By Stabernide, (c) 1999
“Serial killer, my ass,” cursed Bob Emerson, as he hung up the radio in his patrol car and trudged back up Black Bear Ridge, to where the bodies lay all steaming and bloody in the morning snow. Deputy Daniel TwoTrees stood in attendance; able to stand and look authoritative again, if still a little green from all the puking he’d just done. Bob stood hands on hips, looking at him for a few moments. Poor kid, he thought. “You counted them out yet?”
Danny looked at him as if he were insane.
“Jesus Bob; I mean Sheriff–just… well, just look at them!” Bob turned slowly, taking in the scene of the carnage with a coldly dispassionate eye. He had to agree; it was awful. The small forest clearing was littered with human wreckage. The snow was blood red as far as the eye could see, with steaming piles of flesh and bone projecting out of it at regular intervals; strips of skin hung dripping from the branches of nearby trees. Only the fragments of the victim’s RV had given them any indication that it was the missing campers they’d spent the last three days looking for. It looked like there’d been an explosion in a slaughterhouse.
“I have to admit;” Bob mused, “it’ll be interesting to see where they draw the chalk outlines….”
Danny turned away, maybe to be sick again. He seemed to get a grip on himself. “Shit Bob; you’re a cold one.”
Bob ignored him. “I just talked to Fred Stevens over in Meriwether; the state boys are still going to bring that Fed in on this. That motherfucker’s watched too many X-Files if he thinks some candy-assed college boy’s going to be any use to us up here.” Bob spoke, as always, with a quiet, deadpan menace; Danny looked at him with pleading eyes.
“Bob; man, who cares? We don’t want to deal with this shit–if the Feds want in they can have in as far as I’m concerned. We don’t need it man, we just don’t need it.” Bob had to agree; the first snow had already hit this little corner of Western Montana, and there was more to come in the next few days. The town of Ross and its neighbouring communities would be cut off for sure, and they’d have a full time job on their hands trying to keep communication and supply lines open. Danny turned again and started to walk away, back to the car. Bob shouted after him.
“Go check on old Tommy; that senile bastard must have hurled more than you when he found this mess. I’ll wait here for the stateys.” Danny nodded, and continued his descent. Bob walked over to the nearest clump of bloodied flesh and tried to work out which tourist it had come from, and what part of them it had once been. The wind picked up some, rustling the trees, making a sound like soft laughter.
The road wound its way up out of frozen Meriwether and into the Diablo Range and Ross County, where it promised to be even colder. Dense coniferous forest flanked her on both sides, offering some protection from the snow; a light flurry at present, but threatening to get much worse. So far the tiny Volkswagen was holding up okay with the help of the chains; who knew what would happen later? There were no other cars on the road, and the journey was beginning to remind Phaedra of the opening sequence to The Shining. She twiddled with the rental car’s radio to try and find something that would dispel the mood. She found nothing but static. Swearing, she clicked it off.
Special agent Phaedra Cale was not happy to be driving into Ross County, Montana. She’d spent her entire career trying to put small town life a long, long way behind her. The country had started to make her feel uncomfortable–she was definitely becoming mildly agoraphobic–and all this white open space, bleak, craggy mountain peaks and lonely green forest were starting to make her feel vaguely nauseous. Meriwether had been bad enough, a seedy frontier town that had swelled into a fat, modern city off the back of the logging trade. That state trooper, Stevens, had spent the whole time coming on to her–even had the cheek to slip off his wedding ring when he thought she wasn’t looking. Stevens had practically begged to drive her up here- but she had no desire to spend the two and a half hour journey being groped and listening to mumbled apologies about ‘not being able to find the gearstick’, so she’d smiled sweetly and she’d much prefer to have her own car at hand. It could have been a lot worse; at least he wasn’t the kind of asshole who had a problem with women in law-enforcement. She was expecting a whole lot worse once she hit the sticks.
She’d been at Quantico, looking at pictures of Atlanta child murderer Wayne Williams, and some of his victims, when they called. Things had already been put in motion with her boss, Alec Harris, head of the Behavioral Science Investigative Support Unit, to assign her to this; they were just informing her as a ‘courtesy’. Four tourists had disappeared from their campsite in Ross County, Montana. There was, of course, nothing unusual about the disappearances in themselves; a cold and harsh winter was preparing to stake its claim to the whole state, and although the worst of the snow was yet to come, freak weather conditions were not unheard of. Even now, most of the eastern seaboard was preparing itself for an unexpected lashing from the tail end of Hurricane Margaret. For some reason, though, the disappearances had spooked the locals. The state police were keen to get the FBI involved; the local hicks, by all accounts, weren’t. That phone call from them told her that Delta Green wanted her involved, and that put a whole new complexion on things.
The request came down from Harris. He sounded pissed off and Phaedra couldn’t blame him; from the outside it looked like a waste of time and resources, not something you sent one of your best profilers out on. Before she left to pack, Phaedra scoured the usual periodicals for some hint as to why they would be interested in nowheresville, Montana. According to Semper Vigilis, the whole area of Western Montana was a veritable hotbed of UFO activity at the moment, with over nine substantiated sightings in just the last fortnight. In the Summer, mountain climbers had seen a ‘city in the sky’ (later identified as Vancouver from the climber’s descriptions of the streets).Going further back, the local Indian community was almost completely wiped out in 1930, when a freak, out of season snowstorm tore their tiny village near Ross to pieces and buried most of the townsfolk under the ice. Great, thought Phaedra; I have two weeks of small town hicks making ‘Scully’ jokes ahead of me. She packed up her laptop and prepared herself for Hell.
