Authors: John Farris
"I'm going to need your help."
Geoff looked around the cove, then at the tumbling surf half a mile away. "We can't walk out of here, Dad. Don't worry. We'll be found."
His father was shuddering. "Not what I meant. We need to ... get our story straight. I don't think any of the others are still alive. I never knew such terrors could exist on this earth. But we didn't see them. We did not see those things. We were on a ... training mission. A sudden storm separated us from Bravo copter. We turned south. Back to Travis. But weâ"
"We cannot say what happened. Because the truth is sheer insanity. They will, uh ... they'll lock you; they'll lock me away in a little room for the rest of my life. A room like my father was in." Hyde moved closer to Geoff with an expression of deep anguish and gripped him hard by the shoulder. "He just sat there. I didn't want to go to see him because, because he never said my name!
The Shadow knows
"What? Dad, how are we going to account for what's in that helo I flew down here? Look,
at me, I've got blood everywhere. And there's a headless Air Force pilot inside! Eight other men are missing. What plausible explanation is there? That little room you're talkin' about is the gas chamber!"
Geoff touched his father's face. His skin was cold.
"It'll be dark soon. There's a thermal blanket in the medical kit. You need to stay warm. Should be plenty of driftwood above the high tide line. I'll make a fire."
"Are you t-telling me I'm finished? My career? All because of that girl?"
"Eden had nothing to do with this! It's you,
obsession, don't you understand? Eden could never hurt anyone. She was no threat to you. Why? Why couldn't we just leave her alone? Instead you send a monster like Phil Haman after her. Don't tell me about the terrors of this earth! Some of them are your doing!"
His father's eyes shifted, to something far beyond Geoff. His body stiffened, and he screamed.
"They're back! God help us!"
Geoff turned, pulling from his belt the Glock automatic he'd found on the floor of the helicopter's cabin. He turned and saw nothing except a few lenticular clouds, shadowy shapes low on the horizon. The cloud closest to the mouth of the bay had a wraithlike shape, with wings and a body and a tail. And after the horrors they'd experienced, Geoff thought he could distinguish a face in the cloud, a clawlike tentacle reaching out to them. He shifted his body, blocking his father's view, pressed him back against the barkless log.
"It's nothing. Clouds."
His father breathed through his mouth. His eyes closed momentarily. "I'm thirsty."
Geoff gave him water from one of the 4.5-ounce packages stored with a case of MREs, then wrapped him in the blanket from a survival kit he had found aboard the helicopter.
"You'd better take it easy. I'm gonna build a fire. The temperature will start droppin' soon. No tellin' how long we might have to wait for ... for a search team to find us."
"That's my pistol, isn't it?"
"Yeah." Geoff took the Glock from inside his belt, withdrew the magazine, and counted the remaining rounds. Eight .45 caliber cartridges. No reason to anticipate that he would need them, although probably there were some California brown bears in the neighborhood. Most likely they would show up 'around dawn to fish in the tidal pools.
The thought prompted a shudder as he remembered the bear-thing with the kid's voice that had leaped, so effortlessly, into the helicopter as they were lifting off from the scene of the catastrophe at Moby Bay.
What in God's name
name? God's forgotten about us.
Small foaming waves were coming farther up the spit of beach, washing across the floor of the helicopter. If there'd been an electrical fire aboard, an automatic suppression system had smothered it. Geoff moved his father to a dry ledge twenty feet wide and a few feet above the high tide line, gathered wood, and built a fire inside a ring of stones. There was no liquor in the survival kit. He made strong tea and scrambled eggs from an MRE pouch. His father drank some of the sweetened tea but wouldn't eat. Geoff choked down a high-energy bar. He was wearing a flight jacket they had given him back in Valleyheart. That and the other blanket should get him comfortably through the night, he thought, if the air temp didn't fall below forty degrees.
He gathered more wood to feed the fire. By then it was past nine o'clock and a few stars had come out above the darkening sea. Closer to shore the sky was hazy. His father needed to relieve himself but couldn't stand without help. He complained of pain in his kidneys. With the flashlight Geoff looked for blood in the fitful stream of urine. It was darker than it should have been. After making his father somewhat comfortable again Geoff also examined the head wound. No further external bleeding. There was no way to tell what was going on inside his skull. Some men could absorb hard blows with no significant damage to the brain. For others survival could just be a matter of luck. His father was conscious and restless, hot but not sweating. Unresponsive when Geoff tried to talk to him.
Then Geoff lay down exhausted on the mossy ledge, using one of the survival kits for a pillow. He had a flare gun in a pocket of the flight jacket. He resolved not to close his eyes. He hoped the caffeine from the tea would keep him awake.
n hour and a half later he was awakened from uneasy sleep by his father's scream. A moment before he had been sitting in his car with the assassin, who was wrapping gauze around his head, hiding what there was of his face. The assassin claimed the gauze made him invisible.
Now one of Geoff's feet kicked out toward the low fire and he got a cramp in his thigh. He sat up cursing and kneading the quadriceps with both hands and looked for his father, He wasn't there.
Sounds of fearful weeping froze his heart, and the next thing he saw as he looked frantically around almost shattered it.
The narrow bay, filling with the tide that had nearly submerged the helicopter, was misted over. The forest rising steeply on three sides of the bay was shrouded, as if by the gauze of the assassin in Geoff's dream. The moon was directly overhead, its light giving some definition to the tall straight trees, like Christmas cutouts in black paper, through which the sea mist flowed. Here and there rocky ravines cut back into the mountains away from the creeping water. There were some huge boulders at the mouth of the largest ravine. Atop one of them, as if it were a rounded stage, stood several still figures unrelated to humanity (that much was clear in spite of the mist) and, at their feet, another figure all too human and recognizable, writhing slowly, an arm held above his head to ward off whatever violence or terror the silent watchers threatened.
