27 Apr The Outpost
“The Outpost”Written by Mick Dark Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 27 minutes
It is with profound sadness and continued fear that I tell my story. I fear that I won’t have long and if you should chance upon my recording and I hope that you do – I’ll have explained enough that it may act as a warning to not engage in what we have and to leave. Immediately.
We have made mistakes. Terrible mistakes. My colleagues are now gone. Let me explain our journey while I remain able and alive to do so. I must be quick.
I have little time left.
My name is Dr. Michael Blackcroft. I am a Geophysicist from the University of California, Berkley. Myself and 28 others, drilling crew, medics, geologists, two students volunteering as part of the program to author the proceedings for peer-review and a half dozen other necessary staff, engineers, technicians, some unnecessary academics sent by stakeholders to observe, and a couple of cooks. Then, of course, our drilling team – the roustabouts, lead tong operators, motormen, roughnecks and other assorted drillers. I have been stationed here now for 1 and a half years. One of the final staff to join the expedition. It is was early April and we were nearing the couple weeks left of light. When the darkness would come, we didn’t give up our project. It was contractual that we maintain our work on the borehole.
We were positioned 5km off the Abbot Ice Shelf in the south. We lived in a series of prefabricated buildings with 6 small apartments in each, a small kitchen area that seated 10, with pantry and cooking area, an engineer room that held the generators and other machinery, two bathrooms that had one toilet and a stand-up shower and a storage shed in back. These domiciles had been around for about 30 years and they worked fine enough. There were a few other research outposts, currently unoccupied, scattered a few kilometres away north and east. The Lake Vostok Research Base was 125 km, owned by Russia to the northeast and the UK’s Emerson Outpost to the east about 28 km.
It was always cold. It was minus 40 celsius at the best of times in Antarctica at this time of year. All of the doors were solid and windowless to keep out as much cold as possible. Wind chill brought it down to about 70 below. I always felt that once you hit ten below, it didn’t matter anymore. By then, you can’t feel the cold anyway. The wind was the killer but we had state of the art thermal gear. We were pretty well taken care of. Our employer was wealthy enough. When I say employer, I mean the committee that represented the 75 million US in funding received from multiple investors. We had been mobilised to complete the project that designed to retrieve significant samples from various levels beneath the earth.
The Whitney Borehole was started 5 years prior, drilling into the earth’s mantle. The hole was approximately 20 metres in circumference and the project was designated to continue until we reached 22km in depth. The glacier, itself was a 4000-metre ice sheet so this was not calculated into the drill. Once this was achieved, a team would be lowered down into a hydraulic lift positioned securely over the hole, down to the bottom, using a set of 4,500 lumen torches. The descent was expected to take approximately 6 hours and once descent was executed, it would be communicated with the surface and that is when new drilling would begin on the floor of the borehole. The new drilling was the primary purpose of the expedition. The drilling would continue with a borehole expected to descend another 18km. This would be a narrower hole of 1 metre and take approximately 2 more years. More rapidly due to the narrowness of the secondary hole that would reach the earth’s mantle. We would then retrieve the core samples that we needed from the deepest hole ever attempted. The most ambitious drilling project in history would yield some of science’s greatest finds. We could leave, individually, for two weeks at a time during the project but not all at once. The drilling would need to continue or mother nature would sew up the hole. The heat from below would begin to melt the ice slowly and fill the hole fast enough to become a problem.
We reached our descent level of nearly 22km. We were proud of the jobs the contractors had accomplished. We then knew that this was the last chance for a few days off. There would be no danger in leaving the initial hole but once we started drilling the secondary hole, it would need to be continuous. So, we looked forward to the last few days of relaxation and being social. The landscape was desolate, white, cold, bitter, dead for as far as the eye could see. Wind pushed the snow around and that was the solitary movement across the plains of the Abbot Ice Shelf. The silence, outside of the sound of wind, was deafening. There was nothing. Not even penguins in this part of the pole. Some, more optimistic, would say that it was peaceful. I suppose that it was.
This was a red-letter date for us. We had prepared the largest of the dining rooms located in cabin 2 for a party. We would enjoy some decent food, break out the whiskey and wine that we had put away for the occasion in honor of the work we had accomplished and, equally, to enjoy the time for we begun the most grueling part of the work. The cameras would be arriving in a couple of days for the monitoring and until then, we could really do nothing. So, we had ourselves a little party. It must be said that partying with scientists and academics is not exactly a shockwave event but some really let their hair down, when given the chance and enough spirits.