Kreeg woke up trying to scream, only to find he’d swallowed his tongue in his sleep and was choking to death on it. For a few seconds the big man thrashed around on his bed in a panic, before his Air Force training took over and he cleared the blockage, gratefully sucking air into his lungs and then coughing it back out. He sat at the edge of the bed for a second in the dark, calming down; cold sweat dripped off him–he felt like he’d just got out of the shower. He poured himself a huge measure of bourbon from the bottle of Jack on the bedside table, took a swig and then started to rummage in the bedside drawer for his pills. Little slices of his dreams kept trying to invade his conscious life–Macgregor being torn apart inside his head; the little grey men that seemed to be around every corner and angle; the currents, eddies and tides he could see in the sky–most importantly, the wake. He fought back with alcohol; drowned the sleep demons with whiskey. They went away, for now. Kreeg went over to the window; looked out through the blinds. The motel parking lot was already deep with snow, and he could see a violent flurry was building up. Soon, he calculated, the entire area would be isolated, and he could go out to hunt. NRO Delta would already have been alerted that he was AWOL from his BLUE FLY duty, and the order for his ‘retirement’ would be effective immediately. Kreeg didn’t have a lot of time. He went into the bathroom, took a sip of the whiskey en route. He looked at himself in the mirror for a long time. For a dead man, he thought, you look like shit.
Bob yawned as stateys meandered around the crime scene retrieving evidence, speculating as to what the Hell had happened. It wasn’t standard procedure to screw so much with the crime scene so soon, but falling snow threatened to take all the evidence till next Spring. Photos were taken, evidence was bagged. Everyone worked fast; no one from Meriwether wanted to be trapped up here for the winter, and none of the local weather reports had anything favorable to say about the approaching stormfront. Most of the bodies and related parts were on their way back to Meriwether already, where they had their own forensics and pathology labs. No doubt the Fed that was coming would be pissed off he hadn’t had the chance to inspect the crime scene ‘fresh,’ as it were; but Bob fully intended to be as difficult and obstructive to the federal investigation as possible, on a matter of principal, so he wasn’t unduly bothered by this thought.
The remaining stateys–who all seemed far too young to be carrying badges–were trying to get together as much portable wreckage of the RV as possible. They seemed convinced the killer had blown the RV up to conceal evidence of the crime. Bob, on the other hand, had seen enough bomb damage to know this wasn’t the case. There was no scorching or burning; the fuel tank wasn’t even burst. The RV had been smashed and torn apart. It looked like twister damage, except that they didn’t get twisters in these parts. Perhaps the killer had struck while the victims were already injured and dying from some freak accident. Except Bob had already ‘casually’ asked one of the forensics boys at the scene his opinion of the ‘injuries’ sustained by the victims. The man in white had mulled over this for a while, then said the victims hadn’t been skinned–which had been Bob’s original assessment–but rather flayed, down to the bone in some cases. It would take a strong man hours to accomplish this kind of damage, and the victims would normally be dead long before he’d have finished–and yet there was evidence to suggest–mainly in the way the blood had pooled around the bodies in the snow–that they’d all been alive, if not conscious, right up to the last strip. The more he learnt about the deaths, the less he was inclined to think of them as murders. This was more like some kind of bizarre natural accident, an act of nature–or perhaps an act of God; if you believed in that kind of thing.
Bob decided to leave the stateys to their clean-up. They’d be done soon, and he had other duties in this county. He semi-waved out of semi-politeness to Gabe Morris, the senior officer present and the kind of inbred idiot who gave ‘hicks’ a bad name. Morris semi-nodded an acknowledgement, but couldn’t muster a semi-smile to go with it. Bob walked back down the hill to the car; maneuvred it around some badly parked statey cruisers, and headed back towards town. He radioed Rachel, the elderly woman who manned the station radio at the tiny, two man Sheriff’s office.
“Rachel, I’m coming back in. Where’s Danny?”
A crackle, then: “He’s right here Sheriff; he got in a few moments ago.”
She didn’t sound right.
“How’s Tommy?” he asked, guessing.
“Oh Sheriff, he’s taken… an overdose. Deputy TwoTrees found him lying on the floor of his shack. They’ve taken him to Meriwether, but they didn’t hold out much hope….” Christ, thought Bob; as if he was going to need any more paperwork.
“I’ll be right there. Listen Rachel, there’s this guy coming to town from the FBI. If he gets here before I do let me know immediately, okay?”
“Oh, Sheriff–I forgot to mention”–Bob rolled his eyes–“she got here five minutes ago! Deputy TwoTrees is talking to her now.”
“She, you say?”
“Oh yes; Special Agent Cale. A very professional looking young woman.”
“Okay, whatever. Tell her I’ll be there in five minutes. Danny doesn’t take her anywhere till then. Got it?”
“Over and out.” Jesus, Bob thought. A woman, to boot.
Bob turned up at the station nearly an hour later. He’d stopped off at Emo’s on the way and sunk a few beers, told a few of the more gossipy regulars there was nothing to see out at Black Bear ridge–the tourists had got themselves killed in a freak snowstorm. He didn’t want psycho-killer cum crazed Sasquatch bar talk hurting his ears till next spring, and he was happy for the Fed to wait until he was properly relaxed. As he did, he thought long and hard about why a Federal agent would come all the way out here to check out what until this morning had looked like a simple case of tourists getting lost in the woods. He couldn’t come up with any answers. Bob strolled into the station and nodded at Rachel, still manning her desk. Danny was in the back, sipping coffee, flashing his Native American good looks at the petite but attractive, olive-skinned and extremely disinterested looking woman who stood next to him–Special Agent Cale, he presumed. Danny was trying really hard, but he was running out of small talk, and was getting nowhere. He seemed almost relieved to see him.
