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Chapters 1 - 8 can be read at: Deep Sky Stories & Illustrations
Chapter 9 (Part 2) - ...and a Weird Doctor
His grin was just as gritty and wide and his eyes were even wider. They gazed starkly through the heavy shadows and never once blinked, as though searching to find one small specific person. In the vague, shifting shadows, it was remarkable how even the weak front porch light of the Faraway's home was able to illuminate the ivory white face of the stiffly shuffling doctor Kirstt. Any other soul who happened to be traveling on the same farming road at that late hour would likely sense an unsettling, musty coldness in the doctor's wake and would want to keep well away.
"Good evening, Mrs. Faraway," they might hear him reciting over and over, "We are so very, very sorry to disturb you on such a dark night, but you see, we really, really must speak to you and the boy, we are sure you understand...we are a doctor, you see."
Nearer and nearer the haggard, wasted and pale man shuffled toward the old farmhouse. His skull-grin remained stamped firmly below his clenching cheekbones and from between the skeleton-teeth, his labored breaths hissed wetly with each and every stumbling step. This was the ultimately ruined shell of what had once been the human, Doctor Strikt.
A thin, black wire was hooked in its usual tiny hole in his wrist and through it, the thing in the briefcase greedily held his mind. The briefcase itself bulged obscenely now and had grown heavier and heavier as he walked about Delta-Town that day. It was so heavy in fact that, although he didn't seem to notice it, he was now leaning stiffly to one side. What made his appearance even more pathetic and hideous was that his leg on that same side was now dragging and scuffing through the gravel from behind him. Crippled, pathetic, and monstrous would now describe the skeletal man-puppet, which inched its way closer to its goal that night.
"Good...evening...Mrs. Faraway...we are very, very...sorry...," he rasped on and on between heavy breaths. The cold night breeze touched his face and neck, drying away the sweat of his slave-like exertions. But Doctor Kirstt had not far to walk now, the house was well within sight. Then, after meeting the woman and the boy...he would be given the deepest rest of all. The fat, black briefcase stretched and crinkled like a trembling compressed spring, its metal hinges barely holding. While from every possible split and crack, there burbled thick, green dripping ooze.
"Hr-rmm...har-r-rm," rasped the harsh, festering creature inside. Knock-knock-knock, cracked stiff, white knuckles on the faded door of the Faraway house. Floorboards squeaked warmly as someone began walking toward the other side of the door. Then, a porch light winked on.
"Who is it?" Silence. Elizabeth Faraway peered cautiously through a small square window, but the dim yellow porch light only vaguely revealed an agitated figure shuffling to and fro in the half-darkness. There appeared to be enough about the man that was familiar to her though because, after a moment, Elizabeth slowly released the lock with a loud clack and pulled the back door open.
"Good evening, Mrs. Faraway," the excited man began.
"Why, hello, Elliot," Elizabeth replied with a sleepy smile and a little frown, "what brings you away out here so late? If you want to rummage around in the scrapyard, feel free –"
"Mrs. Faraway," Elliot bluntly interrupted, "do you trust me?" Elizabeth paused halfway through her yawn and stared up at Old Elliot with a rather dumbfounded expression. The old hobo was an oddish character who wandered the streets of Delta and was a quiet, vacant-faced soul who often rummaged about in the scrapyard, at night. And though she had little contact with him, she also pitied the old fellow and saved the odd meal leftovers for him. She always knew he was somewhere about when the food packages she left outside the back gate were gone the following day. But this man now before her had the bearing and behavior of a very, very changed person indeed. He looked...normal, if still rather dirty.
"Well...what an odd thing to say...I...what is wrong Elliot, are you alright?" Poor Elliot was fussing and full of the jitters.
"Mrs. Faraway...please, you must believe me right now when I tell you that you and your son are in terrible, terrible danger. Please, I beg you, this instant, find little the boy and come with me immediately!" Then, as if to add weight to his words, from the other side of the house, coming slowly up the front walkway, a most unnerving sound was heard.
"We are very, very sorry...," came faint, growling, dry words. Scrnch...ssshfl...clump, the front wood steps thumped loudly beneath heavy, shambling and stumbling monster-feet. What was happening? Elliot grasped her wrist then and Elizabeth very nearly gave all away with a scream. Instead she gritted her teeth and half-turned back toward the inside, "Alex," she breathed fearfully. An instant animal-fear and all her motherly instincts came to the fore as she began to pull Elliot with her with all her might, in her frantic search for her son.
"He must be upstairs...in bed," she whispered frantically. BANG…BANG…BANG-BANG, rattled the dry wood of the front door!
"Is it locked?" Elliot asked.
"No –," Elizabeth replied. Elliot made a quick decision, "go – run through the backyard, into the junkyard, keep going – I will get the boy, do you hear!" Bang…bang! BAM!