It was around 8pm when I got into bed. It had been dark, already, for a few hours and we had finished our last day of work before our small rest. I turned my lamp on and began reading my book. My wife had gifted it to me before I left. It was Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man…no, not that one. It was an interesting story of the author’s journey during slavery to NYC….it was a million miles away from here, it seemed. By 9:30pm, my eyelids were getting heavy and with my last remaining consciousness, I removed my glasses, placed them on my side table and drifted off.
I had woken at some point in the middle of the night. There was so much night out here that everywhere was in the middle of the night. I needed to pee. It was cold. I added my bathrobe to my pajamas to give me a little bit of warmth. The washroom was never a nice journey. It was shared so I had to leave my room for it and go into the hallway that was even colder. Had to be done. I opened my door to the dimness of a small night light and complete silence. A silence you couldn’t imagine. It was almost heavy. I walked to the washroom, did my business and I flushed. The toilets were nearly silent themselves. Like an airplane toilet. I washed my hands with ice cold water, quickly and warmed them in a towel and then rubbing them together until I could get back into bed. Walking back down the hall to my room, I felt something. It was nearly impossible to explain. I stopped and stood and listened and then slowly turned to look behind me. Nothing. An empty hallway. Cheap carpet, wooden paneling and a night light. A solid door at the other end. It was instantaneous but I felt a compression in the air. Like hit by a wave all around me of silent explosion a short distance away. I wondered if it was my imagination or the cold seizing me up or perhaps an anomaly not yet experienced by us in this part of the world. Magnetic, who knows? I then continued back to my room and got into bed and laid into my pillow still thinking about that bit of force that I had experienced. I am a scientist and I am well aware that everything has a fully rational explanation, at least at some point, anything would eventually. I closed my eyes after a few minutes looking at a glow in the dark map of the constellations I had placed on my ceiling. Suddenly, there seemed a collective groan from all around me, some close some far. I couldn’t tell if it were coming from my cabin mates or my colleagues in the other cabins but must have been. It added a more bizarre element to my recent and nearly evaporated mystery. Then some chatter beyond the walls. My teammates had seemed to awoken and conversed with each other. It didn’t last long. Probably some of the night owls that couldn’t sleep meeting up in the kitchen for a glass of water. It ended immediately and remained silent. I got to sleep sometime after midnight, finally. That’s what my watch had told me as I picked it up for a quick check. I fell asleep. This was the last somewhat normal evening. From here, it got bad. I need to hurry now. I don’t have much time.
They are here.
The day of the party, the team were in great spirits. I was not well rested but a large pot of coffee in my sights, was my salvation. I was, for the first time, able to take a nap later so I didn’t let my sleepiness bother me. I sat at the morning breakfast table with my peers as we chatted about the forthcoming party and other things.
“Which of you gents were up last night chatting away?” I remarked with a little chuckle.
Each of them looked at one another with a little smile and looked at me incredulously. Matthew our electrician and Arthur our lab technician were both notoriously light sleepers. They had both awoken once by the sound of faucet running down the hall in a closed washroom and had mentioned that they slept soundly as did the rest, they each proclaimed. All were asleep and hadn’t left their beds. They were fatigued from an extra-long day finishing the last drill phase. In fact, after a visit to the other cabins for a day-off social visit, revealed that each and every project member had slept deeply, without disturbance and oddly enough, without any memory of dreaming. They were all well rested and talked up a storm with one another about the latest baseball results and new films they had requested from our overseas entertainment ordering supplier. So, what did I hear? I know precisely, that I had heard a collective groan like a wheezing intake of air and then chatter. Definitely multiple people and it was distant but clear as day. I wasn’t imagining this and I wasn’t asleep. I had come directly from the washroom and I was wide awake. Clear as day. Well, day when it isn’t the South Pole so close to summer.
I grabbed my bag and went out to the job site, alone. I wanted to make sure that I had picked up all of my calibration tools. It was a 10-minute ski-doo ride and with a clear day, it was a pleasure. I rarely got the chance to get out their alone. Of course, never since the final depth for the man descent was reached. I saw much of the equipment set across the ice, ready for assembly to create our hydraulic lift down to the bottom. It was all over the place but I’m sure that the contractors and engineers knew how to piece this together. It was exciting. We were making history. I walked around the flagging that warned us of the hole edges and sought out my calibration tools and wiring that I had left out there. Seems just a few wires were left and I reeled them in and put them into my bag and threw them onto the tow on back of the ski-doo. As I zipped it up, there came a sound.