“Bob!” He exclaimed, waving him over.
“Hope I’m not too early;” he said, looking at Cale. She looked like she was going to glower at him, but then seemed to change her mind. Bob extended his hand, wondering what her skin felt like.
“Sheriff Bob Emerson.” She took his hand. Nice grip; soft but firm.
“Special Agent Phaedra Cale.” No smile as of yet. That wouldn’t be changing anytime soon, either, he thought. Bob grinned.
“It’s Greek,” she replied with a note of irritation in her voice; “my Grandfather’s from Rhodes.” She must get that a lot. Danny was feeling left out; Bob could see him fidgeting and looking for a way back into the conversation.
“Danny; do we know how Old Tommy’s doing yet?” Before he could answer, Phaedra interrupted.
“Sheriff, I appreciate that you have many other responsibilities to attend to, but I’ve come a long way, and this is obviously an extremely serious matter. I’d like to see the crime scene as soon as possible, and as the young deputy here point blank refused to take me out there without your say-so, so perhaps you could do me the honor?”
“Well, I’d be happy to take you out there, Agent Cale, but you should know the stateys have already cleaned most of it up, and there’s not much left to see.” Phaedra stood open mouthed for a few seconds. What the fuck kind of rulebook did they follow out here anyway?
“You already cleared away all the evidence? But…” Bob had anticipated just this response.
“Agent Cale, I know you think we’re all inbred hillbilly rednecks out here, and I won’t pretend you won’t meet your fair share of that particular stereotype during your stay; my deputy, myself, and even those assholes from Meriwether, however, are all still trained law-enforcement officers. We don’t tamper with crime scenes and screw up an investigation because we’re stupid. We do what we have to, to save as much evidence as possible before it’s buried under twelve feet of snow till next spring.”
Phaedra looked slightly taken aback. She’d underestimated him and knew it, and now she looked like the amateur. That obviously wasn’t a feeling she liked.
“Now all the evidence we could realistically recover has been tagged, bagged and sent down to Meriwether for forensic analysis. According to the weather reports, there’s a mean stormfront coming in from the North even as we speak, and I can’t guarantee you’ll be able to get out of here after dark. I suggest I drive you down to Meriwether tonight, you book a room in a motel, and wait for these results to come through. Then we’ll see you again in a couple of weeks; but we’ve got to move, otherwise I won’t be able to get back here before the snow hits us, and I can’t leave my town without a Sheriff for maybe three months, now can I?”
Phaedra looked at Bob; Danny; Rachel; the room. She didn’t want to be stuck here for three months, either. The evidence was all in Meriwether, whatever she needed to do a profile. But whatever it was she’d been sent up here to find; that was still out here, wasn’t it? She didn’t have much of a choice.
“Sheriff, I’d like to see the crime scene now, please.”
It wasn’t a long journey up to Black Bear Ridge, but the silence between the two of them made it seem so. Phaedra took the opportunity to size the Sheriff up. Bob Emerson was a big man in his late thirties. He looked well built and solid, around 200 pounds, but he probably wasn’t in quite as good shape as he’d been ten years ago. She thought he probably drank too much and didn’t really eat that right. Out here, she couldn’t blame him. His eyes were cold and sharp, though, and Phaedra didn’t have any doubts that he was a very intelligent, very good cop. She’d misjudged him, and he’d made her feel stupid. She doubted he’d fall for the usual shadow plays and double-talk; she had to watch this man very carefully. Phaedra tried in vain to remember anything helpful about him from the files she’d glanced through on her way up to Meriwether. She knew he’d done some service, even seen some action in the Gulf. Honourably discharged, then back to his hometown and into law-enforcement. He became Sheriff after foiling Ross’s one and only armed robbery to date; a bunch of Meriwether bikers out for an easy score ended up killing a teller and the bank manager before Bob gunned them down. His predecessor retired in the bloody aftermath; Bob was the only one the townsfolk wanted for the job. Phaedra had written it off on the plane as the sort of knee-jerk, trigger-happy response that would get you canned from any civilized law-enforcement force but elevated to a mythological-hero status in hicksville. Maybe she’d been wrong.
“We’re here.” Bob pulled the car over at the roadside; the stateys were all gone, and although a few of their tire tracks were still visible, they would soon be covered up by the falling snow. It was dark, too, and Bob took a heavy-duty flashlight out of the glove compartment.
“You need another jacket?” Phaedra nodded, grateful. They’d found her some snowboots at the station, but although she wore a warm wool coat over her smart suit, it was well below freezing out there already, and she could feel it even through the car. Bob handed her a thick windbreaker; she slipped it on over her other clothes, and they stepped outside into the storm. The wind hadn’t looked too ferocious from inside the car; now that they were outside in it, snow whipped around them violently. It seemed to have almost picked up as soon as they stepped outside. Even Bob was having trouble finding his footing. Visibility wasn’t too bad just yet, and Phaedra could make out the crest of the ridge above them, in the dark. It was about a ten-minute struggle away. Bob set off, and she followed as best as she could.