"He's upstairs – wait," she suddenly said as another thought occurred to her, "I think he's still in the barn...I see a light on, inside the barn!" Following where she pointed, Elliot indeed noticed the faint light as well, coming from the old barn beyond the back fence.
"Are you sure," he hissed.
"Yes – yes, he must still be there, Alex often works late." Bang...crash, "M-missus...Faraw-w-way-a-ay... L-little...h-hummman...W-w-weeee...m-mmmusst...find yyouuu," rattled the horrific voice from inside the front hallway.
"Come on," Elliot barely whispered and he closed the back door behind them as softly and silently as he could. "Hurry," he breathed anxiously and together they ran quietly through the dark thicket of tall damp grass and vine-laden shrubbery. They were as silent as the small animals, which scurried about in the shadows around them. Through the fallen-down gate they crept and, as they passed outside it, Elizabeth heard horrid moaning howls issuing from inside the large, dark house. She shivered and chanced a glance behind her, as though she hoped to see what "it" was. Old Elliot was having nothing of it though, "don't look back," he whispered harshly and pulled her onward. She quickly regained her senses though and led Elliot to the dim light shining through a crooked gap in the barn doors. Through the opening she hurried and the first sight to meet her eyes was her son lying very still on the cold cement floor, and nearby a tall ladder lay where it too had fallen.
"Alex!" Elizabeth cried, rushing over. Elliot followed, closing the large doors tight and hoping the light wouldn't show through.
"How bad is it?" he asked with concern as he gazed down at the boy. Mrs. Faraway carefully felt Alex's head and neck, then down his back, hoping against hope that there weren't any serious injuries. Alex seemed to be breathing normally, which was a small blessing. By all appearances though, he must have fallen from the very top of the ladder. But why was he up there in the first place, there was nothing else near the ladder. Now that she thought of it, that large robot that Alex drove back to the barn was nowhere to be seen either.
"Oh Alex, what were you doing up there," she cried. "Owch," she yelped suddenly, more from surprise than from pain, for something on the nape of Alex's neck had just pricked her finger. What was that? Feeling more carefully, Elizabeth was shocked to discover that there were even more of those tiny prickles. They were her son's hairs, yet they were growing out of his scalp like little porcupine quills!
"What is it?" Elliot asked from the door where he was keeping watch.
"N-nothing, nothing," she replied, trying to control the shake in her voice. What is happening to my son, she thought with terrible worry. Squeak...bang-clatter, the back door to the house sounded from across the grounds.
"Turn the light out, quickly!" Elliot hissed. Standing up, Elizabeth reached up and found the switch cord for the single light bulb hanging from the rafters and clicked it off. In the pitch blackness, she heard Elliot come closer to protect her. "Is it safe to move your son?" he whispered.
"Yes, yes I haven't felt anything broken, I think."
"Good," he said, "While the light was on, I noticed there's an old horse stall at the far left corner of the barn." "Pick up your son and follow me, we'll hide in there." Elizabeth carefully picked up Alex and was starting to follow Elliot when the first fumbling, scraping sounds came from just outside the barn doors. "Sst," came the warning from Elliot and they both froze in the awful darkness, waiting in tense silence. Harsh, rasping breaths could be heard, along with those same repeated words,"...really must speak to you and the boy...we are a doctor, you see..."
"Go away, please go away," Elizabeth prayed silently, as if she could will the monstrous man far, far away. Rattle-rattle-clack, the large old sliding door clattered as a hunched over form was seen heaving against it to slowly push it open, just enough. The cold bright stars shone through the thin opening like pin-prick searchlights. "...his-sh...mmsss...ffa-arrrrwa-a-ayyy...mmu-usst...ssspe-e-e-eak...to...do-octo-o-orrrrrrr," dribbling, slow words curled toward her like slow, oily snakes.
"Dear God," she whispered as she then saw the thin silhouette of the bent and kinked over creature. What was that? Something was coming. Suddenly from out of nowhere, a bright streak of light shone full on the face of the haggard, grinning man and he spun round, his one stiff, hanging arm flinging a fat, dripping briefcase around with him. A second spotlight popped on as well, then the quiet of the night was split by the roar of a large diesel engine firing up.
"Yah!" The skeletal man shambled back and out of sight as he fell back outside again. A second barely passed before a huge metallic monster roared by the door on heavy, dirt-churning wheels.
"It's Big Ben!" Elizabeth yelled. Elliot Jansen couldn't hold back a yell of his own, the sudden roaring and shuddering thunder of the massive robot was enough to scare the willies out of him!
"Is it on our side," he shouted above the pounding engine.
