Copyright David A. Kearns
July 3, 1981 – “We have to get down to the inlet, to see if we can save your friend,” I heard Red say.
The truck was literally flying down the battered section of State Road A1A and the Sebastian inlet. I was in the front seat with Red and Trisha. His son a nine year old boy named Stanley was in the back with Dave, Tom, Ryan, Russ, and Chuck.
They sat on either side of the truck bed staring at each other; terrified.
“Why the inlet?” I asked Red.
“Just south of there is an excellent nesting beach for the turtles. If they are not there already, we can make them come to us,” Red said.
“You’ll see,” he said.
“They’ve been working from the cape south every night, finishing up just south of the inlet before dawn. Sometimes I sit on the dunes and watch them. They really are amazing to look at,” he said.
“Most people never see them. But others, for some reason, they see them very well. It’s like they call to those of us who see them often. Their presence is something our minds are attuned to hear,” Red said.
“Your little buddy, Ryan; he’s a receiver. That’s why he goes to the beach when he does at night. He hears them coming. Just like I do,” Red said.
“How do you know so much about them?” I asked.
“Well the legends passed down to me tell all about them; those of the many faces. There are those they create different forms for themselves which are what your people would call sucubi, or vampires. There’s a reason they need the blood. Your culture has seen them before, under that guise – the vampire.
“It’s usually a wise man. A village elder, who comes from a faraway land, or returns from years away on a crusade. If you think back to the middle ages, in places like Hungary, or Romania, in those villages there was usually a rich landowner who was absent for long stretches of time. He would return and take a child bride, and they would never see her ass again. When he was in residence in the big castle, crops would fail, livestock would be found slaughtered, children would disappear, amid stories of strange lights in the sky,” he said.
“Those stories are from them?” I asked.
“Yep. That’s them. At least some of them, the ones of the many faces. Shape-shifters. They curve space-time to get where they’re going, little man. You don’t think they can create optical illusions and physical manifestations?” he said.
“My people used to hold a ceremony every hundred years here, a big party where folks from Mexico would come in big boats to meet with us and we would share our stories,” he said.
“The Maya were plagued by these creatures, as were the Aztecs who followed. Imagine seeing a man walking down a path as he sprouts giant green and purple feathers from his back. The skin of his face sloughs off to reveal the head of a jaguar, which splits in two to reveal the head of a man again,” he said.
“You stop to wonder at what you’re looking at, only you didn’t notice a little siphon had slithered out from the tail of the thing and it crawled right up your ass when you weren’t looking and began draining your blood by the pint from the lining of your intestines,” he said.
I said nothing at this point.
“You wake up an hour later with some wild story that only half the village believes. The other half assumes you’re possessed. Oh they’re a riot, these creatures are, lemme tell you, World Ender,” he said.
I thought about the Mayan statues of Copan, how they seemed to merge animal and human features. A human face in the center, stacked atop the visage were the heads of different creatures like peeled back layers: jaguar, eagle, monkey; and sprouting from those crowns, long luxuriant feathers falling to the shoulders of the statue.
“Now you’re getting it, little man,” Red said, picking up on my thoughts.
The statues not so much symbolic; but actual attempts at relating what had been seen in the jungle.
Suddenly images I never knew I held in memory, came flooding to me: murals on temple walls; the body of a man topped with the face of a monkey; a tapir-being with the hands of a man; the creature is painting on parchment with a quill that had been dipped in human blood; did these events take place? Did these creatures actually create monsters that reacted with the peoples of Mesoamerica?
It was certainly one way to view the thousands of anthropomorphic statues and rituals, well-documented in the Mayan codices and the gory ceremonies where priests attempted to emulate the gods by donning the skins of flayed human victims while wearing the heads of animals as hats.
Then other images crowded my mind from European ancestors stretching back all the way to the Roman empire. An official of Rome riding haughtily by on a white horse with a terrified girl behind him in the saddle. The man turns to the crowd and smiles pleasantly. But his eyes are wrong, hollow almost, as if the soul has long since fled to hell through them. And their gaze is constant, sucking in information and storing it, like those of a raptor; predatory, intent; ready to pounce. The horse, the riders and their retinue wind their way up a hillside to the villa under a dark cloud. Ball lightning flashes over the horizon to welcome them home.
“Focus on the now, little man,” Red warned.
We drove over the inlet bridge and pulled into a sand parking lot south of the inlet. There were cars parked to the south of us filled with kids from Wabasso Beach. They stood on the dunes watching the sky while their radios blasted Van Halen into the night air.
“What’s the game-plan, Red?” asked Ryan.
“Ryan, you boys, Stanley, and Timmy, get them shovels and the machete and meet me up on the dune,” Red said. “I got to get focused.”
Red went into the bed of the truck and picked up a milk jug filled with clear liquid.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Palm wine, seasoned with palm oil; plus a few other things; mushroom juice, for one. You can forget me giving you a swig. It ain’t happening,” he said.
He took a long pull and shook his head.
“What does it taste like?” I asked.
“Like cat piss but, it does the trick. Now leave me alone for a minute. Go on get going,” he said.
“What about us?” Tom asked.
“Y’all don’t want no part of this,” Red said. “Stay back behind the dunes and keep that little girl safe.”
Red sat on the tailgate of the truck in a lotus position. He took another swig of palm wine.
As I crossed between the tall strands of sea oats I could hear him chanting something in a deep, baritone growl.
July 3, 2011
“Hey man,” came a deep voice.
I turned around to see his bristly blonde head, blue eyes and that same smile I had been missing; the same smile that had been mirrored in life by his brother and his father before them both.
“Holy shit, Sean. How are you, man?” I asked.
He gave me a bear hug.
“Good, I’m good,” he said. “I could be better, of course. But, I’m okay. I hear you’re not doing too hot, through all this,” he said, clapping me on the back.
He took his hands and held my shoulders and looked right into my eyes.
“He wouldn’t want that. He would want you to be happy. He hasn’t gone anywhere Tim. He’s right here,” he said, and with that he took his fist and softly tapped me in the chest.
“…and he’s here,” he said tapping me on the head with his finger.
“We remember him, and he lives on, inside us,” he said.
“I wish I could share you faith, Sean,” I said.
“I’ve learned it on the battlefield. I’ve seen it too many times. He’ll talk to you. You just have to listen.”
“He has Sean. He already has,” I said.
“Yeah, I know he left a whole shit-load of information for you, but, he will talk to you again; in here,” he said, tapping me on the chest.
“Thanks man,” I said.
“Hey, want to help me out?” he asked.
“Sure. Name it,” I said.
“I’m going over to view the body this evening. Mother wants a closed casket. All of you guys are invited. You especially. There may be another little detail I have to attend to,” he said.
“Sure, anything you say, man.”
We took my Ford over the causeway to the funeral home. Sean drove. Russ and Tom sat in the back seat. Dave and Chuck followed in the convertible.
I put on my old U2 CD “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”
“How is it over there,” Smokey asked Sean.
Sean just smiled; “Well, you know. It is what it is. It’s war. Pretty much what you’d expect. Getting shot at, shooting back when you can. Blowing shit up. Hoping you don’t get blown up. Keeping the guys safe and healthy, positive that if it ain’t over soon, at least their shifts will end eventually,” he said.
“Will they ever figure that mess out?” asked Tom.
“It’s a mess that don’t want figuring out right now, Tommy. People like to fight. People threaten each other. Talk of God gets thrown in the mix, not to mention the oil fields. That’s the big elephant in the corner no one talks about. Put ‘em all together and game on,” he said.
“Seems pretty straightforward,” I said.
“That’s my world, Tim. My job is keeping guys alive until we come home again. Marking time and keeping guys alive,” he said. “Ryan was the complex one in our family.”
“How did you hear?” I asked.
“My CO told me. I knew he was having problems,” he said.
We pulled into the funeral home just outside Palm Bay city limits. Chuck and Dave went to the trunk of the Corvette and brought out the cooler filled with beer as well as a CD player system.
“What’s this?” I asked Chuck.
“Seanny-boy wanted it this way. He won’t tell us what he has in mind,” Chuck said.
We filed into a brightly-lit chapel of sorts and carried the cooler to the kitchenette in back.
A man dressed in the collar of a priest came out of a small office and took Ryan in a firm handshake.
Sean turned to us.
“Timmy, Tom, Russ, Dave, Chuck this is Father Coughlin,” Sean said.
“Father, these are Ryan’s best friends in the world. They’re his pallbearer’s tomorrow as well,” he said.
As we each shook hands with him in turn, Sean continued; “They’re also surfers and I’m sure they believe, as I do, that Ryan’s ashes should go into the ocean. They would like to put him there. My problem is, my mother won’t allow it,” Sean said. “What can we do?”
The reverend cracked a wide, yet calm, tranquil grin.
“You know me, Sean, once a marine, always a marine,” he said. “We’ll need two things this evening. We’ll need about one-hundred eighty pounds to replace your brother. You all will need to stay through the cremation which will remain off the books. Now, do you want to see your brother, to spend a last moment with him?” the priest said.
“We all do,” I volunteered. “But we understand Sean should go in first, followed by the rest of us, after a time.”
“Sean can spend some time alone with him, then we can wheel the casket out here into this room before the cremation,” he said.
“That’s an excellent idea, father. But I would like Tim to go in with me to see Ryan,” Sean said.
“Fine then,” the priest said.
The room was quite and dimly lit. An air conditioner was quietly humming and it was cool in there.
You could just see Ryan’s nose and chin above the lip of the casket as we approached.
“It will be hard on mom, tomorrow,” Sean said. I could sense a quiver in his voice. He reached his hand over to my arm and grasped it for a second.
“I know about the bullet hole,” he said.
“What?” I asked.
“I know about the bullet hole. Mom told me. Most people shoot themselves in the temple, or the mouth. He actually shot himself at the base of the skull,” he said.
“People take it to mean he was murdered. What it means is, he was thinking about mom. He wanted her to be able to look into his face once more. She did earlier this afternoon. I don’t think he was murdered, Timmy. I know you’re going to think that. But it’s better that we accept it; Ryan killed himself,” he said.
“But why? That’s what I still can’t figure out,” I asked as we approached the casket.
“He was carrying a heavy burden, Tim. He knew so much. He saw so deeply into things, went places in his mind where not many of us have the guts to go. Maybe it just got to him,” he said.
We stood like brothers looking down into Ryan’s face. He looked peaceful indeed.
“If he tells you why, it’ll happen in the next few days,” Sean said. “At least that’s been my experience with these things.”
I nodded and put an arm around him. For a minute we were alone in our thoughts. Sean’s bottom lip began to quiver.
“I see kids dying all the time. They all remind me of him. Now he’s gone. I have a feeling Tim, that the pain of watching other brothers die is only going to get worse. If I go back there, overseas, I’m going to lose it, man. I got guys looking to me to make the right call. How do I keep my shit squared away? I’ll end up thinking about him, lying here like this…”
“It’s okay, Sean. It’s okay. If anything good can come of this, that’s it maybe,” I said.
“You thinking about your brother,” I managed.
“You always were a deep thinker. You’ve been a good friend to us, Tim. None better…” he managed reaching up to the corner of his eye with a handkerchief. I could feel the huge wall of emotion roiling just behind a steely veneer that was about to give way.
“I’m gonna let you say goodbye to your brother, Seanny.”
“Our brother, Timmy. He’s our brother.”
After a while the priest and Sean wheeled him out into the chapel. We went into the kitchenette and grabbed the cold cans of beer.
We didn’t overdo it waking him. He merely sat around him in folding chairs telling Ryan stories as U2 played.
