Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
By Daniel Skye
PART ONE: WITH GREAT POWER…
Dr. Glass was an avid Beatles fan. Which is why he named all of his projects and experiments after their tunes. Project Walrus. Project Yellow Submarine. But his pet project, his personal favorite was Project Blackbird.
Project Blackbird has exploited many subjects throughout the years, and Glass has overseen them all. He can recall every subject by name or number without batting an eye. And while Glass was in charge of the project, even he took orders, answered to a higher power.
The phone rang once before he picked it up.
“Glass,” he said.
“Mr. X,” the caller replied.
“And to what do I owe the pleasure, Mr. X?”
“The Redfield Five. I need to know what kind of threat they pose to our operation.”
“I believe they prefer to be called the Breakfast Club From Hell. BCFH, for short.”
“Is this some kind of sick joke to you, Glass?”
“No joke, sir. I apologize. The five of them pose no threat to our operation. They’re not even aware of their involvement in the project. Their memories were wiped clean years ago. I can assure you that I saw to that personally. As far as they’re concerned, their powers are the result of genetic mutation. They’re mutants. Freaks. Outcasts to society. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“But society is unaware of their gifts?”
“Indeed, society is unaware.”
“For our sake, let’s hope it stays that way. But just in case, I need their names.”
“Very well. There’s Noah Segal. He has three times the strength of the average man. He’s a real life Superman.”
“Tucker Ross. Teleporter, can jump from Point A to Point B without lifting a finger.”
“And the girls?”
“Sasha Corelli. She possesses telekinetic abilities. She can move or manipulate objects with the will of her mind. If she concentrates hard enough, she can control a person’s actions.”
“What about the firebug?”
“Riley Winters. Pyrokinetic. She can create and control fire with her mind.”
“And last but not least?"
“Milton Langan. A telepathic. He can read minds, hear other’s thoughts.”
“And you’re convinced these freaks as you call them, pose no threat? They sure as hell sound dangerous to me.”
“The situation is under control, for now. But if things change, I will handle it. I can destroy them just as easily as I created them.”
“I’m sure you will do what’s necessary. Or I’ll get someone else to take care of it, right after they’re done with you.”
The line went dead.
Noah Segal left his house that Saturday morning feeling optimistic for the first time in several months. It was a chilly day, the sky shrouded with gray clouds. But Noah threw on his hoodie and a pair of sweats and shrugged off the cold. He needed to get out of the house. Noah was ready to pick up where his life had left off, and had finally resumed his morning jogs.
His morning exercise was an integral part of his daily routine. It helped keep him focused and fit for the school football team. Not that Noah needed any extra help in that department. With Noah’s superhuman strength, it made him a force to be reckoned with, both on and off the field.
He’d start timing himself the second he passed his mailbox. He’d jog two blocks, then turn left on Olive Street. He’d always see Jerry, the paperboy, riding through the neighborhood, carelessly hurling the bundled newspapers at peoples’ cars or front windows. And he’d usually see Mrs. Anders on her porch, knitting, sipping her coffee, or just rocking back and forth in that ancient antique chair that creaked and struggled to support her girth.
He saw Jerry, but no Mrs. Anders. Too cold for her today, Noah thought.
Then he’d jog three more blocks to Busch Street, where the Redfield hiking trail began. If he paced himself, Noah could complete the entire trail in less than an hour.
Some people listen to music on their phones or play their iPods when they go for a run. But Noah preferred the silence and tranquility of nature. He preferred to let his own thoughts consume him. It was cheaper than therapy. And Noah had a lot of issues to sort through. It had been several months since the untimely passing of his younger brother. Several long months since the incident at the Redfield chemical plant. Several painful, unforgiving months since Sasha Corelli lost her little sister.
The narrow trail was blanketed with fallen pine needles. Barren trees loomed overhead, their crooked, misshapen branches casting shadows over Noah’s path.
Noah was five minutes in when he spotted the detached skull off the trail, lying in the adjacent tall grass; flies buzzing around it, swarming in and out of its hollow eye sockets.
It’s got to be a prop, he thought. Someone is playing a practical joke. They probably bought it at a Halloween shop. But as he walked closer and leaned forward, he could see the fillings in the teeth. Then he observed the fatigue cracks in the skull caused by days or weeks of sun exposure. There was no hair, no eyes, no flesh, no lower jaw.