"Oh! Good! That's good!" he yelled back with a loud belly-laugh! On and on Big Ben rumbled as he continued after the scurrying Doctor Kirstt, until the sound of the pursuit faded away into the night. Whether by wonderful coincidence or a pet-like protectiveness, the old construction-bot seemed to have regained some semblance of life, and for that, Elizabeth was very grateful.
"If I ever see that big old robot again," she said, "I'm going to give it the biggest hug!" Looking around her as she and Old Elliot carefully carried Alex out of the barn, Elizabeth was briefly aware of how empty it actually was. For there was nothing but empty space as well where the two other robots usually were; the tall, gawky looking robot that picked up pieces of junk and the sleek, shiny dragonfly robot from Mars. "How odd," she thought briefly as they took her son back to the safety and comfort of the house.
An ambulance flew swiftly from Delta-Town and arrived soon after they made the call and then delivered them all to the hospital within minutes. All was silent again in the countryside all around and the small nocturnal creatures went about with their own lives once more.
Meanwhile, high overhead, the wintry stars shone down hard and glassy clear whenever they peeped from behind the restless, scudding autumn clouds. And if, while gazing up at these distant cousins of our own star, one knew just where to look, a person might even have glimpsed a burning streak of light flash down from the heavens as a solitary meteor died brightly in our cold atmosphere far above. Longer minutes would then pass before something else large, thick, and heavy flew by and caused a whistling rush of air low over the treetops; and a purposeful thinking thing did come.
But, in the silence and safety of the hospital, Alex knew nothing of this as he lay sleeping deeply...and changing. His rest was like no other before and his dreams were filled with the faces of beautiful, strange folk whom he had never seen before. They soon faded though and he slept in a very still, very calm state after that, with nothing but a deep blue sky to gaze up at as he lay in cool, soft brown sand, and an oddly small horizon fell sharply away around him. The deep blue soon turned to purple, velvet twilight, and then the stars came out in his dream as well but, although they were the same stars — very sharp and bright in the cold midnight dome high above — they didn't look like they were in quite the right places. Thin air blew in a silent breeze over him and softly hissing dust-devils whirled off in the distance. So brightly did the stars shine down that the twilight did not deepen; instead, something else even more beautiful happened: a moon slowly rose above the fine, dusty horizon, and then...one more from the other horizon, where the sun had set.
Time itself lost some of its importance at that moment and Alex gazed up at the quietly glowing satellites of Mars, knowing that somehow, this was where he truly belonged. He breathed in slow, deep breaths in spite of the much thinner air. There was no exact cause for this feeling, or reason why, only a growing sense of understanding.
"I don't belong here, maybe you don't either," was what Rainah said not long before she left for Mars with Miss Vee. Now, lying there in the vivid dream, like so many of them before, Alex felt in his heart that she was right.
"I am different," he said to himself quietly. Gradually at first, then more strongly in his ears, Alex heard a soft rippling roar as though from a faraway river. He turned his head first one way then the other because now he felt as though he was lying down in the shallows of the river as it rushed and gurgled all around him. It was a very strange, yet relaxing, sensation. Then, someone familiar gently called his name.
"Alex," the faint voice called, traveling as from a great distance on the thin breeze. "Alex...do you hear me?" Sitting up and crossing his legs in the sand of Mars, Alex looked about him, but there was only one place he really needed to look. As he turned back round, there before him sat his best friend, Rainah Onyahee. Alex smiled and she smiled back, calmly, quietly.
There was no need for words between them; besides, they would have been useless in the much thinner air. Instead, comforting thoughts flowed in warm, caring waves from her and surrounded Alex protectively. Rainah's bright white hair-quills thrashed and blurred in constant vibrating movements as they captured the scant air molecules around them and carried them down into her body. Her skin, as well, was puffed out slightly in order to assist her lungs to absorb the thin atmosphere of Mars.
((Yes...you are different, Alex, but in such a very wonderful way)), her words telepathed to him across the vast divide of space. ((I feel that you should know something that I sensed about you from the moment we first met)). ((You have a special gift, Alex...you are going to be a bridge between my people and yours, did you know)), she telepathed silently. ((You are becoming like a new, strong link that will connect two chains, which used to be shorter and weaker)). This was puzzling to Alex.
((I don't understand)), he said, ((what do you mean by a bridge?))
((You ninny)), she laughed in his head as she rocked back and forth in the sand, ((how do you think you can do what you're doing right now...in my head?)) Bubbly waves of telepathic giggles danced deliciously around Alex for a few moments, which made him pause to think about what was now becoming very obvious: he was telepathic as well.
((I'm a link)), he thought, scratching his head, ((but then that means...)) A sudden tingle ran up his spine as the full realization suddenly hit him. ((Hey, wait a minute, what are you trying to tell me...I'm kind of half and half)), he asked with his fingers still scratching deep in his thick, brown, bristling hair.