That same sound that I thought I had heard the night before. A long inhale wheeze from below, in the hole. Sounded human or something. Must have been the earth settling or plates or glacier ice shifting, I thought. There is a chance, one that is most concerning, that we had ruptured a pocket of gas, methane, natural gas or something. There have been many incidents, due to less extreme and shallower types of exploration of deepened valleys, cut out by glaciers and then filled with loose aggregate rock, silt and sand from digging, hiding freshwater reservoirs and natural gas deposits but not from this type of precise borehole digging. The wheezing could be an exhale of primitive gas. Certainly nothing was alive down there. Nothing more than bacteria. I moved closer to the hole. On my hands and knees, ensuring that I was secure, I peered over the edge. Blackness. A strange rise in temperature. It was so much warmer than the freezing air around me. It immediately made me wonder if we were doing the right thing. Was it worth ripping open so much of the earth, venturing into unknown territory to discover new microscopic life existence that was, ultimately, a wider plan to understand the origins of the earth. It all seemed unnecessary for that moment, while I knelt, peering. What if what we discovered was a new virus embedded into the earth. We would eventually expose our environment up here to the long-protected earth mantle 40kms down.
Well, as much as I was a leader on the team and a senior fellow of that particular institution that was partially funding this mission, I still felt that it was above my paygrade to consider anything beyond what I have been activated to do. Just at that moment, from deep, deep down I heard a vague breath. Like a blustery equine exhale. Like a horse grunting. It froze me for a moment. I was beginning to run away from the idea of explaining this away as some earth movement or natural sound of the terra forma. I couldn’t shake it. The one solace for me to consider was that this was impossible. Another anomaly. Great.
I pulled myself up from my knees and dusted the snow from my legs and stood for a moment longer at the hole. Listening. Nothing. I walked towards my ski-doo and made sure my stuff was secure. Looked back, briefly, and thought that I was glad that I wasn’t going down there when they were ready. No way. I peeled off towards the compound to return to the preparations for the festivities. I was on decoration duty. It was no big deal. A few cut up bits of construction paper designs on the walls of the dining area. Jed and Nora, our lab assistants were stirring up the punch bowl while Louise and Kimmy, our engineers sat at the table putting together party tunes into a playlist. It was nice. Dr. Pimpozza, our Italian Geologist from the University of Turin watched from the doorway, giving orders until asked to help with carrying some boxes of paper plates and food from the other cabins and left. When I was finished, I walked out to ask Teddy and Nick if they needed any help cleaning. They admitted that they were nearly done so I went for that much needed nap. I gave a quick thumbs up to the crew before walking to exit the room when the entire cabin shook with a loud thud. Not an impact but a potential earthquake. The punch had spilled over its side and Louise nearly fell off her seat. We were stunned. A group came over and asked if we felt it. Of course, we all did.
The sound was as if a giant sized flat-palm had slapped the ground. The loud but muted bang mixed with the entire eruption of the cabin. We were all a bit shook up, in more ways than one. It didn’t recur. We passed it off as a one-off earthquake movement or perhaps, as I said, a burst of gas from a very old and sealed pocket. Earthquakes don’t pop your eardrums, however. Our geologists were sincerely perplexed. This was not an earthquake for them. To be fair, I’ve experienced many initially shocking occurrences that were resolved quickly by academic explanation. Nothing was earth shattering or uniquely mysterious. I wasn’t concerned to the point of losing sleep but if it were an earthquake related event, we were sitting on a glacier. An ice sheet that was sitting on the earth 4000 metres below us. Bizarre, really. If it were an earthquake, strange to have given us this level of tremor so far below the ice sheet. It was loosely forgotten soon after with our minds on the party ahead. We pressed on with the laughs and preparation.