After an hour or so I began to see there was a humorous pattern to all of those tales of Ryan. When we were in high school together, Ryan was always asking why, particularly when it came to rules. And he was always so goddamned pugnacious about it. You couldn’t help but be amused by the tenacity and verve with which he challenged authority.
If there wasn’t an answer to that ever-present interrogative, the rule became the object of his on-going, scornful, rebellion.
“Just because,” or “because I said so,” if these were answers from authority, then heaven help authority: he would do something monstrous, covert, obscene or all of the above to topple the rule. He couldn’t help himself when it came to this. It was a chemical need, almost, to see what would really happen if the impossible took place. Would the world end? No. And he wanted proof that the rule was flawed along with its reason for being.
Ryan organized a group of non-football playing athletes into a pep squad. These were the runners, soccer players, surfers and skateboarders. It was an eclectic group. We called ourselves the Megamen after the cardboard megaphones which were our calling cards of disruption.
In our senior year, Ryan had wanted to cheer before the crowd at the homecoming halftime.
Our principal said no. He had heard the cheer we wanted to offer might be slightly raunchy.
“Why can’t we?” Ryan asked.
“Because I said so,” the principal replied.
Came the appointed hour after the drill squad had finished their routine, and out we Megamen all marched onto the field with our megaphones on our heads, coming to parade rest at the fifty-yard line.
At Ryan’s command we turned in unison toward the home crowd.
“We may not be football players, but…..” we chanted. “…. we’re athletic supporters!” we screamed through the megaphones and of course beneath the cardboard sounding devices were revealed jockstraps on our heads.
The audience thought it was hilarious. Even Ryan’s mother laughed. We looked ridiculous. It was precisely the sort of gesture of absurd grandeur designed to show authority it had been worried about nothing.
The principal corralled us after it was over.
“Why did you all do that when I specifically asked you not to?”
“Because I said so, Mr. Starling. Because I said so,” Ryan replied.
The ten days of after-school detention for all of us - hours consisting of suicides on the basketball court when not scrubbing toilets and cleaning classrooms - had been worth it. We never apologized.
Ryan. You didn’t tell him no lightly. He had been precisely that kind of science student as well. Laws in chemistry and physics were like rules just waiting to be broken; with a battering ram of whys and why nots?
“Why can’t we travel beyond the speed of light, Mr. Wax?”
“Well, Ryan, Einstein showed it to be a limiting value,” came the answer, which rang as hollow to Ryan as “because I said so.”
I benefited from all this back and forth between Ryan and the universe. As his best friend, I became a better student than I would have without him; always arguing conventional wisdom while he fought me like all the demons of wild Tasmanian with a mind as quick and slippery as grease fire.
I smiled at the memories.
“What, Tim?” asked Tom.
“Nothing….just Ryan, man,” I said.
“I know what you mean,” said Russ.
Dave and Chuck laughed. They did too.
After midnight, we went out onto the burial grounds, to the edge of the woods. The priest said the grounds keepers had rimmed the property with blocks of coquina recently. We could use those, if we wanted. Or some sandbags left over from the hurricanes. Beach-rock sounded better to us. I’m not sure why. Maybe the idea of dirty sandbags inside the coffin would have somehow sullied it. Beach-rock was clean and white. You also didn’t have to worry about it ripping and tearing, spilling all over the floor.
We took our cans of beer and a wheel barrow out into the moonlit night that smelled richly of southern pines and palmettos. We loaded up what we thought we needed and headed back to the funeral parlor.
The priest and the son of the man who ran the parlor preformed the cremation. Sean, and I, along with the boy and the priest helped lift Ryan and placed him in the plain pine box for the event.
Sean sat in the ante-room on a folding chair sipping Budweiser, while his brother was cremated. Meanwhile we took the chunks of coquina out of the wheel barrow and carefully placed them inside the coffin.
“No chance of this popping open during the ceremony?” I asked and the priest smiled.
“None at all,” he said. “But should anyone with experience other than you fellows heft it tomorrow, they will assume naturally that the deceased is inside.”
And so it went. It was nearly dawn by the time preparations were made and the casket was lifted into the Hearse for the funeral.
This time I drove the Ford back out to the barrier island. Ryan was in an urn in the front seat between Sean and I as the sun began to slip over the horizon.
I loved this time of day in Brevard County. In the summer, the sun made a runway of reflected fire on the sea beneath the sky which turned gradually from purple to bright blue as the ball rose.
We dropped Sean and his gear off at his mother’s house and took the urn with me back to Jay’s.
Gary and Jay greeted all of us with eggs, coffee and orange juice.
“Timmy, you should go upstairs and get a couple hours of sleep, man,” Jay said. “The funeral guests will be arriving soon. My wife and kids are coming back today. It’s going to get pretty hectic around here,” he said.
“Thanks man,” I said and took him up on his offer.
I showered, shaved and crawled between the sheets exhausted. Sometime in the early morning hours, Gary came into the room and drew the shades across the doors and windows so that it was utterly pitch black in that room.
July 3, 1981
When Red had finished chanting he came up over the dunes.
“By now they’re onto me. They know what I intend to do, but, obviously I haven’t worked up the gumption to do it, otherwise they’d be here,” he said.
“I don’t understand, Red.”
“They have a way of figuring out what happens. If it is going to happen, they might want to stop it. So that means, I ain’t worked up enough gumption to do it, and I won’t unless…”
“…Unless what Red?” I said.
“You got to tell us what you know, Tim,” Ryan said suddenly, with the conviction of a grown man.
“What do you mean?” I asked guiltily.
“You’ve been acting weird all night. You know something, Timmy. You’re holding something back,” he said.
“He’s right,” Red said. “This is why you are back here now, Tim. That must be why they haven’t come. You haven’t said what you need to in order to complete the circle.”
“I can’t Ryan. I can’t tell you,” I said.
“After the night I’ve had, you goddamn well can, Timmy. You can!” he said.
“Tim, tell him.” It was Trisha. She came over the dune. “If you do I’ll tell you what I know…”
“Timmy, tell me. Is it about me?” Ryan demanded.
“Yes,” I said.
“Do you know about something that’s going to happen to me?”
“Please tell me what it is,” he said.
“I’ve come back to this time, from your funeral buddy. I’ve seen you dead in the coffin. We’re going to put you into the ground today. This stuff kills you. Fighting these things. You’ve got to stop. It drives you insane, Rye. You’ve either killed yourself of they did it for you,” I said.
“Rye, you’ve got to come back to us man. We miss you. We don’t want you to die. You don’t know it but we love you, brother. It hurts being without you, all your crazy bullshit…it’s boring without it. It sucks,” I said.
I began to cry like the child I was. He put his arm around me, as did Trisha. The three of us hugging in an unbreakable circle of friendship.
“Tim, I know. But at least now you understand. If not me, they take Sean and I can’t have that. I won’t,” he said.
“Why?” I begged.
“It’s something my father passed on to us, Tim. It’s the ability to hear them in our minds the way we do. We have it the way Red has it. It’s the ability to think the way they do too. There’s so much to it, you don’t know or understand yet but you will. We have to protect Sean now for the future,” Ryan said.
“He’s right, Tim. We need Sean. We need his innocence in all this. They don’t suspect him yet,” Trisha said.
“You too Trisha? You’re remembering this too, from the future?”
“Right now, I’m at Whispering Pines, Tim. There’s more you need to know. Stuff Ryan and I kept from you all these years,” she said.
“I don’t want you to go, Ryan,” I said turning to him.
“I have to Tim. It had to be done. I’m already gone. You know I wouldn’t leave my family or either of you. You have all the information you need. Sean knows on some level, but if we tell him all right now, he’ll die overseas. They’ll see to that. You’ve got to keep it all from him. I don’t care how you do it. It’s the one thing I’ve been able to do, Tim. You have to do the rest for me. You have to be strong for all of us. Guard what you know until the time comes to strike. Make them think you’ve given up,” he said.
“All the proof in the world isn’t going to matter for now. What counts is action. It’s enough that you’re alive, and the information is inside you. Understand?” he said.
“I got it,” I said.
When I looked up I noticed a sphere of light around all of us, translucent and blue. Red was standing off to the side with his arms stretched wide and his eyes closed in the moonlight.
He exhaled deeply and the bubble of light protecting us evaporated.
Red seemed drained.
“Good Lord, I thought you kids would never shut up. Now we have work to do,” he said.
“The little girl needs to go back to the others,” he said. “They can barely resist her as it is. She needs to stay away when we do this.”
Trisha walked back over the dune-line to rejoin Russ, Chuck and Dave.
“It’s good you two have spoken the truth. This time, they cannot use the future against you,” he said.
“Will it matter?” asked Ryan.
“Not in the order of things, but in the strength with which we proceed. We will hurt them perhaps. Cripple their resolve to do these things to us, if they see we can actually do battle with them,” Red said.
Red picked up the jug and tossed back another gulp of the clear liquid.
“How did you do that, with the light?” I asked.
“My people have learned a trick or two from them over the years,” he said wiping his chin. “At least they couldn’t hear what you’re thinking and saying.”
Red began walking.
“We have to find the little buggers. Grab those shovels and follow me,” he said.
As we walked the beach, the sweat began pouring from Red’s skin.
“Where are we going?” I asked. He ignored me and began to speak.
“My people actually killed the Spains for a number of years; every time they washed up here. We’d let one or two live and send him back with the stories of what we did to the rest,” he said.
“It wasn’t pretty but, we did it to keep them away,” he said. “You have to deal harshly with an invader before he will respect you. That’s nature. He tells you he means no harm that he’s here to help, but he’s not. He’s an invader. It’s in his nature to destroy, to conquer, to subjugate. The Ais and later Seminoles learned that the hard way, didn’t we.”
“What happened to the Ais?” Ryan asked.
“We used to own these coasts, all the way up round the cape and even south down to the Saint Lucie. When them Spains finally got a foothold, don’t you know it was the microbes done the worse job on us. Microbes from Europe. They’re almost as bad as pancreatic cancer, they are. Nothing you can do about them,” he said with smile.
“And Spains weren’t the only ones. A shipwreck survivor name of Jonathan Dickenson came traveling through here in 1696 with his family. They walked right through. We didn’t kill them. We didn’t have the heart since they were so helpless. But we didn’t know about the microbes. That very winter we had us an outbreak of yellow fever. By the time we got back on our feet as a people, it was 1715; the end of Queen Anne’s war and we got shipwreck survivors to deal with again. And we were merciful to those folks too.
“By 1730 there weren’t enough of us to line up on a ten-foot wall and shoot,” he said.
“My ancestor was there. He brought me to Saint Augustine with my momma and my little sister. The missionaries counted us, asked us if we was Catholic Christians, and of course we nodded that we were exactly that. I remember, they taught us to count forwards in Spanish from one. That was useful, I suppose, when you’re asking for blankets,” he said.
“The point, Red?” Ryan asked.
“Them blankets, as they often are, were also loaded with microbes; microbes that only my ancestor, Red Dancing Bear, could withstand. The others couldn’t,” he said.
“I thought you said it was you, Red?” Ryan asked.
“Same thing. That’s one thing you folks need to learn real quick. The microbes; and two, you are your ancestors and you are your descendants, or their relatives. If there ain’t no people left, well then, you ain’t nothing in the here and now and your living didn’t mean shit,” he said. “Life is everything. Human life is the most high expression of God’s love on this earth. Human life… not some half-assed reptile that lost his soul through experimenting and killing other species.”
“Now the microbes. First thing we have to do is find some of these here. I am used to looking for them so I can tell when the nests aren’t right.”
“Aren’t right?” I asked.
“Aren’t really turtles but something else,” he said.
Red dug down into the sand in one mound a little ways, stood up and unzipped his fly.
