal and into the violet glow of an alien world.
* * *
The black alien looked around, turning its head at that grossly exaggerated angle Mike had seen earlier. It was searching for him. Actually he felt this was good; it meant it hadn’t found him yet. Unfortunately he had lost track of the portal that would bring him home again. Fighting for his life in this horrible place had caused him to become disoriented beyond the point of recovery.
The black creature scanned the area twice and then began to move back toward the crab-thing it had bested. That had been good too; it was the distraction that he had needed to escape. It walked slowly, its strange and narrow legs taking each step carefully and methodically.
Mike didn’t want to leave his hiding place. He was so afraid the thing would come back. He hated this place though, that horrible purple hue smothered everything. That, along with the cold and the stink of the place, made every second spent there unbearable. The horrible and brutal creatures he’d seen were the stuff of his nightmares.
He thought of his friends in some detail now; the first time since he had crossed through the portal. He wondered if they were worried. They had warned him about stepping through, but he had ignored them. Sometimes he could be so stupid.
His stomach clenched as a question popped into his head. Had any of them come through the portal after him? They’d be sitting ducks. They had no idea what was waiting for them on this side. What if they’d brought their folks along for help? His own father might be wandering around this nightmare world looking for him now, easy prey.
The thought of putting his friends and family in harm’s way was all the motivation he needed. He wiggled out from under the boulders and scanned the area. It was clear. As much as he didn’t want to see that black monster again he forced himself to run. He had to find that door; he had to warn his friends, if nothing else. His back ached, but he forced each step. He continued searching for the portal he’d come through, all the while keeping a watchful eye out for his predator.
He eyed a portal he thought might be his and quickly ran to it. After a quick glance to make sure the coast was clear he studied it closer. It looked similar, but that didn’t prove anything; they all looked just about the same. He was running out of time; he couldn’t risk jumping in, not unless he absolutely had to. He could test it though; he could place his arm inside and see if his friends pulled him to safety.
He shoved his arm inside the portal, all the way to the elbow.
Then he screamed.
* * *
“MIKE! WHERE ARE YOU?”
Tom and Rick wandered around the strange landscape calling for the missing boy. They had a hundred feet of rope to let out before they reached their limit. What they would do after that wasn’t in the plans. There were no plans for something like this. Suddenly they heard what sounded like a scream in the distance.
“What the hell was that?” Tom asked.
“Sounded like a scream. Was it your boy?”
“I don’t know. We gotta go check it out.”
They turned toward the scream and started walking, Tom forgetting he was still tied to the rope. Behind them they heard another scream. This one wasn’t human. Both men looked at each other, eyes wide. If Mike was anywhere near the thing that let out that scream it might have been his last.
“I’m going after him,” Tom said.
He didn’t make it one step.
* * *
Mike’s hand burned like he’d shoved it in an oven. He screamed before he could stop himself. He immediately pulled his hand out of the portal; it was bright red and inflamed. The pain was excruciating. It was already beginning to blister. He was lucky; if he would have put his head in there he might have been blinded, possibly even killed. He couldn’t imagine what must have been on the other side.
He couldn’t be sure where any of these portals led to, and now his scream would no doubt alert the monster to his whereabouts. He had even less time to find the portal he needed. He wasn’t sure he had the energy to deflect another attack.
It turned out he didn’t have to.
* * *
Both men froze when they saw the black creature standing in the distance. Rick never felt so alone and vulnerable in his life. He had no weapon besides an overweight, middle-aged man with a bad attitude…and a little rope. The strange creature watched them closely. It then bent at the knees and screamed, its head rocking back on its neck, its ferociously wide mouth baring rows of razor-sharp teeth.
* * *
Still nursing his injured hand, Mike looked for the next closest portal to check. That was when he saw his dad. He was with John’s father and they were calling for him. His heart raced with anticipation and boundless joy. They’d come! He saw the portal behind them.
He now had his way home.
He ran as fast as he could toward them, his injured back protesting with each step, his hand still burning. He barely cared about those things now; his dad and Mr. Donovan had come to save him. The adults had come. He called to them, as loudly as he could. It seemed they couldn’t hear him because they were looking in the opposite direction.
Then he saw what they were looking at.
He ran even faster.