A few feet from where Noah found the skull, he discovered the rest of the body, stripped of its flesh and organs.
Noah’s first thought was to alert the authorities.
His second thought was who, or better yet, what could have done this?
Tucker stood at the door all bleary-eyed, his hair standing up like Alfalfa, his breath reeking of beer, Led Zeppelin T-shirt reeking of cannabis.
“It’s Sunday,” Tucker groaned. “Why are you knocking on my door at eight in the morning on a Sunday?”
“It’s past noon,” Milton said, glancing at his digital wristwatch.
“Whatever,” Tucker shrugged. “If you didn’t wake me up, that damn bird would have.” Tucker motioned to the sycamore tree in his front yard and pointed out the lone sparrow perched on a high branch, chirping away.
“It never stops,” Tucker said. “And it’s right outside my bedroom window.”
The bird cocked its head and squawked in Tucker’s direction.
“Yeah, I’m talking about you, you pain in the dick.”
“It’s a bird, Tucker. It can’t understand you.”
“Well, let’s see if it understands this,” Tucker said, dusting off a rock he picked up from the ground. He chucked it at the branch, missing badly, which was his intent. He never meant to harm it, only scare it away.
The rock struck the branch and the sparrow took flight.
“You do know that male birds chirp or sing to attract a female, right?”
“So you totally just cock blocked that bird.”
“It’s a fucking bird, Milton.”
“How would you feel if someone cock blocked you?”
“It’s never happened, but I’d feel pissed.”
“Well, there you go.”
“Why are you here again?” Tucker asked, exasperated.
“I was waiting for you to ask me that. Noah found a dead body…well, he found the remains.”
“Cool. Do they know who it is yet?”
“No clue. But Noah said the teeth had fillings. So they’ll probably use dental records to ID the person.”
“And where do we fit in with all of this?”
“He found a body in the woods. It didn’t get there by itself. Somebody dumped the remains there.”
“Ugh, can’t we just sit this one out? I’m tired of saving the world just because we have superpowers.”
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
“You’re quoting Uncle Ben from Spiderman now?”
“I’d quote Shakespeare or Hemingway, but I know you wouldn’t know any.”
“Fair enough. So should we take your car or do you want to meet me there?”
“Hilarious,” Milton said, rolling his eyes. “We get it, you can teleport.”
“Hey, it saves me a fortune on gasoline.”
“You don’t have to rub it in. I’m paying almost four dollars a gallon.”
“Do Sasha and Riley know about what Noah found?”
“No, but they will soon,” Milton said. Then added, “By the way, it was Voltaire who originally said with great power comes great responsibility, not Uncle Ben.”
Milton sighed. “Never mind. Let’s just go.”
There was nothing inconspicuous about Sasha Corelli. With her short-cropped, bright red hair, black headband, dark leggings, and powder blue jacket, you could spot her faster than you could find Waldo.
Riley was wearing her usual wardrobe, black on black on black. Black pants, black boots, black shirt and Cannibal Corpse hoodie, her jet-black hair tied back in a ponytail. She practically blended into the night and would have been invisible if not for the street lamps and the moonlight.
“So how’s it going with you and Milton?” Sasha asked.
“It’s nothing serious,” Riley said. “We’ve hooked up a few times. We’re not dating or anything. And I’m sure as hell not introducing him to my parents anytime soon. What about you and Noah?”
“There’s nothing going on between Noah and me,” Sasha insisted.
“Yeah, right. You know Milton is telepathic, right? He can read minds.”
“I have feelings for him, alright? And he’s helped me tremendously since Tina’s passing. But nothing’s happened between us.”
“Yet,” Riley smirked. It was a side Sasha rarely saw of her. Normally she was indifferent, apathetic. Nothing piqued her interest.
“I saw this thing on Facebook. It said the ‘friend-zone’ exists for a reason, because not all relationships are meant to be sexual.”
“So you’re taking relationship advice from Internet memes now?”
“I’m just pointing out that sex complicates things. It’s not a casual occurrence. It can ruin our friendship.”
“This is my stop,” Riley joked as they approached the apartment complex she called home. “I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”
“Yeah, see ya,” Sasha said, waving as she watched Riley go inside.