“You have to find a nest that’s ripe. Then you’ve got to be prepared to be just as heartless and cruel to the invader as you can possibly think to be,” he said as he released a stream of urine. “You’ve got to be prepared to go all the way. Even if that means using the microbes on them.”
The sand began to emanate a purple light, like the bioluminescence from plankton behind the wake of a boat. Three or four low growls began erupting from the nest at once, which became anguished screams of pain and terror. The sand shifted as if something were trying to crawl its way to the surface.
“Get that shovel ready, Ryan. As they come up, you start chopping. Timmy take that pick and do the same thing. Stanley, come over here with that machete. Be advised boys this ain’t gonna be pretty,” Red said.
“Aw, God what is that stench,” Ryan said.
“Like I said…” Red Dancing Bear replied. “Sea turtle can stand being pissed on all day long. So can a human being, if needs be. The babes of these things here, they got that monster DNA, from Antarctica. This is when they’re most vulnerable. They can’t stand microbes. The acid from the piss cuts into the mucous layer on the skin right after they come out of the egg, and the microbes in the piss go nuts. They can’t put up a defense. Then…”
One of the little demon critters scrowled like a cat over an open flame and came charging out of the hole. He was about a foot high. His little arms and legs were whirling in a buzz saw motion.
Ryan swung with all his might and the shovel blade took his head clean off. For an instant both the head and the body were encased in an electric field but the field disappeared.
Another was berthed from the sand squirming in pain as sores oozed yellow puss from the inside and smoldered with static pops and sizzles.
I impaled it with the pick axe.
“Ugly little fucker!” I screamed at it as it died.
“In two days the skin hardens enough to ward off anything; just like that of an alligator or one of these sea turtles. They swim out past the breakers in a group. The lights come up from the water and pick them up,” Red said.
“What happens to them then?” I asked.
“They grow up to be one of them. They specialize, become different types; just like embryo cells. These here are soldiers I would guess. Some of them turn into the shape shifters. Some become the little grey workers, some become the masters; but those usually have more of the human seed in the mix, and you generally don’t see them being grown in beach nests. They likely do those in a lab,” Red said.
We continued killing the creatures as they erupted from the sand until our arms were tired. The stench of them was horrifying; it smelled worse than a pile of rotten eggs ripening in the noon-day sun.
Ryan threw up. His doing so produced a chain reaction between myself and little Stanley. The nest was completely destroyed. Their little bodies, eighteen in all, were strewn around the open hole in the sand. Slime ran everywhere and mixed with the puke of three little boys, boiling and bubbling in places.
“What happens now?”
“Find another nest and keep going until they show up and ask us to stop,” he said.
It didn’t take long for Red to find it. He put his head to the sand and listened.
“Oh, this is a big one here,” he said. “Ryan dig down about a foot but no more. They’re getting ready to pop out, in about a day and a half, no more. They’re vulnerable right now, but they know we’re here.”
Red sat down cross legged in the sand, rolled his eyes back into his head. He held his hands up to his chest with his fingers positioned in the reverse o.k. .
“They’re coming,” Red said, “And they are severely pissed off at us.”
A dark triangle of sky shifted overhead, lowered towards us and began to rotate. Three lights blinked on at the corners, disengaged from the triangle and descended to the sea in a triple helix pattern.
A bubble of light encased us.
Without opening his eyes, Red called to me.
“Timmy, you got to drain your lizard on that nest,” he said. “Those are little shape-shifters coming up. They can kill all of us.”
I stood up and unzipped my fly.
A huge light came on from above in the form of a triangle. The three lights that had set down in the water moved in and surrounded us.
I could hear the crowd of kids from Wabasso marveling at the display from the dune parking-lot. Horns honked and girls screamed, but the purposeful lights merely stationed themselves around our bubble of protection as a harsh, bright beam shined down from the triangle above us; putting us all in spotlight.
“Do it Tim!”
Try with all I might I couldn’t get the stream going. Nothing was coming out.
“Geez, I got it, Timmy. Move over,” Ryan said unzipping his fly.
A lone figure formed on the beach. His giant head and dark cat eyes were familiar to me now. That and his ridiculous cloak.
“Holy shit. It’s Elvis!” I yelled.
The creature glanced at me malevolently.
“I’ll do it. I swear I’ll piss on your babies, Elvis!” Ryan screamed. “I got a full load here. Now back the hell up!”
Elvis shook once and three balls of light spat from the stationary orbs of illumination around us but they bounced harmlessly off the electromagnetic sphere of protection that Red was providing with the shear force of his mind.
When the creature saw Red in the lotus position a deep hiss and growl came from him, like that of a wounded Kimodo dragon.
Red’s eyes were rolled back, revealing the whites only. He was humming a single deep note.
The creature moved stealthily around the sphere of protection looking for a way in; a sign of weakness.
Three other beings, smaller in stature than Elvis, appeared on the shore behind him.
A shimmering elliptical sphere blinked on a few paces away from me to my right. I looked inside it and could clearly make out the back porch of Jay’s home in 2011.
“What’s this?” Ryan asked.
“It’s the future, Ryan. That’s Jay Malone’s house,” I said.
“Nice digs man. Hope I get a house like that,” he said.
“You do, but…”
“I hear you…” he said. “Just not right on the beach. Jay always did try to compete with me, and you Tim. Especially with Trisha.”
“Yeah. He has a major thing for her. Never tells a soul about it,” he said.
“Holy shit. That explains it,” I said.
“Focus on the now, boys!” bellowed Red.
The image inside this cut-away view of the future shifted to reveal orbs of light approaching the house. All the lights inside went off as those of us inside the house were led out onto the deck one by one by the three small greys who walked into the interface between past and future as easily as they would walk through a curtain of beads hanging from a doorway. Russ, Chad, Dave, Jay, Tommy and Gary came zombie-like into view.
When they brought me out onto the deck, I am screaming, “where the hell is Elvis?” One of the greys reached up to my forehead and touched me. I went stiff and quiet.
In 1981 I stood there unbelieving and gazed at the future version of myself just as he gazed back at me. The memory of this event two nights ago came into my mind suddenly in the hall of mirrors effect between present and past.
“Where am I?” Ryan asked.
Elvis looked at us and merely shook a finger, indicating the negative; that if Ryan completed the act he was threatening and unleashed a murderous stream of urine on the nest, there will come a premature ending to his life.
Your future! Came a voice in my head.
“Are you threatening me, shit-bag?” Ryan asked.
“He is, Ryan. But we already know now, don’t we,” I said.
“That we do Tim,” Ryan said unleashing a stream into the hole.
Elvis sprouted scales, which formed into foot-long green feathers. His mouth opened to reveal a parrot beak which screamed with a thousand voices. His eyes grew as large as dishes and the head morphed into that of a hideous iguana parrot. In the same instant his legs and arms formed into those of a lizard terminating in feet with hooked talons.
You will pay dearly for that!
The creatures erupt from the hole one after the other morphing, shifting and twisting with agony. Those not immediately dying are cut down with Ryan’s stream, the shovel, pick-axe and machete swung by myself and little Stanley.
The layers of the creature called Elvis peeled back again to reveal a human face sprouting from a collar of feathers and scales.
Enough! Not the young! Or I will kill your young!
We stopped instinctively as more emerged from the hole but scittered away from us wounded and screaming.
“We don’t have any kids yet, shit-bird!” Ryan offered.
“Oh?” asked Elvis. “Don’t you?”
The time-bubble from the future shifted to show a scene inside Ryan’s living room in the future.
His son absently played a video game with a controller. There are tears in his eyes.
“Your son,” the creature said to Ryan, adding, “And yours!” to me.
The scene shifted to the image of Paul in the back of our van shouting something to his mother in the front seat with a smile on his face.
“And the daughters,” the creature said.
The visions of both our daughters are swept across the field of view; images of them preparing for school, trying on wedding gowns, playing with their own children.
The head of the man spoke from within his cocoon of morphed twisted, peeled back layers and said; “… and there are others as yet unknown to you.”
By now the body of the lizard was gone, replaced with long flowing robes. The man is very old, but his eyes are quick and bright like hardened polished sapphires. He is balding on top but the hair on the sides of his head hangs down past his chest.
Ryan has expertly held his urine at the ready.
“How do we resolve this?” the man asked.
“We need our friend back. The one called Myles,” I said.
“He is not expected to live,” the man said.
“Bullshit,” Ryan said.
“He was wounded,” the man explained.
“How?” I asked.
The man produced the thirty-eight that had been in my hands just hours ago, and tossed it into the sand.
“The gun discharged when one of you raised it to us. It struck the child,” the man said.
“His brother shot himself in the leg!” I shouted.
“The brother was wounded, true. But this boy…” the creature said and Myles Neiderman appeared before us, bleeding from a hole in his chest. “This boy has suffered a wound from the gun that we cannot repair in time. We have tried,” he said.
“You have taken enough from these children,” Red said. “You have done more damage than is permitted. You will leave them in peace.”
“For now, if they leave the remainder of this nest undisturbed,” the man/creature answered.
“It is done,” said Red.
The man shuddered once from his shoulders and the dead creatures on the beach caught fire with the exception of Myles Neiderman who was still breathing heavily. Blood ran from his lips as his chest heaved up and down.
I ran to him to see if there was anything that could be done to help.
“You came all the way back here to find out what happened to me, Tim?” he asked.
“Yes, I did,” I said, holding his head in my lap, realizing that Myles had also seen the future during his time with the enemy.
“You…got to tell my brother what happened,” he said. “He won’t understand…until you convince him… they….”
But it was too late to hear the rest of his sentence. He died in my lap.
In an instant all the lights were gone leaving us alone with Red and the body of Myles Neiderman.
“I don’t know how much good I did here, World Ender. It is time for me and the boy to be gone,” Red said. “Lawman comes this way.”
It was then I heard the fire trucks, police cars approaching from the north and south on State Road A1A, along with a helicopter from the west. The C-130 from previously in the evening came swooping in over us and headed out to sea. It seemed to be chasing something in the sky.
“For a time, you won’t remember this. It has to be that way. You will split. Part of you will go back to where you came from. The other half will remain here. The part that goes will carry this knowledge forward, as will the part that remains. But the part of you that stays here keeps this memory in the background of consciousness, only,” he said.
“Will we see you again, Red?” I asked.
“Oh, I’ll be around. That you can count on,” he said.
Ryan and I looked at each other. Another bubble of light surrounded us and grew in intensity until it popped like a spent flashbulb. Ryan and I wandered for a moment in a daze rubbing our eyes.
I looked, trying to find Red and his son but they were gone. Just then another, equally blinding flash occurred over the dune-line.
By the time my vision cleared again a police officer was wrestling me to the ground. Ryan was right beside me already in cuffs.
“What the hell happened, Timmy? What’s going on?” he asked.
The group of kids from Wabasso came off the dune toward us but didn’t approach all the way. They stayed about twenty feet back, forming a wide semi-circle made up of forty or so, as we were handcuffed by the police.
I could see the body of Myles Neiderman beside a fire of cooking meat to my left; and now I recalled how it went. The cops responded to calls of lights in the sky. When they arrived they found us near the body and the revolver.
They assumed it to be a lamentable incident, a turf war between surfers from Wabasso and Melbourne Beach. One of the kids had 4th of July fireworks in his car; so much for the lights.
Later when they examined the gun they would find my fingerprints on it, along with those of Myles’ brother, Hank. They would also discover the gun had been stolen from a bait and tackle shop in Melbourne Beach, along with a case of beer and a fishing pole, both soon to be found inside the Neiderman home. Hank would be arrested for parole violation and goes back jail where he kills a fellow inmate a few years later and ended up in a federal facility.
The cops would take it on faith that during the gang fight, Hank had accidentally shot his own brother with a firearm he had stolen and that, terrified of Hank and what would happen to us if our part in the incident were known, we had dragged his brother’s body to the beach along with the shovels in an effort to cover up the accidental death.