Once they reached the summit of their climb, Phaedra saw that Bob hadn’t been exaggerating. The clearing was already a few feet deep in snow; the morning’s red was all gone, and most of the debris had either been removed or buried. The only significant remaining evidence was a semi-submerged side section of the RV; it had been too large for the stateys to move. Phaedra also noticed several of the surrounding trees had been felled–from the looks of things they’d been hit by the RV, although she couldn’t tell from what angle. Bob just stood impassively; watching her rather than the scene. Trying to work out what she was thinking. Phaedra turned her back on him and stumbled over to the wreckage. The wind breathed underneath her clothes; she felt unusually exposed and vulnerable to it as it crept over her body, chilling her to the bone. She reached the wreckage and held out her hands to touch it, felt the jagged and gnarled metal of the edges. She was wearing gloves, but the intense cold bit at her through them through them sharply. In some parts the metal was almost inconceivably brittle, shattering and splintering like cheap glass beneath her fingers. Surely it wasn’t cold enough to do that? The RV had been wrenched apart by some incredible force; the metal was crumpled in places, torn in others, as if it had been in some kind of horrific accident. She wondered how it got up here. There was no way a vehicle of this kind could have made it up that slope; was their another road, perhaps further along the ridge? She looked across at Bob. He was about ten feet away, and no longer looking at her, but at the sky. She looked up too, and saw strange lights, blues and reds and yellows, flashing and blinking far above them. After a moment they suddenly vanished. Bob turned to look at her.
“Let’s get back to the car.”
Danny TwoTrees stepped into his trailer out at Silva’s Park, turned the heating up to max, and grabbed a beer from his fridge. He flaked out on a sofa bed that had forgotten how to be a sofa, pulled out the lump of hash he’d been saving for the long winter months ahead from under the mattress, and started rolling himself a J. The horrors he’d seen earlier that day were still fresh in his head, and he wanted to get rid of them tonight. Idly, he wondered what the Hell he was doing in a town like this, dealing with shit like that. It’s home, he told himself, and it’s where the heart is. These people had been good to him, and he was happy to work for them like he did. He sparked up; took a long drag of warm smoke. That said, he would always be an outsider–but he had to admit, he kind of liked it that way. This wasn’t KKK country by any means, of course, but folk would expect him to be some kind of cross between Tonto and the Last of the Mohicans, all mysticism and ‘native tracking skills’. Shit, he reflected, taking another drag of the J; he got lost in Mountain West and couldn’t cook himself microwave meals. The only reason he ever had to take his Grandfather’s old stories out of the closet in his head and dust them off was the mumbo-jumbo sometimes went down well with Meriwether hippy-chicks. Of course, should he be hauling in drunks late at night, it would all spill out: Savage; Geronimo…While building the original town of Ross, the pioneering townsfolk had to endure several costly attacks by the local Indian tribes. At one point over half the original settlers were killed in a particularly bloody pitched battle; a certain amount of bad feeling remained, and even if the good old boys would apologize till they were blue in the face come morning, it was obvious what they thought of him deep down. Danny smiled. Fuck ’em all; he was the one with the badge. He began to drift into sleep; decided to put the J out before he nodded off completely. Two hundred feet above, the thing that would kill him passed over, oblivious.
“OhmiGod Control it’s huge! Where the fuck did it come from!”
“Macgregor, get the Hell out of there! Don’t look at it! Repeat: Do not look at it!”
“John! John! It’s gaining! It’s fucking gaining!”
“Evasive action! Just don’t look at…”
“John it’s got me! Oh Christ it’s… John, I’m really cold!”
“Macgregor it’s just shock, you have to eject! You have to…”
“No, John, it’s… Oh John, I can see through my skin–I can see my bones… I–“
“Macgregor! Just eject! Do not look at it! Don’t… Macgregor?”
“John. I’m sorry. But it wants to see you too.”
Kreeg woke up. This time, he found he could scream just fine.
Bob took Phaedra to Emo’s. He could tell immediately that she wasn’t especially impressed. Built well from local wood, many years ago, it could have been made to have a warm homely feel to it, but instead it had grown a harsh, frontier look all by itself. Bob didn’t care. It was probably his favorite place in the whole world. It was a quiet night. A few loggers, who’d obviously been there all day, waved at Bob when he came in. He just nodded and smiled, ordered a bottle of tequila and some glasses from Hank the bartender (Hank was a little unsteady tonight; he was drying out and had the shakes bad); brought them over to where Phaedra was sitting. She looked at him, nodded gratitude, and decided to try and break some ice.
“Hard-drinking backwoods type, huh?” And she smiled with it. Bob smiled back, poured out the drink. She looked good when she smiled.
“Well, we lag behind the world in many things, but the smoothness of the tequila we serve is not one of them.” He took a long sip; rolling it around in his mouth before swallowing. “So, Agent Cale. What do you think we saw up there in the sky tonight?”
She tried to make a joke of the question.
“Isn’t around here the UFO ‘hot-spot’ of America right now? Maybe it was little green men.” She sipped some tequila and smiled. Bob didn’t smile back.
“I don’t believe in flying saucers; or little green men, for that matter, Agent Cale.” He sighed wearily. Disappointment showed in his eyes; Phaedra got the sudden impression she’d just missed any chance she might have had to earn his trust. “You see, what we saw tonight was no UFO. It was a helicopter. The movement was unmistakable. A quiet one–damn near silent, in fact–but a chopper nonetheless.” Desert Storm–75th Rangers, she remembered from the file. “Those lights–that was just their way of signalling to their buddies–another chopper, maybe, or someone on the ground.” Bob sipped at his drink. Licked his lips. “That’s military stuff.” Phaedra went all cold; realizing what it meant if Bob was right. “What do you have to say to that, Agent Cale?” Phaedra didn’t say much of anything. Silent, black helicopters conducting unofficial manoeuvres over Montana in the middle of a snowstorm–what the Hell had they sent her into, here?