On the walk home, Sasha had time to think about Tina, about Noah, about her friends. She heard all the murmurs and rumblings at school, all the kids talking behind their backs. But she expected nothing less from the students at Redfield High School. They had a special name for their group: The Breakfast Club from Hell. And like the Breakfast Club, Sasha had met Riley, Noah, Milton, and Tucker in detention. And they’ve been friends ever since. They didn’t have much in common, unless you count their superpowers.
Two blocks from her house, Sasha brushed shoulders with Omar Wright. Wright dropped out last year, but he still hung around the school and sold weed, mainly to Tucker. But there was something different about him, something that made Sasha look twice. Under the dim street lights, for the briefest of moments, she could have sworn his face was rippling, that some invisible force was writhing and wriggling under the skin.
“Omar,” she called out as he walked by.
He turned back and blinked twice. But when he blinked, he didn’t blink horizontally. His eyes blinked back and forth, side-to-side. Then he turned back and disappeared into the night, leaving Sasha trembling in the cold.
It was just another manic Monday. And an exhausted Sasha wished it was still Sunday and she was tucked away in her warm, cozy bed. She hadn’t slept a wink. Not after her run-in with Omar Wright.
They loitered in the parking lot, waiting for the first bell, and for Tucker to show up.
Riley shook the last cigarette from her pack and crushed the box in her hand, tossed it.
“Littering destroys the planet,” Milton pointed out. “Do you not care about the environment?”
“Meh,” Riley shrugged and lit her cigarette with the tip of her finger. The perks of pyrokinesis.
Tanya Gordon–an olive skinned girl with short dark hair in a French braid–sauntered across the parking lot and shot Riley a look of utter revulsion. Riley could see Tanya mouth something under her breath. Just one word. “Freak.”
“Friend of yours?” Noah asked.
“I don’t think so,” Riley said.
“Have the police identified the body?” Sasha asked.
“Yes, but they haven’t released any information to the papers,” Milton said. “Tucker did his magic act and snuck into the coroner’s office. It’s Tom Stahl.”
“The guy who works the counter at the hardware store? The guy’s a saint. Who’d want to hurt him?” Noah wondered.
“That’s not the weirdest part. Reports say Tom was likely dead for over a week, around the same time he went missing. But there was no flesh, no organs. His body was stripped down to the skeleton. Someone or something did that. And we have to find out what.”
“I have to tell you guys about something I saw the other night,” Sasha said. But she was interrupted by Tucker’s surprise arrival.
“Morning,” Tucker said with a belch.
“Have you been drinking already?” Milton asked.
“Just three beers,” Tucker said defensively.
“What have you been up to, besides sneaking into corner’s offices?” Noah asked.
“Checking out Tom Stahl’s place. You have to see what I found in his shed. Looks like he dug it up in his backyard. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s like something out of that science-fiction crap that Milton reads and watches. I also found all these weird recordings. Doesn’t make a lick of sense.”
“You’re breaking into people’s houses now too?” Noah asked.
“I do it all the time,” he shrugged. “I can teleport in and out. I used Milton’s toaster last Friday when he was still asleep because mine broke. I used his bathroom too.”
“That was you?”
“Okay I say we all meet at Stahl’s house tonight and get to the bottom of this,” Noah said.
“Okay, but before we do that, we really need to talk about what I saw last night,” Sasha said.
“What the hell is it?” Riley asked, utterly baffled.
“Looks like a pod or a UFO of some kind. Definitely not a flying saucer. This is way too small. One thing is for sure. It’s not of this earth.”
“Leave it to Milton to figure that one out,” Sasha chuckled, if only to calm her frayed nerves.
“What about the recordings?” Tucker asked.
“Not sure what to make of them,” Milton said. “As far as I can tell, it’s a code, a message of some kind.”
“Want me to break it open?” Noah asked.
“Better not. We don’t even know what it is. It could be a spacecraft. Could be some kind of incubation chamber. It could be a bomb for all we know.” Tucker heard the word ‘bomb’ and took a few steps back.
Milton surveyed the long, egg-shaped pod, perused the sides. He found a strange mechanism along the left side and instructed them to step back. He gripped the small mechanism that resembled a valve. “Righty tighty, lefty loosey,” Milton whispered to himself and turned the mechanism to the left. It clicked twice and the pod hissed as it slid open, releasing a plume of smoke. As the smoke cleared, Milton could see the chamber was vacant.
“What does this mean?” Riley asked.
“It means that whatever was in here is long gone. And Tom Stahl paid for his discovery with his life.”