All our childish talk of unexplained lights in the sky, sea turtles and aliens would be explained away as easily as a summer breeze passes; written off as the result of a rumble charged by booze and pot, both found abundantly amid the possessions of the Wabasso teenagers.
As they hauled us to jail for questioning, no one thought to ask how we had gotten to the beach just west of Monster Hole. No one seemed to remember or care.
No one saw an Ais-Seminole Indian leave the scene in a beat up Ford pick-up truck.
Following the news stories about the death, following the dropped charges, we were all sent to grief counselors of every sort and we were all told to forget.
The death of Myles Neiderman became a dark secret no one in the community cared to talk about. The mother sold the home soon thereafter and moved to Kentucky, it was rumored.
Gradually the town of Melbourne Beach forgave us and we went on with our lives.
Following the dream that unraveled the mystery, I turned over and slept deeper than I had in years.
July 3, 2011
“Timmy wake up, man. It’s time to get ready for the funeral,” said Gary from the door. I could hear a house filled with commotion behind him.
“Brittany’s here,” he said. “She wants to see you. And she’s brought a friend.”
I got up and slung the curtains aside letting in a hot blast of sunlight. I threw the drapes on the windows until the room was a caldron of light. I felt refreshed and relieved, better than I had in weeks.
The waves were about two feet and semi-choppy. I opened the sliding glass door and went out onto the deck. The air was sweet with the smell of salt. The hiss of the morning swell had me. I closed my eyes and took it all in, letting the vitamin D engines in my skin kick into gear with the warmth of the sun’s rays.
“Hey Tim! You’re in your underwear, dude!” Russ called up to me from the lower deck.
“The kids are back! Get dressed!” he said with a laugh and smile.
It didn’t take me long to shower again and dress for the funeral service.
At the top of the landing I looked down and there on the couch were Brittany, Loni and Trisha looking up at me. At that instant those faces were more precious to me than gold; their sweet smiles warmed my soul like honey.
Someone had convinced the proctors of her program to let Trisha out for Ryan’s funeral. She held my gaze with a clear-eyed knowing smile that seemed to say ‘everything is going to be alright now.’
Brittany came off the couch as I came down the stairs and gave me a great big hug.
“I’ve missed you guys so much,” she said.
I don’t remember much of the service at Immaculate Conception, other than sadness mixed with relief, and the joy I felt sitting between Trisha and Brittney. We held hands the three of us all through it. We were surrounded by family and friends. It was like a gift from Ryan.
At the burial the guys and I noted with sheepish glances that we had put too many coquina rocks into the coffin. Sean and I gave each other knowing looks as we lifted it from the Hearse.
We all drove back out to Jay’s house for drinks. We were all exhausted. I stood out on the back deck with Brittany and Trisha drinking iced-T while Trisha had mineral water.
Brittany had become a school teacher in Palm Bay, and at some point along the way, she had married an engineer. He was around somewhere inside the house with their two children Nellie and Adam. She kept tearing up as she remembered Ryan, whom she kept referring to as ‘my first true love.’
Apparently, it had never gotten beyond the petting stage but I gathered from the way she talked about him, they had some seriously deep conversations and she truly did love him.
I looked down on the beach and noticed Ryan’s son playing with Jay’s boy, David. They were skipping scallop shells in the surf. I thought with regret how good it would be to have Paul here to play with them.
“Timmy, there’s a phone call for you,” Gary said amid the hubbub.
I went into the kitchen and picked up the phone thinking it was my wife.
“Tim? My name is Gus Torrence, and I’m a friend of Ryan’s,” he said.
“From Camerdyne,” he said and went silent.
“How did you find me?” I asked.
“I called his mother’s house and she told me you’d be at this number. Look, there are some things I have been instructed to tell you and I am not prepared to get into on this phone. Can you meet me?” he said.
I got the picture of a cleared-eyed African American man of about fifty years of age. He was from the south; perhaps Mississippi, perhaps Georgia. It was a toss up.
“Instructed by who?” I asked.
“Our mutual friend, Tim. Our friend,” he said.
“You were such a good friend how come I didn’t see you today? How come you’re not here?”
“Well given the circumstances, Tim, I think Ryan would understand. I am attempting to fulfill my obligations in a different way. Can you relate to that? Can you understand the sensitive nature of the things of which I speak?” he asked.
“Look Mr. Torrence, I don’t know….”
“He told me to contact you, Tim. And I have done that. Now if you don’t want to meet me…”
“Okay, okay. Where?”
“He said you would know where,” he said.
I thought for a moment. Where did Ryan meet his associates?
“I think I got it,” I said.
“Yeah. He left from there, correct?”
“That’s the place. Is 7:30 too late?” he asked.
“Not at all,” I said.
I came back out onto the back deck and wrapped my arm around Trisha.
“I have to go out for a while, are you going to be here when I get back?” I asked.
“Yeah, I have to talk to you about something,” she said.
“Yeah, I’m getting a lot of that today for some reason. I’ll see you when I get back,” I said giving Brittany, Trisha and Loni innocent hugs and kisses.
I drove to South Melbourne Beach and entered the South Beach Willie’s compound. The place had upgraded the parking facilities at least, and the place no longer resembled the hardscrabble, wild dive of the days of my youth although, that reputation lingered.
The building had been one of the original U.S. Livesaving Service’s houses of refuge along the Florida Coast. The watch tower had been torn down and replicated years ago so that visitors could safely climb to the top and look out over the water using a winding staircase.
Back in the day the original structure, as termite withered and dangerous as it was, and accessible only by ladder, had been a magnet for college kids who climbed it and made out, and smoked weed, in the ten by ten perch atop the rickety poles. More than one twenty-year old had fallen from it.
The crowd was somewhat spare at this hour, since so many people had moved on to more accepted locations for drinking and dancing on Saturday nights, and the DUI patrols had gotten so thorough only the daredevil hard-cases would make the attempt on A1A anymore.
Consequently the place seldom boasted huge events anymore and drinking there was strictly a low-key affair; something to accompany dinner and games of pool for neighborhood families.
Other than this I couldn’t see how it remained in business.
Obviously Ryan loved this place for his sit-downs because he could keep watch of the cars entering and leaving the parking-lot from the place’s back deck which overlooked both the beach and State Road A1A. The back deck also afforded noise from the beach to thwart any eavesdropping microphones; or so he obviously considered.
I noticed the gray haired black man sitting at the bar when I walked in. He was nursing a beer and had on a Hawaiian print shirt, a pair of shorts and a pair of beach sandals. Obviously the Ford F-350 in the parking-lot was his, by the look of his jewelry and his surfer style clothing.
“Gus?” I asked.
“Tim?” he said.
I ordered my beer, laid down three rumpled bills and turned to him.
“Why don’t we step out onto the back deck?” I asked.
“Boy, you and Ryan were cut from the same cloth,” he said.
“What’s on your mind?” I said as we neared the railing overlooking the shore.
“Look, this all has been very traumatic for me. You might not know this, but the first thing I want to tell you is, someone killed your friend. That’s the first thing,” he said.
“Yeah, oh. And I suspect you know who,” he said.
“Somebody, that’s what I know. Either it was Ryan himself or someone else,” I said.
“There’s really no use being coy with me, Tim,” he said.
“How do I know you’re on the level?” I asked.
Gus reached into his wallet and pulled out his membership card to Surfrider Foundation.
“That’s it?” I asked.
“You noticed the surf racks on my truck?” he said.
“Yeah, so what?”
“That will have to do. He said you could relate. Look I have been through hell and back splitting with my tail to talk to you. I’m not going to sit here and audition while you decide whether you want to hear what I have to say.
“Ryan and I couldn’t even acknowledge that we knew each other at work. All we could do is surf together to share information. Now he’s gone and I have people following me night and day. I have a security clearance that won’t let me be honest with my wife anymore. I stole a damned cell phone so I could talk with you,” he said.
“Alright so what the hell is it you want to say?”
“You’ve heard of someone named Jennifer Epstein?” he said.
“Go on,” I said.
“Good, well she and I work together. They sent me to a symposium she had out in San Diego. We’re adopting technology from these creatures, we’re building weapons that are going to be used on us, soon,” he said.
“Tim don’t play stupid with me, who us. Us us, all of humanity. We don’t have time for bullshit.”
“What else are you supposed to tell me?”
“Everything I know.”
“Some of the people he was dealing within the UFO community are plants from the government. They’ll approach you, just as they tried to approach me.”
“The government or the aliens started the story of Roswell and twisted it with unmitigated bullshit. It was done intentionally during the Cold War so it could be debunked when that debunking would have the greatest impact, then debunked again.”
“Okay Gus, explain that. It sounds good but I don’t understand exactly what you’re saying here,” I said
“Roswell isn’t the issue. It’s a red herring that will be debunked, along with a story they put out after 1947, where they claim to have kept an alien alive for three years in a facility out in New Mexico. They’re putting it out that these creatures came from a galaxy forty light years away called Zeti-Reticuli when they didn’t,” he said.
“Where did they come from, then?”
“Shit, you’re any kind of friend to Ryan, you know as well as I do, where,” he said.
“Tell me,” I said, indicating if he didn’t get it right this was a deal buster.
“Earth! These creatures are from here just like we are. They were some sort of sentient dinosaur that evolved down in Antarctica. They claim to be thousands of years more developed than we are only it’s not true, they’re only just a couple of hundred years ahead but they can’t seem to get any further. They’ve been using us for eons and we’ve been too stupid to realize it. Time is running out on civilization again. They’re getting ready to shut us down for a hundred years or so, and we have to stop them,” he said.
“What do you do for Camerdyne?”
“I’m a structural engineer. I’ve been tasked to back-engineer some things.”
“ Oh, I’m looking into composite materials to work with a zero-point energy drive back-engineered from some of the discs that have been recovered, the real thing. Only, even that’s all a game: they were given to us, so we could do some of the work for them, look at things in new ways.”
“Why would they give us technology?” I asked.
“These things are losing the ability to think clearly anymore; they can’t breed, they can’t think, they’re not even sure whether they have a soul or not; many of them are purely technological entities when it comes right down to it; some sort of bio-composite beings made up as much in nanotechnology as genetically-engineered parts. Their DNA is so old it doesn’t function properly.
“They’ve sent themselves into space looking for answers and they come back mangled and discombobulated, with their sense of time all at odds with respect to one another. The only way they keep it all straight is us, our histories our timelines which they also tamper with. They’ve been using us for DNA for thousands of years. When we get too smart and start to figure out who they really are and what they are and what they’re up to, they send us right back to the drawing board of civilization,” he said.
“How? How do you think? Wars, disasters, whatever they want. Watch the news for God’s sake it’s happening today. They’ve done this shit to us four times already and they’re getting ready to do it again,” he said.
“What can we do?”
“Stop them. Kill them. You read Ryan’s declaration as well as I did. We have no choice. I didn’t spend my life working toward something so my children could at best, end up being their pets in a cage, did you?” he asked.
“Alright Gus, you sold me. You have been talking to Ryan. Now who killed him?”
“They call them “cleaners” sociopaths paid under contract. Mostly they’ve been working for agencies dealing with software security threats. But since Ryan wrote his document and gave it to the UFO nuts, who also have an overlap with the hacker community, voila. They’re paid shootists and killers. It’s a real craft with them. Make it look like something: suicide, bus accident, the result of a terrorist. I had a career in the Navy before I graduated from UVA with a degree in mechanical engineering so I’ve heard of these guys who carry out the bizarre wet-work but, I never met any of them.”
“So how did it happen?”
