I drift through the smoke. Ringing. Pause for another puff, the taste of grit. She answers.
“Do you know what time it is, Owen?”
“Not really, it’s 2am here. You’re an hour ahead of me correct?”
There is a pause. I can see her in my mind. Shaking her head. Dark curls brushing her shoulders. That perfume, what I imagine lavender smells like.
“There is a point to this call right?”
“I have a story actually.”
She laughs. Just a slight laugh. Slight is the right word. I’ve only known her for a year but she knows how to cut me.
“Just give me a chance to explain. It’s a good one, promise.”
I wink. But why. It’s not like she can see it.
She answers with a short grumble. I guess it really is late. Half of me was hoping for resistance. More sarcasm on her part.
“I’m in this little town called Creek Water. You know the town with the weird rocks.”
“You woke me up, and remember I’m your boss, to inform me of a story I already know… about some rocks?”
I feel my face growing hot.
“We hadn’t heard the whole story.”
“Oh I certainly hope not.”
She’s certainly awake now. Doesn’t miss a beat.
“The rock in question is actually a tektite called Moldavite.”
Another long pause.
I hold back a sigh of my own and prepare to recite what I read off of Wikipedia.
“It’s rather rare, it shouldn’t be here at all you see. It’s only found in areas around the Czech Republic.”
She isn’t sold.
“Our readers expect more then that. Did bigfoot steal the stones from the former Soviet Union? Is it used as fuel for UFOs?”
I smile to myself.
“The standing theory is that the material was made by a meteor impact.”
I have her now. I imagine she has stopped pacing now. Her arms have crossed and if I’m lucky, she’s smiling. I picture her brown eyes lighting up. This is my break.
“That will do Owen. If the story doesn’t pan out write something about aliens putting the stones there. You know, use your imagination.”
“Thanks Brit, I’ll call you tomorrow and tell you how it turns out.”
I begin to hang up when she speaks again.”
“Don’t take more than a day Owen, time is money and we don’t sell facts.”
She hangs up.
I get back to my cigarette. It has missed me. I’ll have to turn in soon, I have to get up in 4 hours. I wonder what it looks like when she smiles.
* * * * *
Early mornings are always hard for me. The dull aches, the blurred vision. It makes driving a hit or miss situation. Ha, I’ll have to remember that one. Since half of what I write is schlock anyway I might swell start adding bad puns into the mix. A year and half out of school and already a cynic. Just a few more blocks, please.
My informant is a small kind of oafish looking man. Rounded in every way a human can be. He speaks in a strange sort of draw, as if pulling every word forcefully from within.
“How’ya enjoyin the mornin’, Owen?”
His speech is slow. Not calculated, stuttered. But for twenty bucks I can’t expect a better guide.
“Not bad Tom, but is it always this bloody cold?”
I could guess the answer to my question by the guttural laugh that erupted from within him. Prick.
He led me through a few alleys and back roads. Down behind a newer looking bit of highway, where a tunnel had been hastily dug out of the side of a hill. Unfinished, jagged and gaping.
“So this is it then?” He was still walking towards the tunnel as I spoke.
“Yep. And I reckon we better hurreh. We ain’t spos to be here.”
Oh apprehension, it’s half the fun you know.
We walk into the darkness. The air is cool but more hospitable then that of the outside world. If the city were bigger and more densely populated I would expect to find a few wayward homeless nestled in this cosy little hole.
We walk for quite some time. Footsteps, lit by our small flashlights, reflecting off the moist cave walls. Finally, we come to a more open area. It’s strange though, the walls seem to be made of a different type of stone. Everything is cracked and the floor is uneven. This area was obviously dug out in a hurry. But there is something else. As my flashlight moves around the room it glitters. The floor seems to have bits of broken glass embedded in it. The walls and ceiling too! In places in almost looks like veins passing through the surrounding stone.
“what is this?” I ask in a hushed tone.
“Molder… Ehh, that meteor stuff. Least that’s what old Stevens said before he changed his mind.”
“He changed his mind? About what? What the stuff is?”
I’m certain Intrigued now.
“Yep, after the Feds came up with more machines for him to use. He said it were something different. Then they went and took it all. I reckon he just wanted it all for hisself. The town deserves a piece I reckon, but old Stevens won’t say a damn thing bout it now.”
I think I need to pay Mr. Stevens a visit.
* * * * *
Back in my car I consult my lovely assistant, my smart phone. If anyone knows where to find Stevens, she does. I love how easy it is to find listed addresses these days. And only ten minutes away.
After a short drive I arrive at Stevens’ house. A dull sort of gray building. Colonial, aging in a modest fashion. Just the sort of place one would expect to find a retired academic in a place like this. I park, then walk up the stone steps leading to his doorway. My shoes scuff across wayward stones in the path. I should consider getting a new pair soon. I knock.