“Bob–I can’t tell you anything that you don’t know already; I’m in the dark as much as…”
Bob interrupted sternly.
“You see, Agent Cale, I just don’t buy that. I was confused when Fred Stevens told me a Fed was coming up to look for those campers, even after we found them spread across the landscape like that. I still figured it for a bad accident. Some kind of freak weather. I thought the worst I could expect where you were concerned was some jumped-up blue-flamer type who’d fuck themselves if they thought it’d get them ahead, latching onto the first murder case that landed on their desk like some kind of limpet with ideas above its station.
“But now–now I figure I have government helicopters scoping out crime scenes on the quiet in the middle of snowstorms. I have four dead bodies we may never be able to determine a cause of death for, and do you know what I think, Agent Cale? I think there’s something really screwy going on up here, and you’re on hand to keep my nose out of it.”
“Bob–I can’t tell you everything about this case, but…”
Bob stood up, picked up the bottle of tequila and put his hat on.
“Listen, honey. You feel like telling me what the government’s interest in dropping RVs from great heights and flaying tourists from Seattle alive is, and maybe I won’t throw you in a cell till next Spring. While you think about that some, you can stew in one of the rooms here. I’ll be back when I’ve done my rounds.”
“Bob, this is crazy; you can’t hold a federal agent on suspicion of…”
“Conspiracy to murder? Because, Agent Cale, that is exactly what it looks like from where I’m standing.” He turned to leave.
“You can’t expect me to just sit here in this dump waiting to see if you decide to arrest me or not; I could just run out on you.”
“You could just freeze to death on your way back to town too.”
“Does the proprietor mind you using his place as a cell-block?”
He shouted back from the door
“I own the place, honey.” And with that, he stepped outside.
Phaedra tried desperately to get an Internet connection. This had turned very bad, very quickly. She’d stumbled across some kind of Majestic black op and out here, there was nowhere she could run or hide. And, she concluded, after trying to log on for the ninth time unsuccessfully, no one she could report to. The phone lines out of town must be down. She looked out the window of the tiny room that the jittery bartender had brought her to; the air was thick with snow and it was being blown around by an unnaturally violent wind. She thought she could hear demonic howling in the distance. If Bob arrested her, she mused, and tried to report his suspicions to her superiors at Quantico, she would almost certainly be hung out to dry by Delta Green as a security risk. Either Majestic would get to her (and do God knows what to get their answers) or she’d get a visit from one of her own; and it wouldn’t be social. If push came to shove, she’d have to take Bob out herself. She pulled out her Beretta and fed a round into the breach. Pity; she was starting to like him. Suddenly the phone rang. It had to be a local call; she lifted the receiver gingerly.
An unfamiliar voice replied. It sounded hoarse; choked.
“Agent MARY?” MARY was her Delta Green code-name. Who the–? “Agent MARY, we need to talk.”
“Who is this?”
“You don’t know me. My name is John Kreeg. Please. I don’t have much time.”
He’d been staying at the only other motel in town for just under a week. He’d had a tap on the local phone system, and had been looking for anyone who tried to make a long distance call–which is how he found her. He didn’t mind her holding a gun on him, and he didn’t mind her frisking him. He carried an old .45 automatic; service issue. He was tall and broad, with thick black hair and steely grey eyes. He was several days unshaven, somewhat undernourished, and looked like Hell. He necked four scotches in the bar, and then he started to talk.
“Three years ago I was a high flying SAC case officer. I’d had a few… family problems at my then-current posting, and I wanted to leave it all behind. Make a fresh start and move on up some in the process. I put in for a transfer. It took a lot longer to come through than normal, but when it did, I realized why. I was being moved to Nellis. They’d been vetting me for Area 51 detail. MAJIC clearance.”
Phaedra noticed the bartender try to call Bob again. For some reason, the Sheriff wasn’t answering his calls. She hoped he was okay; for some reason the wailing of the wind outside had started to make her flesh crawl.
“Go on,” she said.
“I’d scored highly on tests that indicate psychic potential…”
“You’re a psychic?” Phaedra recoiled mentally.
“Not originally. But I showed lots of promise. They tried a new form of chemical treatment on me and seven others–something called FARSIGHT. It’s not perfect–only three of us came through it sane and well; and none of us are top class telepaths. I can’t look inside your head too far, but I could tell who you were and who you ran with. Enough to get you to talk to me.
“You see, there was a sudden… requirement for psychics in Majestic; I was assigned to project: REDLIGHT. We worked on experimental SIGIL aircraft. There… had been a lot of problems with them originally.”
“SIGIL craft?” Interrupted Phaedra; Kreeg seemed annoyed at her for asking questions, but answered her anyway.
“SIGILs use a kind of revolutionary anti-gravity thrust system. Their maneuvrability and acceleration alone makes a mockery of any conventional aircraft. Those geeks who sit out at night looking for UFOs over Area 51, they’re seeing our SIGILs.” He took another hit of whiskey.