“One day Ryan and I were supposed to meet here. I show up and the place is surrounded by cops and they’re wheeling him out on a gurney. Suicide they said. Ryan saw it coming. He had already hatched his plans. They include both of us. Two days ago I got an envelope with the declaration in it and instructions to get in touch with you. You are his designee, Tim. You are supposed to replace him,” he said.
“Those are shoes I may never be able to fill,” I said.
“You have to try,” he replied.
“Tell you what, I will - try that is but, it sounds to me like they’ve already won.”
“You’re still worried about me not being who I say I am, aren’t you,” he said.
“The thought had crossed my mind,” I agreed.
“You ever read any HG Wells, Tim?”
“Yes,” I said.
“You ever hear of the Morlocks?”
“Sure, Morlocks and the Eloi but what I can’t figure out, Gus, is which one?” I said.
“What do you mean? Which one what?” he said.
“Which one are we?” I asked.
“Obviously, Tim, we’re more like the dumb-assed Morlocks. We’re the workers and the food source. We scurry from day to day doing our thing and we don’t realize these creatures have been running things and benefiting from what we do. They hide from us until they need to feed. Then look out, it’s dinner time,” he said.
“So Ryan told you about the sea turtles,” I asked.
“He did. Although I had trouble believing he wasn’t crazy at first.”
“What changed your mind?”
“The company began tapping me for extracurricular training a couple years ago. One sunny day they showed me a movie about protecting freedom wherein the company admitted it was part of a back-engineering program , and I was assigned to it. I took a polygraph, and ever since, they’ve been following me. Ryan went through the same process. It’s designed to drive you crazy, or, convert you entirely to their way of thinking,” he said.
“Cold, compartmentalized, calculating paranoia,” he said.
“So if I’m the new point man, what’s to protect me from getting hit?” I asked.
“The fact you have no government clearances, other than that, nothing,” he said. “For all we know, you could get it today, or never. You’re an unknown factor. A fly in their ointment they didn’t count on. That’s the idea, anyway.”
“So, how do you and I keep in touch?” I asked.
“I’ll figure something out, Tim. That’s why Ryan tapped me to be your right-hand man. I’m a fixer. Engineering is my life. I’ll figure something out,” he said.
“So I’ll wait for you and do some thinking on my own?” I asked sticking out my hand. I was worried for his sake that he might pick up his tail again.
“Sounds good,” Gus said taking my hand and giving it a good firm shake.
“He said I’d like you,” Gus said. “He was right.”
Gus drained his beer and walked to the parking lot without a backward glance.
I stood by the railing for a moment looking out at the orange moon rising off the water as the sun went down. The crowd was thinning out inside the place and the mosquitoes were starting to molest in the absence of wind.
I picked up my beer and walked down to the beach to be in the quiet shine of the rising moon.
I don’t know where he came from but before I could turn around he was behind me – he had gotten the drop.
“I’ve been waiting a long damned time,” he said. His voice vaguely familiar, scratchy and southern.
I tried to turn around but he jammed the barrel of the gun into my head just behind my ear.
“Look…I don’t know who you are,” I said.
“Yes you do, peckerwood,” he said.
It was a voice I knew well from recent dreams but something was different about it, something clear and sober.
“Guess again, motherfucker,” he said. “Name’s Hank. And I have been waiting a long damned time for your ass. Been watching and waiting for just the right moment. Your ass don’t separate too often do you? You’ve always got somebody close by. Not now, slim. Now, you’s a dead ass motherfucker.”
“Hank? As in…”
“As in Hank Neiderman, although I go by so many names now it’s hard to remember them all.”
“Why? You actually have the nerve to ask me that? Why? Why do you think, peckerwood, you killed my brother.”
“You’re wrong, Hank. You’re wrong. We didn’t do it..”
“I was in a hole six by six in a place called Milledgeville, peckerwood. A place for the criminally insane. Do you have any idea what goes on in a place like that?”
“How did you get out?”
“Government. I used to work for them. They offered me my old gig back, and don’t you know I got the hell out of that hole and never looked back. Been living high off the hog for years, Timmy. Thinking about how I was going to do it,” he said.
“You know we didn’t do it, Hank,” I said.
“I gave you one order, shit-brains. I said, look out for my baby brother and I handed you the gun, you after you and that dumbass, Ryan get us into that mess. Then I said can you handle it? And what did you say to me?”
“I said I could,” I said.
“You said you could. Come to find my brother is dead and while I’m in a hospital, they’re blaming me! And your little peckerwood asses didn’t say shit on my behalf. You know I didn’t kill my baby brother,” he said.
“Hank the gun went off. It was an accident, unfortunately you shot him. That’s the god’s honest truth,” I said.
“They told me you’d say that, Tim. How come Ryan didn’t say that and you did?”
“So you killed Ryan?”
“Funny thing is, it seemed like he knew it was coming. He never bothered trying to turn around,” he paused for a long time.
“What the hell have y’all gotten yourselves into, Tim? My handlers tell me you’re terrorists and hell I don’t care one way or the other. But my question is why? Why are you of all people, involved in a plot to overthrow your own country? If there was going to be anyone to do that it should have been me, Tim. They left me hanging in Cambodia. I came back and I wasn’t right in the head. The VA didn’t do shit for me. Then the nightmares about the lights…,” he said.
“Those nightmares are the same ones Ryan and I had about that night, Hank. Those nightmares are real. They happened. There are things out there controlling us, things we don’t understand. They took your brother up in their ship. They worked on him after you accidentally shot him but, they couldn’t save him. He died in my arms. I tried to help him, Hank. You have to believe me,” I said.
“And they called me crazy,” he said.
“Easy there cowboy,” came a cool voice. I couldn’t turn around but it was all too familiar to me.
“You alright Tim?”
“How did you get here?” I asked.
“Once a Marine…” he said.
“Now mister. I want you to lower your weapon, and we’re going to talk this out,” Sean said.
Sean had slipped under radar and jammed his own weapon against Hank’s head while he had been busy talking to me.
“No dice, jarhead. If you fire, your boy is dead. Just like the other one,” he said.
“Well then why don’t we all take a nice walk, then?” Sean asked.
“North or south?” Hank said.
“South,” Sean said and we all moved in an awkward dance down the beach about a hundred yards or so. Sean was very cool here. Unbelievably so.
“So you were in the armed forces too?” Sean asked.
“Special forces. Cambodia. I was a sniper,” Hank said.
“So if you’re such a pro, why was this so up close and personal?” Sean asked.
“This one killed my brother,” Hank said.
“You got it wrong, Mr. He didn’t kill your brother - but you killed mine,” Sean said.
“They…they were responsible. I had a job to do,” Hank said.
“Hank they’ve been filling your head with dog-shit. Ryan and I didn’t kill Myles. You did. Think! Think back! When you went down, a round got loose. It hit Myles, in the chest,” I said.
“You shut the fuck up!” Hank yelled.
“Easy Timmy. I got this,” Sean said. “Mr. he’s right. Now, I’m going to count to…”
There was a soft popping sound and a warm mist that smelled like bad breath tinged with iron.
I turned around and looked at Hank. His eyes were wide open and staring up at the sky. Sean was holding and twisting his gun hand helping him to his knees.
“Just kneel down, Mr. It’s over now,” he said.
Sean cupped Hank’s hand, took the silencer off, pointed the man’s weapon out to sea and fired a single round.
“Powder burns have to match,” Sean said.
“It’s okay now, Mr. You can let go of the gun. You won’t need it now,” Sean said.
“Fucker’s got a grip like iron,” Sean said ripping the weapon from the man’s dying hands and twisting.
I heard a sound like a leaky oil can being emptied into the sand. That’s when I noticed the small hole on the left side of Hank’s head and the large one on the right runny with brain matter.
More resigned to it, Hank gasped his last, plopped down in the sand on his back still staring out into space. His legs were grossly akimbo like those of a failed limbo dancer.
“What the ..?” I said still not registering what had happened.
“He was sooo going to off you, Tim. I had no choice,” Sean said. “Not that he didn’t deserve it…”
“What are you going to do now?” I asked.
“Make it look like suicide, what else?” Sean said, taking out a rag from his pocket and wiping Hank’s arms. He looked down at Hank and said “Pay back’s a bitch, pal.”
“Gotta make sure I don’t leave prints,” Sean said.
“Sean, how in the hell did you know I’d be here?” I asked.
Sean placed the gun back in the man’s relaxed palm.
“Ryan told me. He sent me a letter a week before he died. He gave me a time and place. Said you’d be here and that if I didn’t stop it someone was going to kill you,” he said.
“Back then I was overseas. I sent Ryan an email and told him he was crazy. He had written it two weeks prior,” he said. “Then Jay told me about the phone calls you’ve been getting, the threatening ones. So I never let you out of my sight tonight.”
I stood mute for a second.
“Tim, there’s more too all this stuff. I don’t know precisely what you guys have been into but, I know my brother, and he would never have killed himself.”
“Then why did you tell me he did?”
“To protect you from yourself, why else? Now we know for sure. When you’re ready to tell me what’s going on, I suppose you will,” he said. “Meantime, we need to get the hell out of here. Forget this ever happened.”
I felt blood draining from my head.
“Timmy, c’mon. This is war, man. Shit happens. They got Ryan and we got this guy. Move on, living and breathing. Forget this heap of shit,” he said.
I looked down at Hank. His eyes still wide open in surprise.
“Or don’t, you know, grieve and shit. Have a melt down, whatever,” Sean said donning a pair of gloves and adjusting the body again more to his liking.
Sean then circled Hank and kicked up the sand so our footprints would be lost.
“C’mon, Tim. Let’s move out,” he said.
As we walked back to our respective cars I kept looking in the bushes and palmettos for someone to come popping out at me.
“Forget it. This guy was roosting on you. He wanted to get near you to tell you why. He wasn’t checking in with anybody,” Sean said.
“Thanks for being there, bro,” I said to him.
“No worries,” he shot back.
I got into my Ford and he hopped into a rental Buick and we were out of there.
I wouldn’t see the lone figure of a Native American in his thirties climbing out of the palmettos in the dune after I left, but I would learn about it later.
"How easy his task and mine might be in these meetings that we held if suddenly there was a threat to this world from some other species from another planet outside in the universe. We'd forget all the little local differences that we have between our countries ..."
- December 4, 1985, President Ronald Reagan’s speech at the Fallston High School in Maryland, where he spoke about his first summit with General Secretary Gorbachev in Geneva.
“At our meeting in Geneva, the U.S. President said that if the earth faced an invasion by extraterrestrials, the United States and the Soviet Union would join forces to repel such an invasion. I shall not dispute the hypothesis, though I think it's early yet to worry about such an intrusion..."
- Gorbachev remembering his conversation with Reagan, during an important speech on February 17, 1987, in the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, to the Central Committee of the USSR's Communist Party.
July 3, 2011 Melbourne Beach – We returned to Jay’s house amid chatter that Jay’s son David and Ryan’s son, Kyle, had found a dead sea turtle washing up on the beach.
The boys also met a friendly stranger who helped them pull the carcass to shore. None of the mourners at the party for Ryan noticed the stranger, and who ever he had been, he didn’t stick around.
Officials from the US Fish and Wildlife Service were contacted through the police department, and they would come by in the morning to cart the carcass away for investigation.
Russ and I just looked at each other. Russ shook his head and made a troubled face.
Jay sauntered up to Trisha and I on the back deck and wrapped his arms around us both.
“Been a hell of a week, hasn’t it,” he said.
With labored, stilted effort, he made his case that Trisha should come back to work immediately upon leaving the Whispering Pines facility. He further said he would put up the money for her to attend realtor classes during the evening.
“Why Jay, why ever would you do such a nice thing? It’s not like you,” she said playfully.
He just hugged closer along with me.