I finally had my nap. I slept deeply and uninterrupted. It was needed. I woke around 5pm and felt a bit groggy. I got up and got a shower and felt another tremor. This time more intense. I rattled around in the shower and the water sputtered. I shut it off and tried to open the shower’s sliding door. It wouldn’t open. I pulled and pulled and after 15 seconds or more, it slid open quickly like it was never stuck which made me fall out onto the bathroom floor. I picked myself up and grabbed a towel. I dried myself off to complete silence. The wind had picked up outside but no laughs. No banter. No merrymaking or shouts. Not a giggle. I got dressed in my party clothes which was jeans and a polo shirt covered by an old cardigan. This was as wild as it got for us middle aged academics. I fixed myself up, cleaned my glasses and squared them onto my nose. Constantly straining to listen for my colleagues. I’ll be honest, it was unsettling. It was soon to become more unsettling.
I put on my coat and boots, gloves and hat and shut my room door and walked outside to the party cabin. Nobody outside. Well, then again, there was no need. I spied our Mi8AMT chopper sitting, stoicly and rested on the helipad across the open icy plain, one of the Hagglunds rovers, our personnel carriers and a fleet of ski-doos with trailers. Two of the rovers were missing. I pushed over to the cabin and opened the door. Sorry, but where the hell was everyone? I was standing alone in the decorated kitchen, punch unattended, food cold on the counter and chairs perfectly in place. I walked throughout and each room was empty. Even if there was an emergency at the hole, that would never involve more than half the existing team. I left and moved from cabin to cabin. At cabin 5, I began shouting. Shouting inside, outside. No response. This was the most messed up practical joke and to be honest, I wasn’t really in the mood. I was now cold from walking from cabin to cabin. The inside of my nose was crystallised and my eyes were starting to freeze so I walked back to the primary cabin. The larger, party cabin. I continued to shout to the rest. I warmed up, had some punch, munched on a chicken salad finger sandwich and looked around. Wondering where they had gone. Every transport was accounted for except two rovers. I knew that I had to take a ride out to the project site, nonetheless. This was maddening. If it were a joke, it was the most elaborate I’d ever encountered.
I grabbed the keys from the equipment locker and jumped into one of the rovers and went out to the project site. It was absolutely insanity that I had to head a few kilometres out to a work site that was now dormant after dark because of these clowns. I was more than a bit pissed off. Nearly 30 team members now disappeared. I suspect there was a little gathering or ceremony near the borehole to kick off the party. A last-minute thing. Maybe during my nap, the whiskey was tucked into and things got crazy. I was no more than a km away when I saw a shape in the distance….no multiple shapes, across the windy landscape, blurred by blowing snow. I neared the group that I now knew were people. Clearly, some of my team. It was Jed, Nora, our cook Teddy and Eddie, one of the drilling engineers. They were walking towards me, towards the outpost away from the direction of the borehole.
They flagged me down, feverishly. They looked fatigued. Certainly freezing. What the hell happened here? I wondered. I pulled up next to them. They pushed in quickly, shaking, hyperventilating. I asked them where the others were. They pleaded for me to go back to the cabin.
“Where are the others!? Are they out here also? Why were you out here?” I demanded.
“Please, please, go back. We need to get back,” a fading Teddy said.
Hesitantly, I turned the rover around and started back to the cabins. They were in bad shape. Labored breathing and convulsing in the back. I turned the heat up as much as I could. As much as was safe after exposure to -40 celsius. I didn’t want them to experience shock with the temperature. We arrived back. They slowly exited and ran as fast as they were able to the closest cabin and slammed the door. I parked the rover and came in behind them. Nora was vomiting into the garbage bin. Teddy and the rest were slumped in chairs, heads on the dining room table with blankets over themselves. Still shaking. They wouldn’t speak. Not yet. I moved towards Teddy, as the only one to have spoken so far, to ask what happened. He looked at me with fear and shock on his face. When he spoke, it was with an incredulous tone, like he himself was just coming to grips with something that he couldn’t believe. Apparently, the world changed during my nap and shower. This nightmare had spared me, up to this point.
He stood and walked me by my arm to another room, the pantry, peering over his shoulders at the others as to not upset them with them discussion pending. He explained.
“Michael, it is unbelievable,” he began.
“I don’t understand. I am so confused, Teddy. I took a nap, maybe two hours, got a shower, and everyone disappeared,” I responded.
“Yes, yes, let me finish… After you had left us, we continued decorating and preparing. We knew that the drilling team left with snowmobiles to move the equipment away from the borehole. With the tremors that we were getting, they didn’t want to risk any collapse around the edge of the project from the ice sheet cracking. They left.