* * *
In the distance Rick thought he heard something. It was faint, but it was a sound. Still, he had trouble taking his eyes off the alien. It was instantly obvious that this thing was deadly. He also thought it had some very bad things planned for them.
Then he heard the noise again in the distance. Rick tore his eyes away from the monstrosity before him to see Mike running toward them. He was hobbling, possibly injured, but he was alive. “Tom,” he said calmly,
“Holy Jesus, what the fuck is that thing?” Tom asked aloud. He was unable to stop shaking.
“Tom, focus on me. Mike’s alive and he’s running toward us now.”
Tom turned toward his son. “Mike!” he yelled. “Over here!”
“Quiet, you idiot! Don’t provoke it,” Rick scolded. He looked over at the portal; they had maybe fifty feet to cover to make it back through the doorway. Mike was at least sixty yards away still. The black monster was double that.
Mike ran as fast as he could toward his rescuers.
So did the black creature.
* * *
Rick had never seen anything move like this thing. It was lanky and exaggerated, but also swift and determined. It was too fast to run from, he could see that, and he couldn’t just jump back through the portal, not with Mike on his way to them. He’d have to fend it off somehow.
Or better yet, kill it.
He tore his eyes away from the thing pursuing them and searched for anything he could use as a weapon. Fifteen yards away he spotted the bar with the twisted metal end, still lying where the creature had thrown it after tearing it from Mike’s hands. He was off in a flash for it. He only hoped he could get to it quickly enough.
Tom was ignoring the creature altogether and running toward his son, still unaware of the rope tied around his waist. Rick watched helplessly as Mike’s father ran out of rope before being violently yanked backward, landing in the dirt on his back.
Rick turned away from Tom and focused on getting that metal bar. He quickly reached it, picking it up and holding it like a baseball bat. In the distance he heard Mike’s voice; he was telling him to hit it with everything he had.
Tom was still on the ground, his considerable gut pushing skyward. Stu and the boys were now reeling him in as instructed, dragging him back to the portal. Each time Tom tried to untie the knot around his waist the rope would yank him backward another few feet.
The creature was closing the gap quickly and Tom was roped like a calf. He was a sitting duck. Rick thought that the rope might not have been such a good idea after all.
* * *
When the rope started playing out Stu immediately jumped into action. “Help me pull this!” he yelled to the boys. They complied. The nylon rope burned their hands at first, but they eventually got it under control and began to yank it back into the cave. Stu didn’t know exactly what was going on behind the mirror, but he thought it couldn’t be good. He had a nightmare vision of a bifurcated Tom Walton attached to the end of that line, or maybe worse. And what would they do with John if his father didn’t come back?
He couldn’t think about that. He had to pull.
“Pull!” he yelled.
They continued to reel in the rope, hoping for the best.
* * *
Mike reached the metal bar, almost the same moment as Rick. In an instant Rick sent the boy to the portal and then turned to face the creature. He charged it, the metal bar poised like a sword. Within seconds he realized that the thing was almost on top of him. Its speed was uncannily fast, making it difficult to anticipate its movements.
At the last second he stepped just outside of the creature’s path, narrowly escaping an outstretched claw, and swung the metal bar. It connected squarely with the creature’s chest. The creature emitted a horrendous scream that pierced Rick’s eardrums. This blow hadn’t come from a fifteen year old boy; a full-grown man delivered it. Rick had hurt it, and he had hurt it badly.
Mike attempted to get his father to his feet. As they struggled to get mobile, the thing regained its footing and was preparing another attack. Finally Mike pulled his father to his feet, and they ran for the portal.
Mike shoved his father inside and then turned to find Rick. By now the creature was in full stride, gaining steadily on Rick as he sprinted toward the portal. Rick closed the distance quickly, literally running for his life.
He catapulted himself into the portal, knocking Mike in through the blurry surface along with him, the monster right behind him. He heard the creature scream in frustration as it followed them in through the portal, landing on top of both of them. Rick felt the painful scrape of a claw on his leg, then felt the thing’s arms wrap around his torso.
* * *
John screamed as Mike, his father, and the most horrific thing he’d ever seen all suddenly passed through the portal and into the cave. He ran to his father, taking hold of his arms, attempting to tug him away from the black monstrosity that had him in its clutches.
