This is a portion of the short story that appears in the Midwest Writers Anthology. Unfortunately, the anthology is going to be sold in a very limited quantity. Given this info, I've begun the process of publishing the story by itself on Kindle and Nook, but until then, here is a snippet of what will appear in this stand alone scifi-horror tale.
All rights reserved. No part of this story can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or digital including photocopying, recording or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission of author/publisher.
Something Pretty, Something Deadly
by Jake dh
It was going to kill me. The security detail was dead. Ripped to shreds in front of Sandra and me. We were scientists. We weren’t supposed to fight anything. There wasn’t supposed to be anything alive here. It was a dead plane of existence as far as our probes could see. The monster was lumbering towards us, blood dripping from its dark blue claws. I was positive it was going to rip open our pressurized enviro-suits, then feast on our flesh.
Dr. Sandra Diel un-holstered her side arm. She wasn’t that experienced with a hand gun, I could tell without her firing a shot. Her hands were shaking, but she steadied her aim enough to squeeze off a few rounds at the monstrosity that was stalking us.
The bullets slipped right through its dark blue skin. There was no wound. No blood. It didn’t seem to be injured or affected in any way at all. I tried to find a scientific explanation, but the only thing my mind found was terror.
If I didn’t do something, both of us were going to die. This thing wasn’t that fast, just strong and unkillable. I could help Sandra get out of this. I could keep this thing’s attention while she made a break for it.
I spoke to her without taking my eyes off of this thing, “Run like hell,” I whispered to her. She nodded and bolted into the distance. I honestly thought she would argue with me. ‘No, we do this together’ or something to that effect, but no, she just left me. I was glad though. I cared for her. I wanted her to survive.
I noticed that the slowly approaching bipedal creature was illuminating the area. There were seams in its skin that were pulsating with a bright red color. Bioluminescence is the scientific term. I would have said it was beautiful in a way, if I wasn’t sure at the time that this thing was going to devour me alive.
I was pretty sure my life was over at that point. The eight-foot-tall creature grabbed me by the arm. I tried to grab the gun from my holster outside of my suit, but I was too slow—too afraid to think clearly. I should have grabbed the weapon before the military detail hit the ground. I just screwed up… Sierra would have been so embarrassed, I thought. She showed me how to be strong. I was only strong because she was with me. She was gone now. I thought I would be joining her soon enough.
It pulled off my enviro-suit’s helmet with ease. Several components made cracking and pinging sounds as it was broken apart. It really wanted to get to my head. The scientific part of my brain was curious why, but maybe it needed the specific types of proteins in my scientific brain, well just brain. Was it going to bite into my face with its maw full of six-inch needle-like fangs? Teeth that were so long and numerous that they couldn’t fit inside its mouth.
It grabbed my face tightly and then something unexpected happened. Everything around me disappeared in a flash of red light. Light like the kind it was emitting. That light was pulsating. It was accompanied by a low hum.
Something pretty in a wasteland.
The red light was gone. The lab we had built—The Postern—was now filling my vision. The Postern was a swirling circle of crimson light that was literally a wound in reality—a tear between two worlds in two separate universes. The science to create one is complicated. It took Sandra and me four years to just prove the concept was possible, not to mention creating a side hatch into an alternate world. It wasn’t on yet, so it just looked like a silver metal arc.
My perception was--at first I tried to move, but my body was moving on its own. The people around me, lab technicians, field scientists and soldiers, were walking around with purpose. With a mission in mind.
Then I saw her. She walked right up to me. She took me by the hand. She looked at me with those eyes. The eyes I almost couldn’t live without. Her military style enviro-suit clashed with my plain white scientific division suit.
“So, are you ready to make a bunch of discoveries? Transverse this—what did you call it?” she asked. She could have looked up the official name, but she liked hearing me explain the technical specifics of the mission.
“Alternate Plain 503,” I told her, “But you and your detail call it…”
“Starry Fright,” she smiled a little, “which I think is much better. I mean if one of us walked into one of those mini-stars that are everywhere, instant hole in your face or stomach or…”
“I know, I’m the one that ran a probe into one.” I knew she wanted to bring that story up again and rub my nose in it.
“Maybe we’ll bring that vid up when we get back. I love the audio of you getting pissed. Normally you are so cool about trial and error.” She turned to look at the metal frame that made up The Postern. “It’s about time,” she made sure her soldiers weren’t looking. She kissed me. I thought it was going to be a short peck, but it wasn’t. It was long. Her tough exterior melted away for a moment. I saw her tenderness. I felt her love.
Sierra pulled away from me, “That’s all you get before we set foot back on Earth again.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I started to respect the chain of command a little. I had to keep an aura of respect, I mean I respected her more than anyone, but I had to distance myself in front of her soldiers during the mission. It had to be all business.