Geoff reached for the Glock automatic he had put beneath his flight jacket, but it wasn't there.
His father, sobbing. Pleading.
He couldn't find the pistol. All he had was the flare gun with a single load, and a flashlight.
Still hobbled by the cramp in his thigh he splashed down off the ledge into ankle-deep water and started toward the ravine, aiming the beam of his flashlight at the creatures on the rock.
"Get away from him! Leave him alone!"
Instead they changed positions, coming closer together with their backs to Geoff, blocking Geoff's view of his father. They kneeled slowly around him. Then the sobbing stopped abruptly.
Geoff slipped and fell on the slick rocks of the beach, losing his grip on the flashlight, which flickered out as it rolled away down a sloping shelf underwater. Screaming in frustration, he lunged to try to retrieve it, getting a faceful of water that stung his sore eyes.
Groping beneath the surface, he touched a bare foot and an ankle; his hand slid higher, to a slender but supple calf before he snatched it away and scrambled back, opening his smarting eyes.
Girl, blond, pretty, early twenties, standing in a slosh of seawater that came nearly to her bare knees. Standing where no one had been moments ago, hands at her side, looking calmly down at him. She had a very small face that made her eyes seem as large as the plummy eyes of children in a Keene painting.
"Where'd you come from? Fall out of the sky?" No idea why he had said that, but it made her laugh.
"Yes. But not like you did," she replied, glancing around at the swamped Conan helicopter. She turned her face back to him. She would have been pretty, but there was something wrong with her mouth; it had an ugly twist to it. And there was a mark of some kind, a round scar on her forehead that gleamed like the moon that was in and out of clouds above their heads.
As if she knew what he was staring at, she covered her mouth with one hand.
"I know. It's not pretty to look at. Can't seem to get the lips right, but I will. Takes practice. I need a mirror, but I haven't had time to just sit and work at it. Try to imagine what
look like if you'd been shot twice in the face today. Oh-oh. Sorry. That scared you, didn't it?"
Geoff's lungs felt like sacks of cement in his chest. He made strangled noises trying to breathe.
"Don't worry, bud. I wasn't implying you were going to get hurt. What happens to you from now on is your choice. I'm Chauncey. What's your name?" Behind the hand held loosely to her mouth it looked as if she were chewing.
"Geoff," he said, a winded sigh. He tried to get up. He was only in about two feet of water, but his knees had washed out. He couldn't stand. This frightened him more than her supernatural appearance.
Chauncey showed him her small mouth again. "This look any better to you?" She smiled. It was a terrible-looking smile, but he nodded. "Okay. Like I said, I'll work on it. That's the thing about suffering trauma when you're in an alter shape. I don't think I'll be able to do anything about my left foot for a while."
She lifted her leg slowly out of the water. It was as shapely as the right leg down to her ankle. But she had, instead of a petite foot, the paw of a lion, beads of water dripping from the ebony claws.
"Like walking with a bucket on my foot," she complained. Her grimace of a smile shot halfway up one cheek as if her face had suddenly become highly plastic, unmanageable. A shattered front tooth gleamed wetly in the long gap of her mouth. Chauncey felt the anomaly and with her thumb smoothed her mouth back to approximately where it belonged. But now it was too big, grotesquely wide. She softly patted her lower lip, reducing an ugly lump. "Oh, damn," she fretted, licking and patting. "But I don't want to bother you with my little problems, it's all cosmetic. We should be talking about your future. Your father has already made his decision, as you can see."
Geoff had forgotten about his father and the shadow-creatures surrounding him. But when he looked he saw that his father was alone on the boulder at the mouth of the ravine, sitting up cross-legged. His face, white by moonlight, was turned toward Geoff. Were his eyes open? Geoff was too far away to tell.
"Dad? Are you okay?" He made another attempt to get to his feet.
"Better than okay," Chauncey said. "He's recovered his honor."
Geoff tried to wade through the water, but it felt thick and heavy, dragging at his legs, holding him back. He paused, trying to catch his breath, and in those few seconds he saw his father raise the Glock automatic, muzzle first, beneath his chin. Holding it in both hands, he pulled the trigger, and the mist flushed red around him as what remained of his head pitched forward.
"Dad ... ddddyyy!"
Chauncey's hand was on his shoulder.
"It's all right. I told you. Our honor has been satisfied, and your father has redeemed himself in the most honorable way left to him."
"No! Get away from me! You're a fuckin' freak show, all of you! You made him kill himself!"
"Not true. We don't have that kind of power. We can't make anyone act against his will. We can't seek revenge, or kill in cold blood."
"You did a good job of it today!"
"That's where you're wrong. We can defend ourselves on our ground, in our home place, by whatever means we find necessary. That dispensation ends at the boundaries of the home place. You're angry and you're frightened, but I can't hurt you, Geoff. All any of us can do is reason with you. Explain your choices."
"What are you talkin' about! What have you done to Eden?"
"We gave her sanctuary. Which you violated today. I don't know where Eden is. While we were ... busy, the others took her away, by force."
"What othahs? You don't make sense. None of this. Why did he have to die?"
"Don't you know who they were?" Chauncey persisted.
"Or where they've gone?"
There was no sound accompanying the appearance of flames. He noticed them first reflected in Chauncey's large dark eyes. He felt the heat, then the mist of the bay was tinted orange. He looked around and saw the body of his father engulfed, Hyde still seated on the, boulder like a holy immolator at an Asian protest rally. Standing well away, almost into the trees, were small groups of watchers, dark except for the vivid amber of their slanted eyes. The flames leaped and whirled. The heat was intense. The heat and the burning father, corpse though he was, made Geoff dizzy from nausea and despair.