“Do you think this could be connected to Omar Wright?” Sasha asked.
“I think we’ve learned over the last few months that anything is possible,” Tucker said.
“Then let’s go have a chat with Omar,” Noah suggested.
“I have his number in my favorites,” Tucker said.
“Why am I not surprised?” Riley said.
“You kids have fun with that. I need to stay here and figure out those recordings that Tom Stahl left behind.”
“Okay,” Noah said. “Call us if you figure it out.”
“Not if,” Milton corrected him. “When.”
Tucker sent Omar a text. No reply. He called twice, but it went straight to voicemail both times.
They stood outside his house, hands in their pockets, jackets zippered up, trying to ward off the cold. All the lights were out. His parent’s car was missing from the driveway. Omar didn’t have a car, but he did have a motorcycle that he hid along the side of the house. Tucker peeked over the fence. The bike was there.
“He’s home,” Tucker said.
“You want to do the honors?” Noah asked.
“Why does it have to be me?” Tucker asked.
“Because you’re the only one who could teleport.”
“Fair enough. Okay stand back.”
They inched back and watched Tucker disappear before their very eyes.
A minute later, he came crashing through one of the front windows and landed in the grass. The front door ripped open and Omar stepped out, his head cocked back, tentacles sprouting from his mouth.
“What the hell?!” Sasha exclaimed.
“Stay back!” Tucker shouted. “Whatever it is, it’s not Omar!”
“I’ve got this,” Noah said. He rammed his fist into Omar’s gut. His stomach split open down the middle, taking the form of a giant mouth and almost biting Noah’s fingers off. He pulled back just in time as the mouth snapped closed. He took another swing, but the tentacles caught him by the wrist and flung him across the lawn with ease.
Sasha ran to his aid as Riley stepped up. “My turn,” she grinned.
Flames crackled at her fingertips as the fire spread up her hand. The thing that had taken hold of Omar shrieked, tendrils writhing forth from its face, intertwining. The mouth inside his stomach opened wide and Riley struck while she had an opening. A jet of flames shot from her hand, into the creature that had claimed Omar’s body. It shrieked again as the flames spread from its center, engulfing it from the inside. Riley hit it with another stream of fire, bringing the creature to its knees.
Its tendrils curled up and slithered back inside. They watched the fire consume it and burn out.
“What…the…fuck?” Sasha said.
“We need to get out of here,” Noah said. “It’s dark. Nobody can positively ID us. But if anyone saw or heard, they definitely called the cops by now.”
“What about him?” Riley asked, motioning to Omar’s smoking corpse.
Before his death, Tom Stahl recorded several strange audio transmissions from his cell phone and computer. Milton worked and slaved all night to try and decipher the messages. He was on the verge of a breakdown when he finally cracked the code.
He text every member of the group: 911.
They all met back at his house and he gave them the news.
“The messages were distress signals,” Milton told them. “It was a warning not to open or disturb the pod.”
“You’re sure?” Noah asked.
“But where did the messages come from?” Sasha wondered.
Milton gazed skyward. “It didn’t come from here, that’s for sure.”
“There’s something you need to see,” Noah added. “It’s in my trunk. Can we use your garage?”
“What is this, Pulp Fiction?”
“Milton, you really need to see this. In fact, you’re the only one who could figure it out.”
Milton spent several hours examining Omar’s charred remains before he reached a conclusion.
“Do you know what it is?” Noah asked.
“I think I do. And it’s not good.”
“Well, don’t keep us in suspense.”
“It’s a parasitic extraterrestrial lifeform that multiplies and assimilates other organisms, and in turn, imitates them. To do this, the parasite attaches itself to the host and its cells begin digesting and replacing the host, creating a perfect imitation in the process.”
“So this thing got to Omar and then took over his body and imitated him?”
“Then how does that explain Tom Stahl?”
“This is just a theory. But I think Tom was a fighter. I think his body rejected the new cells and the parasite devoured him trying to replicate him. Omar wasn’t as ready or prepared or strong enough to fight them off.”
“So he wasn’t the only one then?”
“No. And that’s the thing. Anyone could be an imitation, a replica. These ETs could have replaced half the town by now.”
Silence filled Milton’s garage. Even Tucker could not find a shred of humor in the situation. They all knew they had their work cut out for them. They all knew what had to be done. They had to stop it from spreading, before the parasites replaced every single person in Redfield…
To Be Continued