“I’m a slow starter, but I’m learning how to be a bit more giving, maybe. Maybe this has done something to me, seeing how quickly it all can be over, you know? Does that make any sense to either of you?”
“Jay that is the most introspective thing I have ever heard you say,” I said raising my Iced-T glass to him.
“Couldn’t have done it without you Tim,” he said after a pause. “Couldn’t have done it with out you, or Ryan, so here’s to him,” he said.
We all touched glasses.
“You ready for the paddle out tomorrow?” he asked me.
“Yeah, does it look like we’re going to get any waves?” I said.
“If so they’ll be small. I was thinking that if it is flat, in the afternoon, we could take my boat off shore. Lobster season starts in a few weeks and it might be fun to scout around, you know? Throw some markers down with the GPS?” he said.
“Excellent idea, Jay. I think I know a place. I heard about it anyway,” I said.
“Sounds good,” he said and moved off into the party.
“Now what was it you wanted to see me about?” I asked Trisha.
We walked together down onto the beach and sat down in the sand facing the ocean. She turned to me at last and asked; “Do you remember when we were young?”
“I do, but apparently not all of it,” I said.
Trisha reached over and touched my arm.
“Do you remember that summer when we first started speaking to each other?”
“Yeah, it was when….”
“Yeah, I know, it was when all that happened, but do you remember before that. Before we really got to know each other?”
“Well, I remember more than you. See I had this crush on both you and Ryan. Mostly you though, Tim. You were always so thoughtful, and nice even when I wasn’t very nice to you. It was like you understood me, before I understood myself, and like you forgave me. It was sweet,” she said.
“You mean I was a huge pushover,” I clarified.
“It was still sweet. Well I used to have these dreams about you. That you and I met on the beach in the middle of the day, and yet, no one else was around,” she said.
A cold chill ran up my spine.
“And we would walk hand and hand for the longest time, talking about silly things,” she said.
“Stuff that you and Ryan were doing with your little posse, you know. Things,” she said. “And I thought it was so cool and so neat. And I wanted to be part of it and you were there to introduce me to it, to let me into your little clique. And I loved you so much for that,” she said.
“This is in the dream?”
“Yeah, and we walked for the longest time until we came to a house with a ..”
“….with a Siamese cat on the back porch,” I said, remembering it now.
“Right. With a Siamese cat. And we went inside the house and made love for the first time on the bed while the cat sat on the back porch and looked at the ocean next to…”
“A porcelain elephant, like they made in India,” I said.
“Do you remember what you said to me?” she asked.
“I told you I wanted you so bad that I wanted to run through your veins, like blood,” I said. I remember now.
“Still the prettiest thing any lover has ever said to me,” she said leaning her head on my shoulder.
“So this happened,” I said, “For real.”
“I don’t know how they did it. But I will forever thank them for the fact our first time together was something sweet and nice. Yes, Tim. They came in the night and took us somewhere, or some when, and we made love,” she said. “And after a fashion, you did run through my veins like blood.”
I felt another cold chill run up my spine and flush into beads of sweat on my shoulders.
“And after that I wanted you so bad all the time, like I could taste you,” she said. “Even when I thought what had happened was a dream I wanted you like candy, seeing you was something sweet like drinking raspberry iced tea, because you were in my blood and I wanted more of you.”
“In your blood?” I asked and she smiled and nodded. A tear fell from her eye and wandered down her cheek.
“We have a child, you and I,” she said proudly, “ …or more correctly, a grandchild.”
I couldn’t speak.
“Her name is Gem.”
“You can’t have children, I thought.”
“Funny thing is they never figured out why I ended up barren. I know now it was part of the process.”
“You’re losing me, honey,” I said.
“Weeks after the dream, they came to me and took the embryo we made together. That night we saw them as a group, Tim, they took Ryan and I, but it was much different with him. He was so afraid of what you would say, how hurt you would be. And they weren’t nice about it this time, since, they saw that what we were doing was intruding on something they had to do, in order to survive,” she said.
“Let me finish, Tim.”
“A few weeks after that they took Ryan and my embryo as well.”
“Oh my God,” I said,
“When they did that something inside me was injured. I couldn’t have kids anymore,” she said with a touch of sadness.
“Those two embryos, at that stage, they can grow them to a point where they can get sex cells from both; and they did,” she said.
“And what? Trish what did they do?”
“They crossed them, with their material,” she said.
“To produce one of them,” I said.
“No, to produce something new, something that has the best of all of us in it,” she said. “To make our daughter, Tim. My daughter, your daughter, and Ryan’s daughter, Gem. That’s why I love her so much because she’s part of something that came from all of us,” she said.
“And them,” I clarified.
“And them,” she sighed.
“Trisha, this is one of the things Ryan was fighting against the most,” I said.
“I know, believe me. I know. He was sooo stubborn,” she said.
“With good reason, honey. They took our material and made a monster with it, one of them,” I said.
“Hey easy. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Tim, what if this is the next step in evolution? What if what’s being produced here with Gem is the answer, not the problem?” she said.
“Tim with our daughter, they may have finally produced offspring that can reproduce sexually, for the first time in hundreds of thousands of years,” she said.
“So they say, Trisha. Remember they lie, and before you’re seduced by their charms, did you ask yourself if maybe they didn’t sterilize you after they extracted your embryo you made with Ryan so you couldn’t have any more naturally-conceived, full-blooded human children?”
“Why would they do something so horrific?” she asked.
“Trisha, you are so sweet, so open and so believing in the good, I feel for you, but you need to open your eyes. Why? Why would they do something like that to us? Because they can. So that you and I will end up having this conversation; so that you’ll love and protect your baby with them,” I said.
“It’s the first time a human mother has successfully bonded with one of their offspring, Tim. The reason is you, me and Ryan, the love we have for each other. It filled up the dark places they have in their makeup. This child will teach them how to love again and their offspring will be more like her,” she said. “And the good thing about her is most of her DNA is human, not reptile.”
“Trisha, Ryan believed they were getting ready to wipe most of us humble humans out,” I protested.
“I know that too. What if he was wrong?”
“What?” I asked.
“He was right about them existing. He was right about the fact they are exerting influence over our species, but, what if he’s wrong about them planning to end civilization?” she said.
“To look at all the information this may not be the first time they’ve done that, Trish. It’s what they do, they lie, they kill, they rape us, and steal our genes because they can’t make them anymore,” I said.
“What if Gem can change them?” she said.
“Oh my God, honey. That’s incredibly naïve of you to think so…”
“But you haven’t met her yet. Maybe she’ll change your mind,” Trisha said.
“He refused. We used to get into wicked arguments about it. He said if hybrids were being produced they were being made for the sole purpose of becoming human shields, a way to soften our stance on them. He thought it might even just be another hoax, in that they have the power to shape shift,” she said.
“And none of that is even remotely possible given what we’ve seen of their capabilities? How do you know Gem isn’t something they created, another illusion; another dead end cul-de-sac for us to follow; more of their same bullshit,” I said.
“A mother knows,” was all she said to this. “Now do you want to meet her, or not? I am to give you one chance and one chance only.”
I didn’t question this. If anything these things had learned from us it is the power to negotiate. They knew I would be too curious to resist.
“Yes, I would like to meet her,” I said.
The lights, three of them appeared on the horizon and merged into one.
Trisha reached over and touched my arm
July Melbourne Beach
“How long have you known about her?”
“You can tell that much, from here?”
The little girl sat on the long board in silhouette against the rising sun of some summer day, sometime, of some midsummer when. She was waving her arms back and forth, splashing the water ahead of the board from the sitting position to keep it from being pulled slightly by the southward-flowing long-shore current. It was a timeless maneuver of surfers.
She had on a single piece orange bathing suit. She raised her hands to the back of her head to adjust her pony tail, to keep her hair from slipping out of the knot and getting in her way.
She knew when to expect it; part of her special skill set, no doubt, the keen prescience of surfers; that sixth sense that keys in on the rhythms of the waves, so you know when a good one is due. It stacked up in behind her. It was only about hip high but, it was well shaped, with only the slightest feathering of chop,
In three strokes she was up and moving. She cross-stepped, bent her knees and trimmed the board to the right, back stepped to turn, then cross stepped up again toward the nose.
She was a brunette, about nine years of age. She had eyes that were almost violet in color; and she was smiling.
I knew you’d think so.
She turned toward shore then back stepped again, curved to the right so her knees were just ahead of the curling lip, cross-stepped all the way to nose and stood on it, with her back arched and hands clasped behind her.
The wave broke in one section and she dove forward off of it, slid down the falling shoulder into the foam.
She stood up, adjusted her hair again, pulled the board ashore and trotted toward me.
I looked down to her toes and noted that they were slightly clawed at the nails and slightly webbed at the feet. Yet at the same time, they were adorable.
“I’ve been waiting so long to meet you,” she said to me.
I bent down, reached my arms out to her and she held me close after giving me a kiss on the cheek. It was then I noticed the texture of her skin which, again, was somewhat harder than that of a standard human female’s yet, it was also very smooth.
“There’s no need to be afraid, Dad. I’m here,” she said, and with that the beach, the waves, the shore and my daughter vanished.
I found myself in Trisha’s arms, crying uncontrollably.
I also discovered that everyone from the party had come running down onto the beach after they had seen the lights communicating with us.
“Timmy, what the hell was that thing?” Sean said.
The entire crowd was standing around us looking out across the water toward an object that was no longer there. I didn’t answer him.
“It’s alright,” Trisha said in a whisper. “I know just how you feel.”
“This sure puts an interesting capper on my week,” I said in a half sob, half laugh.
Loni told Trisha she had to take her back to Whispering Pines
“I’ll see you soon, Tim. I’ll see you soon,” Trisha said to me.
Dawn July 4, 2011 Melbourne Beach
We paddled beyond the glassed-off, three-foot rolling swell on long-boards. I held Ryan in my right arm. He was in an urn that resembled a Ming vase.
It was a gorgeous morning. There was the slightest puff of an off-shore breeze.
When we were all in place, about a hundred yards out, I spoke of Ryan’s good points, how eloquent he was as a surfer; how he loved risking the odds and how he challenged us to find courage to go beyond what we thought we could do in the water, and how knowing him, for that reason, it pushed us all to excel on land.
I pointed to each one in our little group, Tommy; who now made a sizeable income arguing and making people laugh because Ryan always pushed him to explain his bullshit to us. If he was going to bullshit us, well, then at least make the story good. And he had something to say, say it loud. Now he did all of that, and people loved him for it. He was on the cusp of cutting a recording deal for some of his better work.
Dave frequently found himself negotiating with Ryan when he and Ryan argued, and because of that, and Dave’s father, Dave swam in heavy seas of finance where the stakes were high, and never once in his career did Dave think about paddling back in to shore.
I spoke to Russ’s need to excel, to go beyond what Ryan had shown all of us in the water, and where that had taken him; how of all of us it was Russ who made his life in the water, it was Russ who learned most from Ryan’s love of the ocean.
I spoke to Gary, for his need to fix kids who had it rough and were in trouble. In his effort to emulate Ryan’s fighting spirit as a child, Gary always sought the toughest battle he could find, and now, as a director of the Everglades youth center, he had found that battle, in fixing kids who needed a chance.
Chuck’s love of surfing took him nearly to the pro circuit. But now he translated that athleticism to the world of entertainment law; where athlete-sized egos could permanently bruise and injure the weaker man. But not Chuck. Never Chuck, after Ryan taught him how to surf.
I spoke to Sean and explained to him how his love for his older brother continued to save lives overseas where he commanded so many fine young men in battle. I told the men in our little circle that Sean had recently saved my life, but didn’t tell them how. I went on for a little bit about the obvious ways in which Sean and Ryan were alike and how there continued to be deeper communications between the brothers in ways none of us could understand or share.