We, then, got an urgent distress call from them. It was not clear. It was distorted, gnarled, the transmission. We couldn’t make out anything other than their screaming and despair. We didn’t know what was happening. We took a group of ten of us to check it out. If there was a major equipment issue or they were trapped under heavy machinery, we needed enough of a rescue team. I went out with the first support run. When we arrived, the drillers were gone. There was no one there.
We searched around the area and then we heard screams coming from the hole. It was terrifying and confusing all at once. As we looked within, a vapor, a gas or steam started to fill up the hole. It was impossible to see anything below. Dr. Scully was perched over the hole and it wasn’t until I heard a muttered whimper come from him that I looked at him. His eyes were wide, in fear but insanely wide open and the whites of his eyes had turned completely bloodshot which was enough to immediately pull me away from this vapor. I ran back from the hole and saw Dr. Scully stand up, tearing at his face, pulling his hair out and screaming like a lunatic and then he leapt into the borehole! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was madness. Eng. Vargas begin to do the same, pulling her clothes off and tearing at her own skin, screaming and then also leaping into the hole. I wanted to stop this as other begin to do the same; my first instinct was to run. There was myself and Nora, of the rescue group, that didn’t succumb to the insanity. We called in the situation to the rest at the cabin. That was a mistake. We only got a hiss and crackle on the transmission, unable to cancel our message and when the others arrived, we were 200 metres or so back, staying clear of whatever it was that was causing this and the rest didn’t see us. They pulled up close to the hole. We tried to scream to them above the wind but they were drawn to the screams from the borehole. We screamed our lungs out and tried to advance to them but we were afraid of catching whatever it was that infected the rest. We ran and stopped from fatigue, we spotted Jed and Eddie, silhouettes of motion in the storm running towards us, equally as tired and cold. They had also escaped while the rest of their team had not. They explained that they experienced the same with team members going crazy, eyes bloodied and peeling away their skin. Some leaping into the hole but left at least 5 or 6 still there that were last seen screaming towards Jed and Eddie and beginning to follow them. We don’t know if they were still alive” Teddy added.
“Jesus Christ… They are all gone?” I exclaimed. “What was it? What caused this? Oh, my god…they are all dead!”
“I don’t know. Most are gone. Eddie and Jed left some there that, he said, were following them. Maybe some more survived. Must have been a poisonous gas or something that caused a hallucinogenic psychosis in them. I’m glad that I got out. We need to call for help. We need to get a rescue here. We need the group to help us!” said Teddy. “I don’t know what any of this means but I only know that we lost a lot of friends today. Today was meant to be a celebration, not a massacre!”
Teddy looked at me with tears in his eyes and walked away to join the others. I followed him and stood at the door, watching over them. They sobbed, collectively. I went to my room to get them more blankets. Then heard a scream from outside the cabin. Multiple screams at different pitches. I ran to the door. At least 6 people were standing outside my clear view, in the blowing snow, standing side by side. I shouted to them.
“Guys, it’s me, Michael… Are you okay? What happened? Come inside!”
They stopped screaming the moment I opened the door and stared at me. Almost fixated, nearly maniacal.
They didn’t budge. I peered at them. I squinted to see what I thought I was seeing. The wind calmed slightly and enough for me to see that they were bloodied. Their eyes. Their eyes were almost black. Half of their hair was missing and it was difficult to tell because of the amount of blood covering them, dripping into the snow but it looked like they were naked and pieces of flesh were removed. Again, this damned snow. I couldn’t see clearly. Something was definitely wrong with them. They didn’t move. Only stared at me. Contemptuous but curious stare. The rest of the group inside, clearly shaken by this. I rushed to shut the door but before I did, I moved my gaze back to the ghostly 6 before me. They had vanished. My brain cannot be screwing with me. Not this much.
I rushed inside, I locked the door and without a chopper pilot, we would have to make a move to the rover and get to one of the other outposts. Emerson was closest but had no communications equipment and was unoccupied as per our last report. We would be deserted. We couldn’t reach anyone an hour before but needed to try again. I ran into the technician room, Teddy following me, and attempted to transmit again. The radio was dead. Completely lifeless. Dead. We struggled to find the issue, unplugged somewhere, a power issue? Generator was operating. We had accepted that we were locked in a cabin, in remote Antarctica with no communication and only a generator to keep us alive, while it lasted. Somebody must have cut the comms line. Either way, we had nothing. No radio and if we had no radio, we had no choice but to try to get out of here. Vostok was a long journey but there was always a team there. Emerson had nothing but we could try Lake Vostok Research Base.
