[Original Novel] Down in the Steam Tunnels, Part 9


Previous parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

A paralyzing fear began to take hold. He’d really done it. He’d gotten his hands on some abandoned child to experiment on. Of all the creeps that boy might’ve wound up in the custody of, William was the worst, or at least a serious contender.

The text was accompanied by another sketched illustration. This time a cross section of a human head, with a cylindrical device penetrating the skull, and a short ways into the brain. The exterior portion was a sort of threaded port, into which it seemed you could screw one of the Orgone filled glass tubes I’d seen Travigan take from the machine earlier.

I could feel him breaking down, evident in the slow change of his tone as I progressed through the journal. I wondered where it could lead to. Surely he was eventually discovered, and imprisoned for all of this? I felt I couldn’t bear any other outcome.

My breathing was short and shallow. Each page proved worse than the last, and it was a struggle to force myself to keep reading. There was seemingly no depth William hadn’t sunk to, while imagining himself heroic for it. Directionless rage began to grow in me without any productive outlet. After all, there was nothing left of him that I might take it out on. So I thought.

Suddenly, the lights went out. Everything was still, dark, and silent. I called out. No answer. Putting my hand against the wall, I could no longer feel any distant vibrations. The generator had either run out of gas, or broken down. Unless someone shut it down manually, those were the only possibilities I could think of.

I checked the battery meter on my phone. 19%. I went into the network menu and turned on airplane mode to conserve power. Even so, I knew I was fast running out of light. My heart rate increased, and I began to hyperventilate.

I called out through the open door. Loathe to leave the relative safety of that little room, but left with no other option. Now sweaty and nauseous, I tucked the manilla envelope under one arm and inched down the darkened corridor, arms outstretched so I might feel my way along.

Then, one of the lights sprang to life. Not thirty feet away, illuminating a silhouette I recognized as Zachary. He beckoned to me. He didn’t react. As I got closer, I began to notice something was amiss.

His outline was hazy. Whenever he moved his arm, the motion was blurred. Like a sloppy rotoscoped animation. I stopped in my tracks. Perhaps sensing that I’d figured it out, the form dissolved, revealing instead another one of those faint, ghostly projections. I could just barely make it out, and sorely wished they’d left the perceptor with me.

It had only stubby, vestigial arms and legs. Fine, fragile little fingers and toes, certainly not useful for anything. Its ribcage and spine elongated like the skeleton of a whale, or serpent. The mouth looked much too small to be used for eating anything, the teeth like fine, pointy little porcelain shards.

It stirred, detecting my presence. Then, slowly, turned to face me. I dreaded it, and internally, begged it all to stop. Some primal part of my brain intimately recognized it. Instinctive familiarity, now inducing waves of nausea and fear, cascading through my body. What is it? What the fuck is it? How can it be real?

It can’t. Just like that, my perception realigned itself. None of this could possibly be happening. I stiffened up, stared down the crippled little spectre, and dared it to continue existing. Can’t possibly be real! A hallucination. From fumes that build up down here, no doubt.

Truly, no doubt. Not a shred. There can be no such creature. What is it made of? If nothing, how could I see it? More likely by far that I was just overheated, my mind conjuring up this fever dream. As I grew more insistent about this, the vision began to falter.

First, the limbs shrunk, then vanished. Then the spine began to retract. Shorter and shorter, the ribs disappearing into it as it reached them. Finally, just the skull. I stared, as certain as I’ve ever been that nothing supernatural exists in this world or possibly could. With that, the skull folded in on itself, then vanished.

I fell to my knees and sharply exhaled in relief. Mind over matter. The small victory reinvigorated me. I set off down the corridor, now confident I would soon escape, prize in hand. But before long, I heard it. Softly at first, such that I couldn’t tell exactly what it was.

The echoing distorted it. Only as I drew near did it resolve into weeping. A small boy, by the sound of it. I hesitated. Another hallucination? But refusing to hear it had no effect. The weeping only continued, and grew louder as I approached the source.

I whispered. The weeping softened, then stopped. Him? I knelt before the unseen child.

I heard sniffling. Then the sound of a small body climbing to its feet. I reached out, but heard him withdraw.

I assured him I wouldn’t. More sniffling. He sounded ashamed of it. Medical wound? I grew tense. Wondering if it could really be what I suspected. Heart gripped by dread, I asked for his name.

Not the same one. Or a prank? He should be nearly seventy by now. But, reality is what continues to exist, even if you don’t believe in it. And however severe my doubt, the sniffling only persisted. Then the weeping again.

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