Then I turned to Jay, who, I pointed out, perhaps understood Ryan the best for Jay knew his faults and yet forgave them, and loved him as much as Sean or I, which gained some curious looks. I spoke to the fact that of all of us, Jay understood what this magical town had done in creating the leader of our little tribe and so Jay made his business preserving that town; the memory of what it meant to him growing up in such a place as this, that could produce a boy so perfect as Ryan; and knowing all of this, Jay made sure his son grew up in a like environment. I said I suspected Jay did this because he wanted his son to be just like Ryan. He wanted that boy to grow up without the pain and trouble Ryan knew.
In short, all of our lives were impacted by this man who now was inside this vase I was about to empty into the sea. I then said each one of us remaining behind here, doing honor to him today, equally impacted everyone else in the circle and continued to do so.
With that I opened the vase and dumped it into the offshore breeze, releasing Ryan to the sea he loved.
3 p.m. July 4, 2011 Five Miles off Melbourne Beach Florida
After we drove Sean back to the Air base we went for our dive. Jay rented tanks and SCUBA gear for all of us. The idea was merely to locate some good holes for lobstering , so that he could find them in a jiffy again in two weeks when ‘mini-season’ opened. Jay would scoop up as many as he could in thee days then ship a couple to each of us for helping him out.
I told a white lie to Jay, saying that I had heard about just such a locale, where a ledge and a crevasse were loaded with bugs.
I took my sightings of the beach landmarks, satisfied that we were near the spot.
Jay said there was a US Army Corps project to begin dredging near here that he had heard about. It was part of a beach re-nourishment plan the city council had been informed about.
The dredges would come in and slurp up sand from the deep offshore bars then pump the sand ashore in a slurry. Then bulldozers would come and spread the sand on the erosion withered beach like giant glops of peanut butter. It would close down the public beach for a time.
But they only had a window of a few weeks after turtle season and before fall storms to do the work.
“I heard they got into some hard-pan out here looking for sand,” Jay said.
“Really…?” I said with my best poker face.
All of us are certified divers so we suited up with our lights and lobster sticks and all other gear we would need.
The water was cool, and felt heavenly after the ride out to the spot. The wind had died to a mere whisper and the water went flat and glassy. There wasn’t a cloud in the dome of blue above us.
I had secreted the lug wrench from my Ford onto the boat earlier in the day and tucked it into my weight belt. On the other end of the wrench there was a nice curved pry-bar.
All of us adjusted our buoyancy devices by dumping air as we descended to the bottom. The water was clear and blue.
After equalizing my ear pressure – my right ear always gives me more trouble than my left when I dive – we all landed in about thirty feet of water beside a ten foot tall berm of sand that curiously arched to both north and south as far as the eye could see.
I looked into Jay’s mask and his eyes were wide with surprise – what the hell was this thing? they seemed to ask.
I just grinned and waved for him to follow me.
Someone had been dredging near the site recently. The capstones on the top of the wall were revealed but most of the structure was still buried.
We swam southward along its length. I was hoping to find somewhere, some section where the natural human curiosity would have gotten to those working the dredge boats, and those in charge. I was not disappointed. Within a hundred feet we found a hole where someone had dredged away the sand along the berm, revealing a complete section of the wall itself. It was remarkably preserved; likely due to the fact that the wall had, until recently, been permanently encased in silt and sand. We were staring at a relief carving of an Indian hand feeding a great blue heron.
Dave grabbed me by the arm, and through the bubbles I could hear him say “…what the fuck is this?”
I just grinned and waved for him to follow me.
We went up and over the wall to the eastern side and it was apparent that curiosity had more than gotten the better of those in charge.
There was an even deeper hole in the berm on the eastern side. It revealed a staircase leading up to the wall and beyond that further to the east a stellea like those seen in Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras was on a pedestal in the middle of a courtyard. The statue faced east, toward the direction of the rising son. Its impassive face contemplating eternity; its hands rolled up in upside down okay sings placed against the chest. The face was vaguely alien capped with the skull of a dead sea turtle below a crown of feathers. The body, otherwise was human, bearded and rimmed with glyphs.
At its feet someone had affixed two wires connected to a splotch of what looked like Silly-Puddy, one red and one yellow. The wires were spliced together and terminated in an aluminum jacket connector of some sort, a foot away from the puddy material.
Russ grabbed my hand and with his finger in the sand scratched out the characters “C-4” and cautioned me from touching the plastic.
But when I turned around I noticed that I had been so intent on seeing the statue in front of the wall I missed the gaping hole in the wall which revealed, as I expected, that the ten foot thick wall was in fact a chamber that had been sealed off for untold centuries. Whoever had slurped up the sand around the wall had also mechanically punched a hole in it. The hole was large enough for us to enter the chamber if we dared.
Chuck, Gary, Dave, and Jay floated outside the hole and were waving me over.
I peeked inside the hole and a large Nassau grouper jumped out. He was enormous, nearly the size of a fully grown hog. He thrashed his tail once in self defense making a thump and was soon downrange from us, sullenly wandering the edge of the berm.
I looked at Gary and he shrugged; after my little lecture this morning about courage, I couldn’t very easily back down so, I took the underwater light from Jay’s hands and entered the chamber.
Light flashed along the inside of the chamber and evaporated into the darkness. The limestone chamber sparkled with heliographic shimmers. You could see from the way the limestone had crystallized and seeped in some places, forming drips, dollops and even the beginnings of inch-long stalactites on the ceiling, this chamber had been sealed long before it was submerged.
There were lobsters on the floor peering up at us with their antennae waving back and forth, indicating to us that they saw us, and were wary of our presence. They backed away in groups of three or four. The grouper had obviously been chasing them around the chamber.
I could only imagine what other horrors were deep inside the recess of it now that the hole had lain open for more than a day or two.
I was unsurprised when a very large brown nurse shark sleepily emerged from the gloom. We hugged the walls and the top of the chamber so he could pass beneath us and out of the hole.
It was then I shined the light to my right and noticed the glyphs for the first time. Thousands of them two abreast to be read right to left, up and down.
Just like those encased in stones at other settlements they told the story of a race of people who fled the submerging Bahama Banks following destructive cataclysms, and how they lived on, pursued as they were by the ones they called sons of the Feathered Lizard.
Different from the glyphs at the location we called Monster Hole, this wall was also covered in relief carvings to tell the story.
In one such carving an Indian sat atop a temple smoking a cigar. Feathers sprouted from his back as he stared into the heavens. There was a triangle with spokes of light radiating out from it. In the center of the triangle was an eye looking down.
Russ grabbed my arm and I followed him southward into the depths of the chamber. We had not been the first to get this far. Oh no, far from it. He pointed to another dollup of silly puddy with two wires coming from it which entered the wall at a hole recently drilled into the chamber ceiling. We continued moving southward and encountered another breach in the covering stones, letting in sunlight. A school of margate left the chamber through the hole in advance of us.
We exited the chamber and swam back to the north along the top finding the hole where the wires emerged. Further down we could see another set of wires and yet a third emerging from the capstones on top of the chamber.
Gary emerged from the hole winding the film on his camera. He had gotten shots of the wall inside.
Good I thought.
It was then I noticed the size of the entire complex. It was huge. Every forty feet or so along the inner curve of the chamber stood a stellae facing east that had either been uncovered or you could see the mound of sand where something was obviously just buried beneath it.
This was a massive site. To the east I could see the faint outline of a pyramid, only ten feet or so off the bottom it rose to a platform of no more than twenty feet on one side, but how far down did it extend beneath the sand? As the water cleared further, everywhere I could see the primer chords for explosives sticking above the surface of the sand like tiny garden eels.
We checked our gauges and everyone was running low on air. Going through the chamber, finding new and wondrous things; seeing the shark and the giant grouper had all taken dents in our air consumption. I had less than five hundred pounds of air and Gary had about one hundred. He had really been hitting it hard.
We surfaced in a ring of tired and elated divers, and filled our buoyancy devices with what air we had left.
“Un-fucking believable, Timmy! This is just huge, man!” Russ said ripping his mask off and cleaning the snot from his nose.
“How did you know, Tim?” Jay asked. He was deeply concerned about this.
“If I told you, you’d never believe me,” I said.
“The place is totally wired with C-4 though. What’s that all about?” Russ asked.
As we swam back to the boat a black helicopter swooped in over us then headed off to the northeast.
“I don’t know, and I really don’t want to find out,” I said. “I’ve had enough discoveries this week to last a lifetime.”
It didn’t take long for the first boat to approach us. We were stowing the gear and preparing to move out when it arrived. It was about a thirty-foot sport fisherman with the US Army Corps of Engineers logon on the side.
“Hi, fellas!” came a cheery voice of a man in sunglasses and a polo shirt. “You guys mind telling me what you’re doing on our dredge site?”
“Your site?” I asked. “We’re five miles out. We’re not even in Florida anymore, how is this your site?”
“Well it is. And I’m glad you pointed out that this is United States territorial waters and you’re trespassing on the site where we are going to collect sand for your state’s beach re-nourishment. What are you guys doing here?”
“We’re looking for lobsters. What of it?” Gary shouted. Same old Gary.
“Is it lobster season?” the man asked.
“No,” shouted Gary.
“Well see we’re about to remove some material from here, some coquina rock so we can get at the sand and it’s dangerous for you fellows to be here,” he said.
“Sand? Coquina?” Russ said, having heard enough. “Mister, you’ve got a genuine archeological find down there. You have ruins, temples, statues, the works.”
“What’s that you say? I couldn’t hear you.”
“You’ve got some sort of Mayan complex down there.”
“No we don’t. What you see down there is nothing more than a natural formation of beach rock that needs to be removed, to provide sand for the beach and make way for navigational buoys. That’s what you see down there. Wow, that’s a heck of an imagination you guys have,” he said laughing. “Mayan ruins, please.”
“Bull shit, hoss,” said Gary.
“Okay, you fellas think there’s something down there that’s special?” he asked.
“Yeah!” Gary said.
“Then prove it,” the man challenged.
I whispered to Gary; “Don’t do it.” But it was too late. He was proudly holding his camera up for scrutiny.
The man smiled and held up a radio to his lips; and before we knew what was going on, another boat, this time a long black cigarette number pulled up beside us.
Two men in all navy slacks and polo shirts were aboard. One held a machine pistol of some sort in his hands.
The man at the helm stated very calmly and flatly that we were to “prepare to be boarded.”
“Fellows there are a lot of drug smugglers in these waters. These gentlemen work for the Department of Homeland Security and they will be searching your vessel, looking for contraband,” the man in the Army Corps boat said.
The man who boarded our boat took Gary’s camera and emptied the digital slot with the photos in it. He dropped the camera on the deck then he searched everyone’s dive bag.
“Don’t you want to see my paperwork? Find out who I am?” Jay said.
The man ignored him and climbed back aboard the cigarette boat.
“You fellows have yourselves a nice day. And, as a warning we’re going to be doing some work here in the morning. You might not want to be out here searching for lobsters as there will be some blasting going on. Thanks again,” he said.
And just like that both boats were skipping over the horizon toward Port Canaveral.
“God damn their asses,” I hissed.
Jay was visibly shaken by the ordeal. He sat down on the transom of his boat.
“What’s the matter, Jay?” I asked.
“A genuine archeological find. They’re covering it up. It could change the whole history of everything, what we know. They’re going to destroy it all and for what?”
“These are real good questions, Jay?” I said hoping my ironic flourish wasn’t too obvious.
“No, I mean this isn’t some silly bullshit. We’re not a bunch of kooks crawling out of the woodwork here, I mean, I’m a fucking public official…they can’t just come in here and, and…”
I clapped a hand on his shoulder and sat down next to him.