Those…people…outside. That shriek. We had no idea if we were in danger but the 5 of us had to try to get to Vostok. I don’t remember the fuel situation with the rover. The hangar was on the other side of the outpost. We would need to stop and get fuel to ensure we could make it to Vostok Research Base. Fraught with near impossibility in the pitch dark, once we left the lighting of the base flood lights, we would be on our own traveling in a hopeful direction. We had no light other than headlights on the rover to see ahead, to know what direction in a white, empty landscape filled with ridges and ice craters. This was a hail mary but it could be more dangerous to stay. Whoever those things were, they were no longer our colleagues. Anything human would have perished in that cold by now. Not stalking us.
Another boom outside. Another tremor shaking the cabin. Then screams tuning themselves to the quake. It was decided. We would travel to Lake Vostok. We could get help. We couldn’t hope for our first message to have been received. We had no way of knowing. We raced around the cabin, grabbing everything we would need for the journey. A scream from Nora’s room. We ran in. Nora was standing, terrified, breathing heavily. She had seen someone, one of those bloodied things outside her window peering from behind one of the other cabins. We calmed her and collected our stuff. Teddy suggested that he make a run for fuel and that we wait for him to fuel up and he’d pull back around and we could jump in. He was the cook but was often asked to do other jobs during the days in camp. He regularly refueled and cleaned the rovers. He could do this fast. Under the cover of dark. We agreed, reluctantly. We waited as he moved towards the rovers. We watched him through the window. He stopped halfway and looked to his left and then his right. We peered over to see what he was looking at. There were two of those things – our former team I’m sure – damaged ghouls….standing about 150 meters away on his left and right, watching him. This encouraged him to pick up his pace and he got into the rover, started it, and set off towards the vehicle hangar fuel pump. He had disappeared into the haze of blowing snow. We could hear him stop in the distance. We waited. Poised and ready to go.
Figures in the distance materialized, somehow seemingly in control of the fog of flurry around them as to never be fully clear in view. It was pitch dark but the outpost light towers somehow illuminated the snow rather than the group. Standing side by side, again. Nora gasped. She told us that she believed that this was Dr. Hall and the rig operator Tim with what looked like Engineer Boreen….three of them standing between us and Teddy’s rover or where it would be. Standing, staring again. Not moving and somehow existing in this bitter cold. Instantly, and for the first time, they were animated…..they screamed and ran towards us. This was terrifying and shocking. We shut the door and locked it as quickly as possible. We heard them slam into the door, trying to get in. The moaning from the front door, mixed with screeching, inhuman and enraged. How were we going to get out? The lights flickered in the cabin. This sent Nora into hysterics, Jed was holding her and Eddie ran around the cabin to each room checking the rest of the doors and windows. Christ, Teddy. How can we get to him? Is he safe? Where were the other three things?
It was about 20 minutes later that we heard the rover coming back, horn blaring. We cautiously checked the windows for a safe run. We were terrified. We made a run for the rover. It was so dark. We moved outside and peered everywhere. The lights from the rover illuminated a wide area and the space was covered in footsteps in the snow and blood everywhere trailing in paths along those footsteps. We jumped in and Teddy motored on. We had no compass, digital map but we had a radio in the rover. We had no way of reaching Vostok because it was set to our outpost only, the primary comms room. We sent out an SOS and as we left the base, we were so nervous to ensure that our last look was to guide us in the right direction because once we set out, there was no way of knowing where we were going. This was a terrible gamble but we had bloodied ghouls stalking us and if they were contaminated or worse, violent towards us, we would be in great danger.
“You guys okay?” I said.
“Better now. Did someone bring anything to eat?” Eddie said.
“I took a box of the nutrition bars,” Nora said.
“God, what were those things? Are we going to talk about this? I saw one watching me pump gas. I had a shovel at the ready, if I needed it but it was ripped apart and it was messed up – possessed or something – its eyes were pitch black. What happened to them? It was Keera, I’m pretty sure but so hard to tell” said Teddy, peering through the window across an empty landscape, focusing on a straight path.