“The only problem is the control system. Whenever there’s any sudden change in acceleration, the craft becomes unstable in more than three dimensions. We lost three test pilots that way. Two just went mad, the other disappeared without trace. About a year ago, we discovered it was possible for human psychics to control the craft’s acceleration mentally–and this also seemed to help maintain the craft’s dimensional integrity. We didn’t have enough psychics to man all the planes, so we introduced a ‘buddy’ system; a ‘co-pilot’ based on the ground who keeps in contact with the real pilot in the air through conventional communication systems and controls the anti-gravity engine through a psychic connection. It was a remarkable success–and that’s why I got allocated to that unit.”
“What went wrong?”
“I screwed up. Big time.”
When Bob had finished with Phaedra, he’d quickly driven back to the office–a dark and dangerous journey through thick, blinding snow–locked himself in, and tried to ring Meriwether to get Cale’s FBI credentials checked. The phone lines, however, were down. He tried the radio, got nothing but static and an unusual hum. Finally he tried a local call, to Silva’s trailer park. After leaving a message for Danny to get his ass over here fast–if the little punk had been smoking weed again, Bob would shoot him–he went over to the gun cabinet and started loading shotguns. The wind outside howled and roared so loudly, he almost didn’t hear the heavy thud of something landing on the roof. He froze and raised the shotgun to the ceiling. There–he could hear creaking now, as someone moved around up there. He was about to shout a warning before opening fire, when he noticed how it had suddenly got so much colder in the room. He looked at a nearby window: a thick frost had begun to form, on both sides of the pane. The chill was sharp and bit at him even through his snow jacket; it must be well below freezing and dropping fast. This–this was no natural cold. He noticed crystals forming on the furniture. Rachel’s goldfish tried to swim through frozen slush. Bob sank to the floor behind a desk, shivering, keeping his shotgun trained on the ceiling, where something still creaked. He’d never felt anything like this before; it felt like the cold was eating him alive. He reached for the phone again, but it was too frosted to touch. He left some of his skin on the handset, which was frozen to the receiver. Abruptly, the lightbulbs cracked and shattered in the intense cold, plunging the office into darkness. Seconds later, and the windows followed suite; allowing the wind to spill inside. It washed over the room, blowing papers off the desks and moving the more lightweight furniture around on the floor. From where he sheltered, Bob couldn’t help but think it almost seemed to be looking for him. The thing on the roof was silent. It got colder.
The wind screamed outside as Kreeg went on with his story. Phaedra pulled the windbreaker around her tighter. There was a nasty draught in here.
“We were testing the SIGILs in extreme temperatures, above the Arctic Circle, in Alaska. We have a test range in the Yukon.
“The SIGIL executed a maneuvre we call ‘doppling’. It’s a sharp, high-speed course change made when you’re at near maximum burn. I won’t bore you with the physics, but you’re all over the place, dimensionally speaking. The way the light bends off the craft produces a mirror image of the SIGIL close by; useful in a dogfight–especially as the SIGILs are all stealthed and can only be tracked visually.
“I don’t know what I did wrong, but the SIGIL sliced through more than just the air as it executed the maneuvre. A scientist we had at REDLIGHT–Doctor Longstreet–he’d warned about something like this happening for years until they ‘retired’ him. I felt reality open up in it’s wake. I knew straight away we’d done something unbelievably dangerous. And then Macgregor, the pilot, started screaming.
“Something…awful had spilled out onto our side of the rip. Something that didn’t normally have this amount of freedom to move. It was after the SIGIL in a second, an instinctive predator. Macgregor gave it a run for its money, out over the Pacific, over Canadian airspace… but it was just playing with him. We couldn’t pick up anything at all on the radar or heat scans. A few people thought Macgregor had just lost it, like the other SIGIL pilots. But I was in Macgregor’s head. I could see what he saw, and feel what he felt. I know exactly what it did to him; it wanted me to see it all.”
Phaedra looked into those cold, grey eyes.
“It… could sense you?”
“Oh yes. I’ve seen into the empty pits that it uses for eyes. It knows me now, and it wants me. I can’t understand what it’s thinking most of the time–but I can understand its need for me. It’s seen something it wants, and it can’t comprehend that it won’t be able to have it. The thought’s as alien to it, as its are to us.” He paused. “I’m going to try and make it difficult for the bastard.” He smiled in a totally humourless way, and took another slug of whiskey- he’d drank half a bottle since they’d been here and didn’t look even remotely drunk.
“What are you going to do?”
“That SIGIL’s still out there, very close by. I know where it went down. I’m going to lure it to the wreck and then detonate the anti-gravity engines in its face. That should be enough to discorporate its physicality, at least temporarily. It may even damage the intelligence itself.”
“I’ve seen Majestic helicopters out in the woods. Are they looking for it?”
“BLUE FLY. No. They’re looking for the downed SIGIL–and maybe me. I went AWOL as soon as I was debriefed after the crash; I told them I didn’t have a fix on where it went down. No one was interested in what I had to say about this… thing; they don’t have a clue what’s out there. They’re all as good as dead.”
“Why did you contact me?”
“It’s looking for me. Not too hard, mind you… It’s having a lot of… fun around here at the moment.”
“Yeah. I felt the whole thing. It picked up their van; smashed it into some mountain–then flayed them alive at the speed of sound and left them to die in the snow. That’s the least its capable of, believe me. They got off lightly.” Phaedra shuddered. “I’ve been throwing it off using psychic suppressants, alcohol, being around people, all the old tricks to try and evade psychic detection. But when I’m out there in the open, I’m going to have to just concentrate to keep it out. Even that may not be enough, especially if it’s not ‘otherwise engaged’ right now; and I don’t know for how long I can do it for. It’s just so much more powerful than me. I need you to get me to that SIGIL–keep me safe till I reach it–then I’m on my own.” Phaedra looked down into her scotch. She hadn’t drunk any of hers yet; she sure regretted it now.