“You heard the man. Tomorrow, Jay, this will all be gone. There won’t be a thing left to prove it existed but what’s stored inside your memory. The point is, can you have the strength to remember and stand up to anyone who says this is bullshit?” I asked.
“What?” he said, looking at me as if I had grown a second head.
“Do you have the strength it takes to believe?” I asked.
He looked out across the water and shook his head. Then he set about the business of raising the anchor and preparing to get underway again.
“C’mon, it looks like a shower is moving in,” he said.
Gary looked up at me shamefaced. He had fallen into a trap by showing them his camera.
“It’s okay, Gary,” I said.
“I know it is,” he said breaking into a smile. He dug into his bathing suit and pulled out a plastic baggy. In it was a digital photo flash card.
“Why, you little bastard! Good for you!” I said.
“You like the way I sold that? You know they would have searched for a camera no matter what,” he said.
“You learned something from Ryan. That’s for sure.”
“Question: Morlock. Answer: Eloi,” Gary said.
“Do you think they’ll check what they have before they get back to port?” I asked.
“No way,” said Russ. “Even I bought that performance, and I have been on the wrong end of too many busts in my life. Good job, Gary.”
The Pyre and the Rabbit Hole
11 p.m. July 4, 2011 Melbourne
So I took everything out of Jay’s garage and brought it down to the beach in boxes. Then I covered these with wood and laid my Denis Pang surfboard atop it; doused in all in gasoline and made a nice fire.
The cops were taxed chasing down illegal fireworks displays I knew, so one good bonfire wouldn’t draw their attention.
I wanted it to be seen as far out to sea as possible. I wanted them to know I was burning it all; everything. I wanted them to think I had given up. That I was through with it all.
We still had what was in Russ’s camera from Ryan’s room at his mother’s house. We still had what was in Gary’s camera. Both flash cards were gladly given to me.
Sean was somewhere over the Atlantic now on his way back to the battle region.
It was then my last conversation with Ryan hit me like a ton of bricks.
Yes, the last time we spoke, we talked about the proverbial rabbit hole; the space and military contractor conveyor belt where he spent his career, convinced that he could find the answer to his questions.
By his logic, to know what or who, was at the bottom, one had to plumb it, therefore one had to sign on to the daisy chain of security clearances, watch the indoctrination videos, learn code talk; learn to ignore questions posed by outsiders that were too close to the mark; learn to blunt and deflect conversation the way a sound baffle kills noise. One had to become a stranger to one’s wife and children, precisely the way his father had. And we all grow up to become them in one form or another, so, I guess our last coded conversation wasn’t all that surprising, but like the road less-traveled there was a twist at the end.
“You find yourself at the bottom of the rabbit hole realizing that you’ve found a mirror, which you are now holding in your hand gazing at yourself. And having done all this, having crossed these barriers to get here, Tim, you then ask yourself – who set up the rabbit hole construct in the first place? For it is no trivial thing,” he said.
I elaborated on this thought; “So in having sought the end of the hole you find you’ve also helped dig it?”
“Right,” he said. “Precisely. But more, that is was set up for you to dig, so others might follow, and who would be clever enough to set it up that way?”
We discussed his work at length. Camerdyne Systems Inc. was making inroads into internet security arena. The company was interfacing with DARPA, CIA, NSA, several top customers who wanted to get a handle on Pandora’s box before it blew up in everyone’s face and who can blame them for this, on the surface anyway?
It was a scary new arena Ryan was entering. Things were getting creepy in the field of human conditioning: something he and I talked about several times. He knew my thoughts on this, this wasn’t knew territory, yet he made it seem like it was. I wondered if he thought someone might be listening.
But he blathered away in that machine-gun style of his that discharged a metaphor a second when his meds were at a low mix; discussing a generic family named “Stebbins” which was really more of a point on a huge sea of data concerning all families, all households, everywhere.
In the guise of national security it was no joke now, that we knew the Stebbins family down to the smell of their statistical socks, thanks to spy-ware, credit cards, credit reports, bank statements, energy consumption in the home, all of which was readily available on the internet. We knew how the Stebbins emailed; how they lived, cheated if they did, and with whom, how they insulted their neighbors for their drapery selection.
We even knew the Stebbins family through covert surveillance using the very, in-home internet cameras they purchased and set in place for us to spy on them, if we chose to use them. We could listen in on Stebbins, see them rut, eat, defecate if we desired, if our interests in all that was Stebbins, ran to the prurient.
Ryan went on to say “an unconscious, tagged mountain lion with the dart still in his ass, has more statistical freedom, holds more of a mystery and danger factor to us than all that is Stebbins.”
The Stebbins were a harmless lot a thoroughly known and predictable commodity. Strange in that they descended from the most dangerous predator on the planet.
Yes, they voted, paid taxes, went to PTA, reproduced, worked for the machine, that made the machines, that marched man to war, and made the cars in automated factories that drove and flew him there. Wars, that were themselves, automated.
The Stebbins played the game and never thought of anything “outside the box” although they made passing reference to this in their mundane, daily lives.
For in reality in attempting to think outside the box, one realized that there was only another dull, boring box outside that, and yet another, and another, outside the former two. If one was talking about only the first box, one was, of course, helplessly damned; nested down deep into the nuclear box, the very depth of which, within the matrix of boxes, made impossible any attempts to truly think outside any of them. So one made this joke “think outside the box” the way gallows humor evolved, as a sick, dejected and self-deprecating jest that pleased bosses and teachers who themselves were dead inside, lying corpse-prone in the proverbial box itself.
And, quothe Ryan, this was who the Stebbins were: a key demographic in the scheme of things. They were bricks, just like Pink Floyd said they were. Stebbins = good = 1. Not Stebbins = ? = 0.
So you culled and sieved the data using the blazing intellects of children who had been so thoroughly conditioned by “tweaking” DOOM and other video games all their lives, that hacking, cracking and manipulating Gate’s internet for them was child’s-play, a dull game they endured to get paid during their sixteen-hour work days at the machine.
These coders were the sort of mealy, baby-fat, fetus-people who lived, breathed, slept and ate code. They needed code the way some people needed air, and others needed sex and alcohol, the way surfers needed waves. This was whom Ryan spent his days hiring and managing now, though he barely understood them. He knew you paid this bag of human tissue, as much in more code for them to feast upon, as in cash thrown their way for their flash cars and their run-down apartments; low rent flats in which to stash their gaming machines; their Coor’s Light signs made from neon tubes; their beer and chips; their movie posters from The Matrix, and their other plastic toys that made up their Happy-Meal, fetus coder-lives.
Yes, Ryan said, for these baby-coder savants, fresh from college, acne scars, and masturbatory fantasies involving Carmen Electra; for all their silly uselessness, only they could sieve and cull that data at light-speed, only they could truly polish all that random data to shine the statistical light on who was “Stebbins,” and who was not.
Outside, within that subset of data labeled “Not Stebbins” were the free thinkers, innovators and such - or were they? Was it safer and more expedient – especially in this day and age of genius, fetus-coders and fanatical mullahs – to assume that within that passel of data, there were also the threatening lot known as “Not NOT Stebbins” also known as opponents of “freedom”, whatever that was anymore.
Yes, in the coder mind, and now on paper, now in policy, Not Stebbins = ‘?’ = DEFINITELY NOT Stebbins = ‘-1’ = errant data = ERADICATE!
And the chimps in the cage - the Joneses, the Bernards, the O’Rourkes, the Wangs, the Hashimodo, the Steins and the Murphys - would take note of what the future held for those who were “Not Stebbins” behaviorally, career-wise, consumer-wise, because the “Not Stebbins”, and the “DEFINITELY NOT Stebbins,” had been heaped into the same statistical basket by the soulless, careless, childish, DOOM-playing, fetus-coders, to ensure that no data point got left behind in their occupational computer game called; “Find the Bomb-Carrying Mullah,” which was sort of like DOOM, only it moved slower and you couldn’t build up immunity points, which sort of sucked.
And the system did its work, and the monkey population was culled, sieved, pruned, weeded, and conditioned into doing precisely what the system wanted him to do: which was to Stebbins: “.. v. to consume, to drive an SUV, to raise soulless conformist offspring, and make weapons, and parts of weapons throughout one’s life, and never question anything. To watch war on television with as much, or less passion, as one viewed a good round of golf staring Tiger Woods.”
If they were lucky their pasty, flabby offspring took well-paying jobs as internet farmed, spoon-fed, fetus coders, when college released them on society.
Well it was the world according to Ryan that I was well aware of. It was a realistic, if bleak world at times.
But it all went deeper than this and I knew it did. I also knew that he knew it did, and that he knew that I knew, that he knew…it did.
Ryan could so compartmentalize himself that he could shield everything that happened in the past from those who sought him out.
It was coming up on thirty years and it was supposed to happen again. And more so this year because of the timing of it I was trying my hardest to make sense of it all. I was asking him about some of the things he had told me about his old man, Douglas, and the things his father had seen in Maine; and the career path those sightings had spun him on; and how the old man had been spurned by the Air Force system after he investigated it, which in itself had been a cover-story.
For in reality, he found himself inside the deep, strange world of psi-ops, still employed by the government, although on paper working as a mere radar-tweaking contractor.
Douglas Cogswell, poor, dundering Doug who suffered at the lash of Thea, in reality had been a ufologist, and a mind reader, a psychic, a goddamned rebel, man! They even said he had the gift in spades, a virtuouso, a real goddamned prophet if he had wanted to be.
The gift was so strong, it was said, that his mind made noise to them, and so did Ryan’s. And that noise could actually summon them the way a loud stereo forced the adult in all of us to scream, like my father; “turn that shit off!”
Learning to control output was what Doug’s immersion into psi-ops had been all about, Ryan learned.
A world described by a Greek letter meaning the unknown, the quantity that had power in that you had no clue of its magnitude or direction.
But now, Ryan said, the internet and cameras, and surveillance hardware took care of all that psychic stuff.
You didn’t need people reading the future, reading each other, trying to use tachyons and quarks which sprang backwards from events into the past, and in so doing bounced into other tachyons, and if you could read the patterns the way a decent surfer could read the liquid surface of the ocean, well then, your mind could read events, you could read intent before it became action.
Ryan was saying something new here, and totally out of character. He was saying that stuff was all bullshit, all of those great discussions we had had about the universe and who they had been back in 1981, meant nothing now, owing to his new career path.
All that mattered was code and keeping the good code for us, and watching out for bad code from them.
“Them who?” I demanded.
“Dude! The Chinese…!” he said.
It was almost as if he were saying goodbye to who we had been, who I still was! Christ it hurt.
Was he leading me down a rabbit hole of my own? Or was he crying out “you know I would never think this way! Help! Something has gone horribly wrong!”
That was the last conversation we had, over the telephone. It came four days before he died.
So, I guess when you got right down to it, my prodding questions may have set the wheels in motion, for they knew the timing just as well as I did. And they knew I knew, that he knew. Hell, they knew that I knew, that they knew.
In the end it was like throwing a switch; my stupid naïve need to question and pester him had killed him, like a kill switch, you could say.
Well, Ryan wouldn’t see it that way, even though he would know I would be thinking it.
I watched as the pyre of material grew higher and thought about Sean heading back to the Middle East, and a monster demon somewhere behind me, invisibly cloaked of course with a reptilian finger over his lips.
“You worried about scaring off sea turtles, Tim?” Smokey asked of the pyre of light.
“Not in the least, Smokey. The brighter this burns the safer their asses are for the foreseeable future,” he said.
“What about when Seanny-boy comes home again? You gonna put something out on the web, all this stuff you learned?”
I looked over at Smokey and smiled. Now he was getting it.