“Jesus Christ!” I screamed. “Look!” I pointed ahead of us, just becoming visible in the headlights ahead. There were nearly a dozen of those things scattered, facing in various directions but as we approached, their heads slowly craned towards us. Teddy immediately accelerated away from them, to avoid hitting them which we were successful in doing but now we were unsure about where we were going. We had veered into an unknown path in the dark. Crawling across a glacier and trying to feel the direction which was useless. These beasts, bloody and haunted, some of them crazed….were our former colleagues. Our team. Something had hit them to infect them from that borehole. We knew it was a gas of some kind that has infected their minds. They had torn themselves apart, peeled off their own skin for Christ’s sake. We needed to avoid the same fate. We had a full tank of gas, some heat from the supercharged heater that barely made a dent but better than the deathly cold outside. We had to just keep moving.
I sat in the passenger seat passing out, little by little. Jesus, we were all exhausted. Some slept but Teddy had to keep awake and then, soon I would drive. We would have just barely enough to make it to Vostok. We should be able to see the halo of light from a good 60km away and we just had to hope we caught it and traveled in that direction. Then, shit got worse. We were somehow, somehow….approaching the hole. The project drill site where this shit kicked off. How did we get here? We were traveling in the wrong direction. More of those things, four of them stood by the hole. Watching us. Again, we accelerated away but had to make a 180-degree turn because we had been going in the wrong direction for a solid 40 minutes. This was going to eat into our fuel which means that we had to ease up on the heater in order to make it. Those things were everywhere! Then a loud bang came from under the rover. Somehow, it seems, we had run over a piece of equipment that was now caught under the rover’s carriage. This just goes from bad to worse. We looked around, jumped out into the bitter cold, and inspected. It was a massive drill bit attached to a hose. We had put all this shit away. How was it sitting in the middle of a damned glacier!? We had teams move everything into a secure location. Now project debris scattered everywhere.
We pulled at the hose, all of us. Tired and distraught. Freezing and scared. Nora kept watch. We had a massive Fenix utility flashlight that Nora used to scan around the rover. The moment the light left any pointed-at location, the rest would go ultra-black. She was shaking. Scared. She wanted to be back home with her dad in Tampa, Florida. He was a cop, recently retired, and she wished he was there to keep her safe. Suddenly, low moans on the outer perimeter, filled the silence when the team wasn’t grunting, pulling the drill bit out. It was nearly out, the large drill threads caught in the rover’s large track. Best to have Teddy move forward to jog it loose. He got in and pushed forward a bit, raising up the rover slightly. Then an organic screeching from all around the perimeter. Nora spreading the light, frantically, across the open area. Near the hole, in the distance, a group of these things was marching towards them, coming into the light and then, proceeded to a sprint. Teddy moved over the drill enough for the guys to remove the tangled hose out of the tracks. It was too late for the group to get into the vehicle. Jed and Eddie were grabbed while I pushed Nora in and I climbed in behind her. I reached for the boys but they were yanked out of sight. Screaming. Pulled into the darkness.
“Go, go! Get out of here!” I screamed. Nora was screaming and hysterical. We all were. We moved ahead and as we shined the flashlight behind the rover, we saw there were at least 4 of those things running behind us. It was unimaginable that any living thing could exist in these polar temperatures. My god, it was enough to kill a human in hours, even dressed appropriately. These things were out for a day now, mostly without clothes and, in some cases, skin. Still running. Regardless of this perilous situation, it was impossible to try and wrap your head around this bizarre mystery. Something had afflicted these rotten things. It was most certainly something that we released from the project. We had drilled into the mantle for the first time in history. We knew about pockets of prehistoric gases and bacteria. We knew of viruses being released in the arctic that were dormant for centuries. Climate change and melting permafrost soils that have been frozen for thousands of years, and as the soils melt, they released ancient viruses and bacteria that, having lain dormant, are springing back to life. The types of viruses are only known when they happen. We knew about anthrax diseased reindeer buried under permafrost that were exposed after melts and infected herds of them and that was just permafrost. This was something far deeper, far more sinister, and game-changing. If this truly was a disease that caused madness, coupled with the ability to survive in a violent and ravenous state, in the most impossible environments, it would need to remain isolated here. Governments would need to know. They would need to destroy this, at least cordon it and study it.
Nora began scratching at her neck. She was drawing a bit of blood from the scratching.
“Nora, are you okay?” I asked, concerned.