Sierra and I stood in front of the group. They had gathered as we stood on the platform next to The Postern. She spoke loudly with a sense of command and confidence, “Alright everyone. You’ve all been briefed on this mission, but I’ll go over the basics to jog your memories. Starry Fright or um…” she looked over at me. She should stop calling it Starry Fright and just call it by its official name, I thought.
I smiled, “Alternate Plain 503.”
She continued, “AP503 is an alternate version of Earth, we think in any case. Our probes have not picked up any indigenous life, plants, animals, nada. It is an extremely barren and hostile environment. Though it is the first of these alternate worlds that we have discovered that will allow us to even set foot on it, or even has a planet to speak of, it is still dangerous.
The most dangerous thing are the micro-stars or mini-suns that are found all over the place. The planet is heated by these, but they will burn right through you if you touch them. They range from half the size of your fist to being as big as your head. Keep an eye out and as well as your distance. They normally appear in clusters, but occasionally,” she smiled at me, “they dot the landscape in random spots.” She didn’t specifically reference the probe I had destroyed.
Thanks, I thought to myself.
I spoke up for the final part of preparations, “The environment is fine to breath in the short term, but there are some odd particles and microbes we need to study further. So keep your enviro-suits on. If they are damaged, you will not die, but you will be quarantined for an unspecified amount of time. Our probes never made it out of the valley where The Postern seems to open. Our best guess is that the doors appear in the location where we currently are in our dimension. We will not travel outside of this valley.
“We are crossing into an alternate dimension for the first time in history. We will set up a base camp to start exploring beyond the valley. A colony if you will. There really shouldn’t be any problems. We’ve done more complicated things with probes a dozen times before. Thanks to everyone and good luck. Let’s make history.”
Sierra walked to the doorway, “Okay, not to take the glory away from you eggheads. . .” (She winked at me. Despite the fact we were engaged to be married, my heart felt like it skipped a beat.) “. . . but I will be the first one through the portal, then two more of the military escort, then . . .” (she extended an open palm to me) “Dr. Jeff Wisce will follow, then the rest of the scientific team, then the last of the military. Once in, we will assess the situation and give further orders. Keep it tight and stay close at all times. Understood?”
“Yes ma’am,” they all said in unison. A couple of scientists didn’t, but I didn’t out them or anything. I knew falling in line wasn’t their style, but they knew I expected them to follow orders. My expertise was what to study, but Sierra’s duty was to keep us safe.
All of the machinery started to hum--growing louder and louder until a chain reaction illuminated the room with a red light. Red light. I could make out some of AP503’s environment from this side, but it was like looking through dirty glass. Distorted and hazy.
Sierra walked up to the edge of the glowing membrane. She looked back at me. She winked at me again to assure me everything was going to be okay. There was a floating container with supplies at her side. She pushed it through effortlessly. The Door didn’t resist matter that passed through.
Sierra put one foot through the red light and then was enveloped by it. I could make out her silhouette on the other side. She motioned for the next soldier to come through.
The next soldier tried to step through the red light of The Postern. He tried anyway. The doorway into another world stopped existing in an instant. So did most of the soldier’s arm. I watched as the silver equipment around me started sparking and exploding. It was a catastrophic failure of the entire system. I knew it before I looked at the read-outs. I knew it before I touched one button on one panel. I knew in my gut . . . in my heart . . . that Sierra was gone.
Beauty in the middle of the desert.
I was back in Starry Fright. I took to calling it that after the portal collapsed. She got her way, even after she disappeared. My vision was blurry. To be honest, I almost forgot what was happening before I took a trip to the past. Or was that just a memory. I didn’t know at that moment. As I came to, though, I remembered that I was about to be eaten by a giant extra-dimensional monster.
I was on the ground, but the creature didn’t have me in its grasp anymore. I frantically looked around for it. I backed up on my feet and hands, scooting my butt on the rocky surface. My shoulder hit something hard. I swore it must have been a stone pillar, but as I turned I realized it was the glowing creature.
It didn’t grab me. It didn’t move. I made it to my feet and quickly moved away. I finally found my bearings. I couldn’t head in the direction we came. This thing had dropped in from behind. It had been hiding on top of the corridor of stone we were wandering through. I ran away from the dazed creature as fast as I could make my legs move.
I wish I could have gone in the opposite direction, but the corridor we had been exploring was narrow. Claustrophobic. The Fiend that killed those seven soldiers barely fit inside. It had such a long reach. The giant had moved slowly toward the men and women, but it had been very close to them when it landed. Once they started shooting, they didn’t have a chance. One swipe took three of them out. Knocking them against the wall. Shattering their helmets. Their spines.