A short pause. Footsteps beyond the oak door. It swings open revealing a slender gentleman, roughly my height. Which is, damn what was it? Let’s say 6 feet.
“Can I help you sir?”
“I hope so. Are you Mr. Stevens?”
“That I am, and who might you be?”
“My name is Owen Lamont. I’m a journalist with The Pine Island Chronicle.”
He snickers, I’m used to it. I keep smiling.
“Is there any chance that I might be able to interview you about your findings in the tunnel out by the highway?”
I wish I knew the name of the tunnel. Does it even have a name?
“Sure son, I’ll tell you about cross tunnel.”
Well, one question down.
He led me through the door and down a hall to his kitchen. The house smells like a church. Potpourri I suppose. It just makes me think of dead flowers.
He asks if I want tea. Of course I do. I say no and thank him for the thought. He begins speaking shortly after.
“I’m not sure what the rock is, if that’s what you’re about to ask me.”
“Oh? The town’s people said you thought it was moldavite. Have you changed your mind?”
He sips his tea as I wait for a response.
“I have. The chemical composition isn’t right. And that’s avoiding the more obvious problem of geographic location. There can’t moldavite here.”
“Then do you have an idea what it is?”
“What it was.”
I pause. Not entirely sure what he means.
“The main piece was taken. It was a large structure with fern-like branches out of the main body. That’s why I originally thought it was a large piece of tektite like moldavite. I ignored the color issue, it was more amber in color then green. I thought it had something to do with the minerals found locally. But I was wrong.”
I want to choose my questions carefully. This next bit of info could change the entire story.
“What made you decide your original assumption was wrong?”
Wow that was the best I could do? I have to calm my nerves.
“Well for starters it’s make up was all wrong. It wasn’t like any known tektite. If I could have had more time I’m sure I would have figured it out but early tests said it was organic. Or at least partially.”
Now I’m interested.
“Son, that paper you write for. It’s one of those tabloids right. Talks about Bigfoot’s affairs with Nessie and that sort of garbage, right?”
I smile and nod. Though I wish I could say no.
“Guess it can’t hurt then, no one will believe you anyway.”
I can feel myself growing red in the face but I keep listening. I told myself this job would only be temporary. Pay down the loans.
“I have to ask that you don’t mention my name though. Hell, you should probably change the name of the town too.”
“I’ll leave you completely out of the story.”
“Thank you. Now here’s where you start to think I’m crazy.”
I’m all ears, Grams.
“The tests were showing traces of organic material. Almost like it was fossilized amber or something of that sort. But it was all mixed up with the inorganic. Like it was fused together by heat and pressure. I never got the results of the carbon dating but there is no reason that should have been there.”
Another pause for tea. Why is his hand shaking?
“Tektite now ruled out I began looking for a reason why that organic material would have fused with the rock. There was also the veins moving outwards through long cracks in the rock. This would indicate that it did not seep down but instead expanded outward from that point. It confounded all of my theories.”
More tea. He lingers on each sip. He’s stalling. Offers me tea again. I kindly refuse. He needs to stay on track. I need more.
“You’re growing impatient I see.”
“What? No of course not.”
“It’s just… This part is hard to say.”
“How? Is it hard on you.”
“Yes but, that’s not what I mean. It’s literally hard to say. I don’t know the words to describe what it was properly.”
I sit back and wait. Let him work through his thoughts.
“I got new equipment latter in the study. I don’t think they know I used it though. I hope not. I know they must have by now.”
“Who is they.”
He stops. But doesn’t answer. I leave it alone.
“It was a sort of imaging device similar to an ultrasound. I guess they wanted to use it to get an idea of the material’s density. It had a second function more closely associated to the ultrasound. You could get a blurry image of what was inside the material.”
This pause is the most pronounced. His breathing is heavy.
“I used it and… There was something in there. I think it was a skeleton. Sometimes I’m not sure though. But it would have been a little one. A child.”
“How is that even possible? How could someone be inside the stone?”
“Because he was the stone!”
That startled me, I wasn’t expecting him to yell like that. I shift uncomfortably in my chair.
“The body was all warped… The little bones twisted and swirled in with the material. It would have taken heat and pressure beyond normal description. If he was alive for that…”
He had left something out.
He sighs. Moves to drink again but the cup is empty.
“It’s a theory I have, based on a local legend.”
I think about saying something sarcastic. After all, he had already made fun of me. But he doesn’t look like he’s in the mood for it.
“Go to the library and look up Philip Morris. I’m afraid I don’t feel like speaking anymore on the subject.”
He motions me towards the door. I thank him and leave hastily. He doesn’t even stand up to see me out.
Fifteen minutes and a chain of cigarettes later, and I’m at the library.
* * * * *
The library is rather small. One floor two rows of shelving split by the main desk and the display behind it. When I ask about the boy I am told to look in the back right corner of the building. Behind the shelves in that dark corner there is a table set up with a glass case. It can only be described as a shrine.
