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Read Chapters 1 - 6 at: Deep Sky Stories & Illustrations
Chapter 6 (Part 2) - The Cheery-Doze Receives a Very Strange Guest.
Farther away to the northwest from Alex’s home and beyond the scrapyard lay the town of Delta itself, or Delta-Town, as most people living there liked calling it. All the shops, hotels and of course, Rosie's Diner, could be found nestled in the middle of the small farming town. Delta lay just far enough away from the main highway that it did not receive as many visitors as other places did. This was a situation which was quite alright with the folks in the little community; they liked being a bit "out-of-the-way" from the rest of the big, modern world.
Yet, there was still enough business which found its way to the town that Delta continued on just fine, thank you very much. Not far to the west, on the outskirts, was the main highway running north and south. This straight stretch of dry and desolate road stretched for miles in both directions, with nothing to see except wide open prairie and distant Mackintosh Mountain to the north.
But, every now and then, a rest stop or two could be found dotting the side of the highway. These small, out-of-the-way inns and motels were often used by weary travels who needed somewhere to stop and stay for the night.
One such aged and dusty establishment which sat on a lonely plot of land just off of the highway was the Cheery-Doze Motel. It had remained where it was - only an hour’s drive from Delta-Town - for as long as any of the older truckers or bus drivers could recall. The "CD" as they nicknamed it would likely remain standing for as long as it could possibly hold itself together.
By now, it was so ramshackle and ill-kept that the usual joke was that one day soon "Ol' Cheery" would have the misfortune of receiving a guest who would accidentally slam the front door too hard, thus causing a chain-reaction that would reduce the dilapidated shack to a pile of dust and rubble.
Bob, the manager of the Cheery-Doze scratched an itch on his gray, balding head as he puzzled over the last few words of his first crossword puzzle for the night. The Cheery was quiet and still as that Friday evening dimmed toward the black of night.
Only a few minutes passed, though, before a sudden gust of prairie wind kicked up the dust and grit outside and caused loose shingles to clatter loudly up on the old sun-bleached roof. A storm was approaching from just beyond the flat, dark horizon.
Bob was an ordinary sort, "Not too fast and not too slow", was Bob's motto. "Just keep between the lines, in the middle of the road and everything will work out just fine in the end."
Thus, in the end, old Bob was where he was: a manager, managing an old, rickety Motel which sat at the side of a lonely stretch of highway, somewhere between here and there. That was just fine with Bob though; just so long as nobody bothered him too much, that is...
At half past the hour of ten, though, a Grey Liner Bus pulled up to the front door of the Cheery-Doze, whereupon a solitary passenger disembarked and walked straight toward him, smiling…
"Hmph", old Bob grunted with mild disapproval, just as he was about to think of a word too. Oh well, collect the money and sign him in, then get back to managing. The old peeling-paint door squeaked and a little bell above clinked once flatly. A strong gust from the approaching storm blew a puff of invading grit into the lobby with the stranger. Old Bob looked over his round reading glasses with a morose frown of distaste.
"Good evening- good evening", chirped the very cheery looking and acting man as he stalked stiffly up to the counter till he pushed hard against it. A long, pale, skinny arm jerked up and reached clear over the manager's counter top as the stranger forced a handshake out of Bob. A very tight and wringing handshake at that. "How much farther to Delta", the stranger blurted out before even letting go of Bob.
"Oh...not far...not far", was all that Bob could think to say as he flexed his sore fingers. What planet did this odd-ball come from, he thought with growing apprehension. But after an otherwise uneventful check-in, Bob ushered the tall, thin and pale-happy man to a vacant room at the end of a dim hallway. Money was paid for a one-night stay, after which Bob shuffled back to his desk and resumed the endless crosswords.
"A real screw-ball alright", Bob sighed as his pencil scratched out a gray letter inside a tiny square. Imagine going on a road-trip in the dead of night with nothing but an old, grubby looking lab coat to wear and no luggage except an old vinyl briefcase. He must have packed it to the hilt too, by the way it bulged at the sides, ready to burst open and let out God knows what.
In the small, dingy room at the end of the narrow hall, the man stood looking about him with eyes that glistened wetly from red-rimmed eyelids. The grimacing grin that had been plastered to his face since he awoke that morning had caused his cheek muscles to stiffen painfully and twitch from the constant effort to appear happy. But nonetheless, he maintained it as best he could despite the ache in his jaw.
For a full minute, Harold Strikt stood stiff and straight in the center of the room, scanning it silently. Why am I behaving this way, he thought distantly. But then the new and stronger mind washed powerfully through his weaker one and poor Harold was then convinced that he was very tired and needed to have a long sleep.