She realized what she had been doing and stopped. She apologized, meekly. Wiped her hand on her lap. We carried forward into the blackness. Those infected creatures stopped following us. We kept transmitting the SOS, trying to find any rescue. We took turns driving and kept going forward. Four hours or more now, driving. Nora slept. Teddy slept. Then, something in the distance ahead. Structures. Looked like an outpost with random lights brightening isolated spots but could definitely see buildings. This was optimistic. I woke the other two. Out excitement was increasing. Until.
No. It can’t be. How? We were back at Whitney Research Base. We were back at our base! Our cabins ahead of us. Where we had left hours before. We had been spun around a couple of times and must have been circling back. We were distraught. It was inconceivable. We had just burned off most of our fuel going in a massive circle! We were past fatigue and overwrought with hopelessness. We stopped short of the base perimeter. Staring ahead. The desolation of our abandoned home, now returned. The last place we wanted to be. We had to gather ourselves and quickly come up with another plan. We wouldn’t be safe there. We had only one solution, only. We had to refill again and make another attempt. However, we had a chance to correct our last mistake. We could wait until the morning. The sun had two weeks left until it disappeared beyond the horizon for 6 months. We had a couple hours of it soon and it would give a good head start, at least. If they could not escape, the thought of 6 months of blackness would end them. They shuffled out of the rover, parked as close as possible, carefully entering a cabin, quietly. Listening intently for any sounds, movements, breathing, footsteps. It was quiet. We also wanted to be careful to not add any light that could be visible from outside and they agreed to remain silent. They hugged one another for warmth with the blankets they could find. The generator was still operating, for now. There was some heat in the cabins but it seemed worthless after the exposure we’d endured for the past few hours. Nora, I noticed, still scratching at her neck in her sleep. I was the last to sleep.
We awoke, the sun was up. It was 10 am. We had a little less than three hours to make some distance. We packed up additional rations and blankets. Teddy refueled again. This time, the last of the available fuel.
That is when we heard it. Rotors. Choppers. Two helos descended into our compound. It was a miracle. They announced their presence and we burst open the door of the cabin, smiling. Utterly defeated but smiling deep inside. They set down. There were two crew inside each. We waved and ran towards them. Nora was placed inside and covered in a thermal blanket. Teddy was driving back with the rover from refueling. Clearly, he must have been as excited as we were. That’s when we saw that he had a passenger. Crawling on top of the rover from its rear, was one of these infected. It had jumped down to the front of the hood. We all saw it. The chopper crew saw it and having no idea of the story that preceded it, had no idea what to make of this dried blood-covered thing with its skin partially peeled off smashing at the front window of the rover. When it broke through, Teddy fought it off as much as he could and collided directly into one of the choppers as it exploded, with the rotor flying off and into the rover, killing Teddy and the ghoul instantly. The pilot of the destroyed chopper must have been killed also in that fireball. Every living person involved in this drama screamed. The fire and explosion seemed to have alerted, or at least caused enough excitement, in the stalking few creatures that had immediately shown themselves from outside the cabin. The pilots of Nora’s chopper took off immediately with her in it. I was left at the cabin door watching all of this insanity kick off. The remaining co-pilot of the destroyed chopper. Ran towards me at the cabin as I held the door open and screamed to him. He was set upon, instantly, by the hordes of beasts and I slammed the door shut. Locked it and ran for safety.
We were momentarily safe. We had been saved and then we had been killed. Some of us already and me, remaining, waiting out my final moments. Whether they are savagely ripped from me or slowly and painfully from hunger, thirst and the increasing cold.
I have barricaded myself in the comms room. I have been silent now for what must be days, since our rescue attempt. I had no food left. Little water. The cold was unbearable. I am losing focus. Losing strength. The long dark would be coming soon. There are no more rescues. I have little battery left in my Tascam right now. My recording will soon be over. I hope that this is found. I hope that the world will know what happened and make sure that this never gets to the mainland.
Nora and her crew would have warned the appropriate authorities against making any immediate visit back. They would know to wait until the proper mobilization was planned. She knew enough about the situation. I was thankful that she was saved. That she would have brought back as much information as we knew. Sadly, she must have assumed that we had all perished. She would be back with her dad in Tampa. Safe. I am happy for her. Her dad would take care of her. I think about her violent scratching often, as I lay here in the dark. Listening to my colleagues outside my door.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableMick Dark Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
🔔 More stories from author: Mick DarkPublisher's Notes: N/A Author's Notes: N/A
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