This was the town’s claim to fame, a lost child. Small artifacts line the shelves in the case. Proof that he had once existed. Shoes, ancient photographs with ghostly negatives, and, hiding in the back, a small journal. I need to read that. I pull at the display case but the window is locked. Oh well, guess I have to ask for permission.
A short discussion later and I have the documents I desire and a lovely pair of white gloves to caress them with. I hate them. My hands itch.
I start with the newspaper clippings. Skimming, I make small notes of the contents.
Lost heir to the Morris fortune.
Four week search ends without clues.
Mother dies of grief.
Oh, this is interesting…
Tremors mark the disappearance of Philip Morris. Mrs. Morris, mother of the lost child, notes a strange shaking in the earth on the night of her son’s disappearance. Locals say they felt nothing of the sort and officials are skeptical. Local authorities believe shock is to blame for the mother’s mistaken report.
Thank you Google maps. The Morris’ estate was directly above the new tunnel. And thank you to plain old Google. It was torn down 15 years ago after disrepair. Seems local children had been vandalizing it for years.
Hmmm, there is also a bit of local speculation as to why the child disappeared, courtesy of a few scattered articles folded into these old papers. Some of these people think he was kidnapped to try and ransom him off. Others note his odd habits and medical issues. Seems he was often dizzy and prone to night terrors and the rare seizure. He had a rough life, even within his large and comfortable estate. He was born into a society who didn’t understand his issues and were even suspicious of them. Some wondered if he was a witch. Or would it be a warlock? Regardless, he was shunned by much of the population.
I suppose his journal will note much of that. I should skim it too.
The majority of this is standard childhood imagination. Dreams of flying and the like. Some of it might be due to his disease, like the moving lights he mentions and the shifting textures. Seems he must have sleep-walked too. Walking up in different rooms of the house… And down town. This is starting to sound strange.
“Feel like I’m moving. But I am not. Like I’m shaking but no one can see it. Why do I feel like this?”
I think his diagnosis was missing something.
“Sometimes I wonder if I am even here. I’ll close my eyes and expect to be somewhere else when I open them.”
I turn each page with excitement but also apprehension. I think of what the boy became. Twisted sinew, bone and minerals.
“this morning I woke up under my bed. My head hurt when I woke up, I dreamed of falling. I must have hit my head on the floor.”
These are getting progressively stranger. There is only one more, dated the day before his disappearance.
“I will fly again tonight. I always fly. Then I fall.”
I think I know what happened.
“You think the kid fell through solid rock? Are you insane? And I mean that as a legitimate question; your employee insurance doesn’t cover that.”
I allow her the sarcasm. I admit, it is a bit hard to swallow.
“I’m saying he phased through the rock. It’s called quantum tunneling. Molecules do it all the time. When he reappeared, so to speak, within solid matter, the heat and pressure made the tektite. This was why he was fused with the stone and why his mother felt an earthquake.”
“And you got that quantum tunneling bit off Wikipedia I suppose.”
“Listen the source doesn’t matter. The point is, that this is the only way to explain how he disappeared and ended up embedded in solid rock beneath his own house.”
Wow that sounded rather confident. I bet she’s biting her lip now. Pacing once again.
“Or the old man has as big of an imagination as you do, Owen. He could be mistaken or senile. Hell, it didn’t even occur to you that he might be lying, did it?”
It had, but I believed him. His expression and his attitude told me more than his words had. He looked like he’d seen… A mutilated child.
“He probably had something wrong with him. His molecules simply prone to slipping through barriers they aren’t supposed to. Or he was simply the unlucky anomaly. The chances or almost infinitely improbably but in a universe of nearly infinite proportions it’s still possible. Besides, does it really matter, Brit? It’s a good story. Just run it.”
“It’s not that simple Owen. The minute you require theoretical physics to explain your story is the minute you have lost our readers.”
“You see, Owen. Our customers read, on average, at a tenth grade level. And this story is beyond them. Make it simpler, take out the physics and add aliens. Then I can run it.”
So take out the truth. Of course.
“Also, take out the kid. It’s too graphic. We do Sci-Fi, not horror. I don’t want to deal with any complaints.”
I just sigh in response. I can’t even speak.
“It’s ok, Owen. You did good. See you on Monday.”
She hangs up.
I pace for a bit. Anxious, angry. Smoking like a chimney. I take in the heat and I exhale disappointment. The nicotine rustles within me. Wind through feathers.
When I can’t pace anymore I lay down on the musty motel bed. The ceiling is just off white. Behind the smoke it looks miles away. Or absent altogether. A trick of the light.
As I begin to fade myself, I imagine sinking. First the caress of blankets. Then the feelings of coils running through my muscles. I pass through the mattress and beyond it. Gravel on my mind, sediment coursing through my veins.
Who might I meet down here within the stone?