The creature began climbing in through the portal, using Rick almost as a rope, tearing his clothing and skin as it clawed its way forward. It struggled, its broken arm useless now, but its drive and determination unabated. It snarled as it dragged itself over the bodies below it.
John almost froze. He wasn’t sure what he could do. The adults were here, but there was his father, trapped, unable to help them. Mike’s father was standing idle, cowering off to the side. Andy’s father looked confused and frightened, unable to do or say anything.
It was up to him now. He had to save them.
He needed a weapon. Immediately he knew what he needed to do. Then, making one of the most difficult decisions of his life, he let go of his father.
He ran to the pickaxe and grabbed it. He then turned back around to face the terror from behind the portal. The creature’s impossibly wide mouth was agape, its teeth exposed. Its black eyes pierced them all with a blind ferocity.
John raised the pickaxe above his head, preparing to deliver a deathblow. It struck an outcropping on the cave wall as he raised it and the thing tumbled out of his hands to the cave floor. I’m sorry dad, is all he could think to himself as he struggled to pick it up again. The black creature continue to climb through the portal; only its legs remained behind the reflective surface of the doorway. His father and his best friend were trapped beneath it, screaming.
John picked up the pickaxe again. This time he avoided the cave walls. He lifted it high above his head and then he brought it down. He couldn’t afford to miss; if he did it would doom them all. The pickaxe struck the thing in the top of its head, sinking deeply into its brain. The creature’s snarling stopped, and its black eyes stared at John, piercing deeply into his soul, threatening to drive him mad.
Then its head dropped and the creature’s body relaxed. It lay motionless on top of his father and his best friend.
That was when John began screaming.
* * *
Four teenage boys and three adults sat in a circle around a horrific alien creature they couldn’t explain. Rick was scratched and bruised, as was Mike, but they would survive. Mike’s injured tailbone sent surges of pain throughout his nervous system and his arm burned like it was on fire.
Still, they were alive.
John had buried the pickaxe in the thing’s head three more times, just to be sure it was really dead. It lay there, silent and motionless, smelling like dead fish, an oddity that none of them could fathom. They could barely stand to look at.
No one spoke for a long time. Rick held his son. Stu held his. Stu was the first to break the silence. “What do we do now?” he asked.
Tom spoke, his gaze never lifting from the floor of the cave. “We gotta tell the police or the army. We gotta tell somebody.”
Rick shook his head. “No, we don’t.”
“Huh?” Tom grunted, looking up. He no longer had the will to put up much of a fight. He didn’t know if he’d ever be the same again.
“We don’t tell anybody anything. We block up this cave and we never talk about it again.”
“What if there are more of them?” Stu asked.
“Yeah,” Tom added. “Don’t you think we gotta warn the army? Have ’em nuke it or something. They deal with this kinda shit.”
“Really, Tom?” Rick responded. “You think the army deals with this kind of thing all the time? Since when?”
Tom didn’t answer.
“You want to tell the government? What, so they can quarantine us all, take us away from our families?” Rick burned Tom with an intense stare. Right then he could have killed him. “Do you really think they’ll let any of us go after this?” he continued. “After what we’ve seen? With what we know?” He stopped, his gaze fixed on Tom’s down-turned head. “How many tests do you think they’re gonna run on your boy?”
Concern suddenly painted Mike’s face. “Dad, I don’t want any tests. I just want to go home!” he cried. Tears formed in his eyes.
“It’s okay, son, nobody’s gonna run any tests on you,” his father told him. He then looked back at Rick. “Fine, we don’t tell nobody shit.” His gaze then returned to the ground.
Rick continued. “We block this cave off and seal up this goddamn portal and this black monster along with it.” He pointed to the rotten timbers the boys had broken through to get into the cave. “Somebody must have done it before us. And if somebody breaks through again a hundred years from now, that’s their problem.”
“How can we be sure any more of those things won’t just walk right through?” Stu asked. “Or maybe something worse. Maybe a lot of things.”
Rick stared at him. “We can’t be.”
“And you think that’s going to be enough?” asked Stu. “Given what we might have opened up here, do you think that’s enough to keep that world in there at bay?”
Rick looked at the horrible black nightmare, its horrifically wide mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth, its inky black eyes staring blankly at him.
“It’s going to have to be,” he replied.
Copyright © 2011 Brian J. Jarrett