((Well...mostly you're you, but there is just a little bit of my people in you, as well, and that's the part that is letting you do all the other things)). ((I don't know how or why because I have always been as I am; it is you that is changing, just a little)), Rainah said with her hand held a small inch off the rust coloured sand. ((It is enough though)), she said with a mischievous twinkle in her dark-blue Martian eyes.
((Wait a minute)), Alex said again, ((if I'm from here and you're from there, then how...)) Rainah shrugged then in a very human way, ((someone...)), she began but then it was her turn to look puzzled and something caused her to look away for a moment and frown a little sadly, as if remembering someone she hadn't thought about for a long time. Alex felt a small wave of melancholy flow from Rainah to touch his heart, only lightly, but it was enough that he felt the need to protect her if he could. So he sent her what he hoped was his own comforting waves of caring and friendship out over the millions of miles which separated their two worlds.
Then, remembering the previous dreams of another boy who left Rainah behind all those years ago, Alex quietly said, ((I think I know who...)). It was enough and the two children from two worlds sat facing one another with open faces and open minds, contemplating this new revelation. A possible blood-line which connected them as much as their friendship and which crossed the ages to when the people of Mars last fell into the long sleep of a ten-thousand-years winter. As Alex thought through all that had happened to Rainah and her people, a difficult question arose. ((But Rainah)), he telepathed, ((Where are the rest of your people, how many have survived?))
((I do not know)), she replied, ((the Great Change has not yet happened, only after that time will I know if any others have survived to awaken from their Time-Tombs within the other Chambers of Everlasting)). Alex sensed a wave of loneliness flow from Rainah at those last words and he felt great sympathy for her. How would it feel to be the last and only one of her race left in all the universe, he thought. Even the company of humans would not truly replace all the various racial differences, customs, and history that only her people could provide her. Alex hoped and prayed that those days of loneliness would soon end for Rainah. His empathic feelings must have reached her as well because Rainah bowed her head for a few moments and a cold, fearful shiver shook her briefly.
Alex wished he could reach across and hold Rainah's hand then, just for a moment. There was no time for self-pity where she was concerned though and Rainah immediately looked back up and squared her shoulders again. She was truly a proud Royal princess and only once had allowed herself the luxury of tears. Rainah deflected any further pity away from herself by expressing something which she felt was important for Alex to know. ((Your father)), she began gently, ((Your father is here still, but he cannot yet leave.)) ((I am sorry)), she said with a hint of sadness flowing now to him. Alex leaned forward earnestly, her words, her emotions caused a sharp coldness in the pit of his stomach.
((Oh, please...no – no, something is wrong, what has happened – tell me)), he cried with horrible despair suddenly creeping in. Again though, Rainah's comforting waves reached him from so far away and softened the ice cold shock threatening the only friend she knew. The Martian girl looked Alex steadily in the eyes from one hundred fifty million miles away.
((Your father is alive and well)), she simply said. There was a woodenness to her face though, which her comforting words could not mask. ((Do not despair, Alex, there is yet time and a chance for all of us to live)), Rainah said quietly. ((There is nothing which cannot be changed by a strong enough will and a simple Luss song)).
The tie between their minds must have been very frail and the strong emotions caused disruptive ripples to occur, because Rainah started to fade before Alex's eyes. It is the paradox of telepathy that, the harder one tries to maintain it, the less effective the link often becomes; so it was now between the two friends.
((Rainah, don't go)), he called out, but a haze like a thick fog formed between them and Rainah was soon only a fading silhouette sitting in the quiet sand. Before she vanished altogether though, Alex could swear he saw another person appear beside her. It was a woman, he was sure and she moved to bend down and gently caress Rainah's head as a mother would. ((Rainah!)) he began again, but she and the tall woman were gone.
The midnight blue of the Martian night sky held his gaze in its peaceful depths again and Alex felt warm doziness overcoming him. Gentle dreams from deep, healing sleep flowed quietly into his mind once more and Alex slumped back down onto the cool, soft brown sand. Yet even as he breathed deeply and the rushing river sound faded away, Rainah's last thoughts reached out and touched Alex kindly.
((You shall be a bridge between us, Alex)), she whispered. The hushed silence of the white-walled medical center returned with the reality of the present moment again and the night-shift nurse came in briefly to do routine instrument and fluid checks. She glanced down at the sleeping boy as she left the room again. What a very odd illness this little one had, she thought in passing. Nothing seriously wrong, only...such a strange way for his hair to be growing...
Next: Chapter 9 (Part 3) - Big Ben Back at Work
While Alex rests within the safe surroundings of Delta Hospital, Big Ben, having been resurrected from digital death, takes stock of the renewed threat in the domain of his scrapyard, and prepares for the battle that must come.
As of 2017-12-16, Chapter 9 (Part 2) can be read at: Deepskystories.com