His tightly clenched jaw with the grimacing grin suddenly became slack and the wet, red eyes closed from exhaustion. Professor Strikt's whole body then took a few shuffling steps toward the seedy old bed and, without even taking shoes or lab-coat off, flopped face-first and side-long onto it. Sleep came as though a switch was flicked and the body of Harold Strikt rested...at least for a few hours.
The black and distended briefcase lay on the floor in the center of the room where the doctor had dropped it.
All was still.
The room was dark and silent, save for the deep, ragged breathing of the spent and tormented soul lying face down, halfway on the bed. A very thin, black wire that had been hooked like a burr under the skin of the man's left wrist, came off suddenly and snaked back inside the briefcase with a loud zipper sounding, Zz-rr-up!
It had been attached in that manner to the good professor for the entire day. The thing which controlled his mind required constant contact with his body in order to do so.
Sc-c-r-rch...scri-it, sounded a noise from somewhere in the otherwise silent room. A rubbing, shivering sound...then, "bzzz-bzzzt", from where the briefcase lay on the musty old carpet. There then followed a trip-clicking of tiny latches and locks being quickly undone from inside the twitching little case and the silence was abruptly broken by a loud, rattling snap-clap as the briefcase slapped open like a black, fetid clam-shell!
From there, there followed the sounds of small, dry, grinding gears and a shadowy form slunk out and moved from the briefcase to skulk in a corner of the dirty room for several moments...watching.
It was a dark, cold form the size of a large alley cat from head to point-tipped wings. It was a thing, black and awful, possessing infinite depths of cunning and evil. And then...it grew. More precisely, it stretched, with the sound of clink-clink-clinking little ratcheting screws inside its skinny, iron backbone. And as it grew, its back bowed, clicked and arched slowly upward until the thing within the dim corner appeared thinner, hunch-backed and skeletal.
There was even more of the monster to it now as though its original body had given birth upon itself and thus had twisted its own desolate soul even further. All the better to achieve that which it desired...the defeat and domination of two worlds...and all the people who dwelt on them.
Red, knife-edged eye-slits clicked open and gazed intently at the motionless Doctor Strikt.
"Hsst", hissed the wiry, stretch-bent thing as it sensed footsteps approaching outside the door. Old Bob stopped for a few seconds outside the door, tested the doorknob quietly and listened for any movements inside the room, then shuffled away, down the hallway once more.
The thin black thing relaxed somewhat as the footsteps faded. To an opened window the creature scuttled, then it leaped up onto the sill. A crooked metal stem which stuck out of the back of creature's head like a bent and twisted animal’s horn, shone with an odd luster in the moonlight. It was an extra appendage, a crude add-on which stuck out crookedly from the otherwise sleek metal head as though having been stabbed into it with wicked intent long ago.
It was all of that and more, because the fork-shaped device had been inserted in such a dreadful manner into the creature's head to block a 'kill-signal' from reaching its brain long ago. Likewise, all of its comrades who survived the attempt by their Martian Masters to shut them off also wore the same jagged, awful device. It liberated the Others from their Masters’ control at the cost of several fatalities but it also united them in one sharply focused mission: domination over all the soft-bodied ones on each of their Homeworlds.
Silhouetted dimly against the deep blue of the clear night sky, the black insect body of the thing appeared sharp and skeletal. Whatever it was could not have been mistaken for anything friendly or Earthly for that matter.
Slowly the head and half the body curled and looked back into the room where the exhausted man-puppet lay dozing for what time would be allowed him. The evil red slits held their gaze on the doctor for one moment more, just to be sure, then the creature hopped down and out into the night. A rasping, hum-buzz of sharp metal wings could then be heard distinctly for a few seconds, as well as a single high-frequency tone; nothing that could rouse the sleeping guests of the motel from their slumbers though.
The sound soon faded as the creature flew off toward a pre-planned meeting of sorts. Or perhaps, if one were to attempt to better understand the workings of an alien mind, it could also be described as a communion. Whichever, the dark beings who soon touched minds with one another, shared darker plans with cold-blooded and logical steps.
A trap was set and a module of a plan was soon contrived. For that was the most efficient method that the Others used as they plotted among themselves within the H.I.V.E. Network. Modular plans were like puzzle pieces that clicked one to another and another, building toward a much grander and more monstrous scheme.
For, you see, the Others were nothing if not evil and cold creatures who needed more room, more living space; and frankly, Mars just wasn't going to be room enough for the countless millions of them yet to come.
Next: Chapter 7 (Part 1) - The Song is the Beacon
As Alex slumbers on into the night, he falls into a dream most profound and lucid. He dreams of another time, another place; it is also far more than that, for Alex is, indeed, very faraway. And his name is not Alex...
As of 2017-10-14, Chapter 6 (Part 2) can be read at: DeepSkyStories.com