“I think I saw a Snowcat out back.”
Bob was woken from a death-dream about the Gulf–Parker and Norwood chopped to pieces by ‘friendly’ fire–by a car pulling up outside. He was disoriented at first and didn’t know where he was; his head ached and his whole body felt completely numb. Then it started to come back. He’d passed out in the cold–any longer, and he wouldn’t have woken up. He was about to smile when he realized the meaning of what he’d just heard.
Danny pulled up outside the station. It had taken him a lot longer to get there than he’d thought. He’d had to dig the car out at Silva’s, and the road had been especially treacherous on the way over. Danny doubted he’d be able to get back in the car tonight. The wind had seemed to get worse the closer he got to town. He noticed the lights in the station weren’t on. He was about to curse Bob for dragging him out all this way and then going home, when he noticed the broken windows. He was halfway through drawing his revolver when he heard Bob shout his name–and then it grabbed him. And then Danny was dead. He had a few terrible moments of consciousness left to endure before his synapses iced up. A sharp, sudden unbearable cold, then total numbness. Something took off into the sky with him accompanied by a noise somewhere between a jet engine starting and the roar of a prehistoric dinosaur. Danny looked into its eyes, dark, bottomless pits of absolute, alien emptiness. He remembered his grandfather’s old stories and thought of a million different names for it: airwalker; spawn of the winds; wendigo. It had been called all these things and many more. Then his brain froze, and he stopped being afraid. The thing-that-walks-on-the-wind threw the tiny frozen thing at the ground and Danny TwoTrees shattered like glass into billions of tiny pieces. Down below, Bob was running. He could hear the wind laughing behind him, much louder now.
Kreeg and Phaedra stumbled out into the deadly cold and the wind. The Cat was no more than twenty yards away, but it seemed to take an eternity to get there. Once inside, Phaedra turned to Kreeg.
“The weather–does it control it? Just what can it throw at us?”
“I’m… not sure. I associate extreme weather with it–in the old days it might have been called an elemental–but I don’t think it actually controls the weather. Its presence influences it, acts like an attractor, pulling the weather in a particular direction. I don’t think it ever consciously thinks about manipulating it….” He paused. “I just don’t know. Perhaps it’s like some kind of defense mechanism of the Earth’s biosphere–violent and extreme weather to try and kill off an invading anomaly. I don’t know. Please, Cale; I have to concentrate.” He seemed almost to go into some kind of trance. Cale looked away and started up the Cat. He’d told her where to go. It’d take them around half an hour. She hoped Bob was okay, wherever he was.
Only Hank was left. busy cleaning the place up and fighting the urge to ‘drop’ a case of scotch, when Bob staggered into Emo’s. He rushed over to Bob, but took a step back when he saw the state of him. As he stood open-mouthed, Bob reached out and grasped him by the shoulder with a grip of iron. Hank was terrified. Bob’s skin had cracked where it had been frozen, and his face looked like a bloody spider’s web.
“Where’s Cale?” he asked.
“They left about five minutes ago, Bob! I tried to call you, but you never answered!”
“Some guy turned up! They had a few drinks, talked some, then took off! I tried to call you when he got here, too!” Bob let go of Hank, went to the window, and looked outside. He saw the Cat was gone.
“Hank; do you know if Jerry got his Snowcat fixed last week?”
“I guess so Bob–he…” Bob cut him off.
“Give me the pump, Hank.” Hank reached behind the bar and pulled out the 10 gauge shotgun Bob always kept there. Bob checked it was loaded. “Hank, I want you to go round all the houses–get everybody back here and barricaded in. Danny’s dead and there’s a… a killer loose out there. I’m going to get Jerry’s Cat and haul our pet Fed’s ass back here too. Make sure those cowboys out there check to see if it’s me or the Fed before they start shooting, y’hear?”
“Jesus, Bob… Danny’s… dead?”
“Do you understand me, Hank?”
Hank mumbled a yes. Bob turned and ran out into the cold again.
BLUE FLY One spotted it as they tried to return to their base site- the sudden gales had made it virtually impossible to stay airborne. The pilot couldn’t identify it, and through the crackle of static he tried to report their sighting. He kept on its tail until he got a reply, regardless of the difficulties he had maneuvring in the storm. He was a good soldier. Control came back a few moments later: disable the UFO if possible; track its descent and drop markers. They opened fire with the nose cannon, but the bullets just passed harmlessly through it and out into the night- little showers of gold, sprouting from where they’d hit it. Then it turned and looked at them. The whole crew felt it smiling; even the ones that couldn’t see it. They had plenty of time to scream before it hit them.
Just five minutes from the SIGIL and Kreeg suddenly snapped out of his trance.
“It’s found me.” Phaedra looked at him. He was really, really scared. “Just drive. Drive fast.”
He looked out the window, scanning the sky. Phaedra could hardly see ten feet in front of her, even with the lights on full beam. Suddenly the road seemed to drop out from underneath them and the Cat dropped into a shallow ravine. Kreeg cried out as they slipped down the icy slope and smashed into the ground, shattering the windows and totalling the Cat. It took them a few moments to come round. The Cat was a write off. They saw the ravine wasn’t very deep, or particularly wide or steep. It was just a short scramble to the top of the other side. They disentangled themselves from the wreckage and started to pull themselves up it. Once they reached the top, Kreeg started to run into the forest ahead. Phaedra hung back.
“Hurry! It’s really close!” yelled Kreeg. Phaedra stopped and considered.
“Go, John. Find your plane; I’ll hold it here for as long as I can.” She pulled out the Beretta and turned to face the way they had come. Once, Kreeg might have tried to talk her out of it. Now, he just nodded and scrambled onwards.
In the last few moments she had felt it; it was reaching out with its mind, looking for Kreeg, and she could feel its thoughts touching hers, feel its need for him. Kreeg had been right: there was no way you could really understand its motives; it was as incomprehensible to us as we were to it. It didn’t understand concepts like death, pain or fear, because none of them applied to it. Human beings were all just animal bones to it; it didn’t differentiate between humans that were ‘dead’ or ‘alive’, it just knew it liked the psychic noise we made when we shifted from one state to the other. She could see it now. or at least the part of it that was physical and could interact directly with our plane of existence; at first it looked wispy, indistinct, like a huge blur rolling through the trees and the storm towards her. It’s alien cold preceded it; she felt sub zero temperatures through her clothes; felt ice forming on her skin. She raised the gun. It was becoming more distinct now. She could see arms, hands, even faces; none of it however, was even remotely human-looking. She could see eyes, black pits of nothing; something that reminded her of a mouth opening wide. She felt a tongue of air wrap around her and start drawing her closer. It was so cold, her gun was sticking to her hands. She aimed into one of the eyes and fired.
Kreeg felt Phaedra die. It took about three minutes, and involved a great deal of pain, but it gave him enough time to reach the SIGIL. It was buried underneath the snow, and he started to dig down to the cockpit with his bare hands. Tears formed in his eyes and froze onto his cheeks. God, he thought, not when I’m so close. It took a few minutes, but he reached the cockpit. There was no sign of Macgregor, even though it was still sealed tight. Kreeg didn’t think about it. He took out his sidearm and shot his way through the glass. The wind was howling very, very loudly, and it was so cold his skin was starting to crack open from…. Oh, no. He turned around. All his nightmares looked him right in the face. Rational thought started to bleed out of his system. He’d thought he was ready to face it; he’d been wrong. Then, just as suddenly, it turned away again–into the forest. Two beams of light shone right at the airwalker, and he could hear the sound of a Snowcat’s engine just below the roar of the wind. He dropped into the SIGIL’s cockpit; catching a fleeting glimpse of it moving towards this new opponent– ran his hands over the controls. The anti-gravity engines hummed into life. Without firing them, they would take only a few moments to reach critical mass. There was a gunshot, then the screech of tearing metal. The sound of something smashing and exploding in the woods was drowned out by the wind. Time enough. He felt it turn its attention back to him. Felt it reach down into the ice that surrounded the plane to–
Bob lay in the snow where he’d fallen from the Cat. He was bleeding a lot, and his right leg was bent at a horrifically unnatural angle, but the cold was already numbing the pain. He reminded himself that wasn’t a good sign. He wouldn’t last long in this weather. He hoped the loudmouthed macho rednecks that hung out at Emo’s wouldn’t turn out to be all talk and would come looking for him soon. He’d been lucky up to now. After grabbing Jerry’s Cat, he’d tried to follow Phaedra’s tracks, but he got lost after the snow began to cover them up. He’d tried going in the same direction as much as he could, but had to make his way around a small ravine they couldn’t possibly have gotten across, and that had put him all out. All of a sudden he’d felt cold much worse than it should have been, cold like from back at the office. And then, ahead, he’d seen the outline of whatever it was that took Danny in the headlights. It was indistinct, almost incorporeal. He aimed the shotgun at it out of the window anyway, balancing the barrel on the wing mirror. He got off just one shot–saw the thing spark gold–when it turned and tore the Cat in half, throwing the pieces into the woods, where he thought the fuel tank might have exploded. He’d fallen out of the door as the Cat was raised into the air, breaking his leg as he fell, and he lay there waiting for the deathblow. Seconds later there had been a huge explosion, unlike any Bob had ever heard before, and Bob had thought he must be dead. For a second he’d felt a pang of immense… disappointment; the thought felt alien inside his head, as if it wasn’t his own. Then he’d passed out. When he’d woken up, about ten minutes later, there was nothing left to see. The snow was just as intense, and had already pretty much covered up most of the debris. He guessed he’d just wait here a while and see what happened.
Alec Harris finished reading about the ‘courage’ of the Montana Sheriff and how he’d survived for seventeen hours out in the blizzard before rescue came; how bravely he’d dealt with the loss of his leg after coming round. There was little or no reference in the nationals to Special Agent Cale in their articles on the bizarre accident that claimed her life, and that of the town’s deputy. Harris threw them away, disgusted that the press made such a drama about the no doubt Neanderthal Sheriff–obviously too stupid to know when to die–when the dumb hick had quite possibly gotten his best agent killed through his ineptitude. He’d pushed for an investigation into the matter–nothing about the whole business had sounded right from the start, and he wanted this cowboy asshole’s badge at the very least–but Deputy Director Matthew Carpenter had contacted him personally and told him in no uncertain terms there would be no investigation into the matter. The FBI couldn’t be seen to hound local heroes out of office, especially if it seemed to be out of spite. He decided to go and find someone to have a drink with and bitch to them about this for a while; he grabbed his coat and left the office.
In another room, someone went through Phaedra Cale’s desk, got together all her files and effects, took them out into the grounds and burned them all in a big, metal drum.