The video footage was a grainy mess, apparently sourced from
several temporary HD cameras, but I struggled to make anything out, at least
initially. I could see three different feeds, one from the mine entrance, an
access corridor, and…somewhere else. I asked about it, but Elizabeth just
instructed me to watch. The final room seemed to defy function. Three halogen
spotlights were arranged around a dark patch in the centre of the room, cables snaking
into a small generator. The image looked wrong somehow, altered. The pools of
light seemed to disappear in the centre, as if someone had taken a hammer to the
centre of the lens. There was just…nothing there. A central shaft maybe? It
seemed far too geometrically perfect.
“This is two hours before you arrived,” said Elizabeth, her voice steady.
She pressed play. With a slight stutter, fluidity returned to the picture. I could make out Thornhill, and a few indeterminate shapes that could have been soldiers or technicians. A slender form stood hesitantly at the entrance of the tunnel, and it took me a moment to realise that it was Elizabeth. She was taking readings with a handheld device, when suddenly she began to yell. There was no sound on the video, and her actions played out like a particularly manic silent movie. On the other feed, the lights dimmed, as if in fog. Static fluttered over all the screens.
“Woah, what the hell?” I muttered. I moved closer, trying to figure out what I was looking at. The black pit seemed to be vibrating, the camera losing and regaining its focus. I could have sworn for a second that there was a pinpoint of light deep within. Something leapt from the hole, knocking over a lamp, and bolting across the room. I about near jumped off the chair. It was a blur of movement, hellishly fast, weaving erratically from side to side. I couldn’t see much of it. Limbs, of a sort, but the movement was more like a gorilla, scrabbling along in the dirt. Asymmetric, weighted heavily on its right side. Smoke trailed it through the air, as if it had passed through a furnace. Whatever it was, it moved with purpose, and a fleshy mouth gibbered at the front of its body. I expected it to attack, dive straight into the soldiers, tear them limb from limb. Because that’s what monsters did, right? I must admit, I had no basis for comparison except what Hollywood had taught me. I wasn’t sure my brain had even caught up to what I was witnessing. Within seconds, the soldiers had formed a perimeter. The thing seemed to understand what was happening, and skittered to a calamitous halt. After a moment of hesitation, it charged on broken legs at the assembled troops. I flinched as their weapons fired, even with the lack of sound. Plumes of blood erupted from the creature, and bar a few spasmodic movements, it was dead. Elizabeth wound the footage back, frame by frame, until the thing was dead centre of the screen, unmoving.
“What am I looking at, exactly?” I said, trying to keep the nerves out of my voice.
“Martins, if I knew that, I would tell you. All the wildlife consultants aren’t here, and Thornhill doesn’t want any information leaving the site,” said Elizabeth, rubbing her eyes with long fingers.
The burning edge of logic was overriding the unease. It had to be something unusual but plausible, something that could be analysed and dissected.
“An animal then, burnt by…radiation?” I said, tapping the screen where Elizabeth’s pixelated form was holding a device in her hand. It looked a lot like a Geiger counter.
“You’re asking the wrong questions,” she replied softly. A flash of annoyance found its way into my thinking, but before I could say something snappy, I realised that Elizabeth was partly right. The image was still frozen, and I found my eye line drawn to the dark pit that had birthed the monster. There was still nothing to see. Just the edge, perfectly circular. I shuffled around to look at Elizabeth.
“What’s at the bottom of the shaft?”
“It’s not a shaft. It wasn’t there forty-eight hours ago.”
The night air seemed even more biting than before. We trudged over the loose stone and mud, sticking pointedly to the pools of artificial light. Two soldiers lurked behind us at a respectable distance, presumably under instruction from Thornhill. I did not know if it was through lack of trust, or he feared for our safety. Two dead scientists would generate a lot of paperwork. The mine entrance loomed, a blackened mouth in the side of the cliff. More lights hung on industrial cabling, swinging gently in the wind. We passed through the threshold, and immediately something acrid assaulted my nose. Ammonia? A small camera hummed quietly to itself, and I realised with a slight wave of nausea that we were standing precisely where the footage had been recorded. That feeling continued when we rounded the corner, as if I was walking towards a predator. I was right. The corpse of the beast was ahead, where it had fallen. White suited technicians fussed around it, cataloguing, photographing. The damn thing reeked, the corrosive stink seeping from it into the air. I pressed my hand to my mouth, trying not to gag. My rational edge was battling a more primal, simple fear, and I found myself staring at the remains. Burnt and bloody limbs framed a grossly distended body, with what presumably had been a face hanging slack at the front. It was little more than gristle and bone by this point, but a single glassy eye survived. It was glaring outwards accusingly. I shuddered. The front right leg was larger than the others, with what looked like metal threading through the tendons. Before I knew it, I had stopped, and found myself reaching towards the mottled flesh. Elizabeth grabbed my wrist with bony fingers, the skin turning white with pressure. Her face was aghast.
“Don’t fucking touch it! What’s the matter with you!” she hissed.
I glared at her, furrowing my brow. My temper had already overridden the fear. I didn’t like being spoken to like a child. One of the white suited analysts was suddenly looming nearby, complaining bitterly at our proximity. I felt my lip curl in annoyance, and stepped backwards, leaving Elizabeth to deal with the officious tirade. The remaining path was where this thing had come from. I found myself looking in that direction, bizarrely drawn towards it. Where could something this twisted call home? I was intrigued, my desire for answers burning brightly. I was beyond this petty bickering. Carefully, I extracted myself from the proceedings, and walked steadily away. The mine was dank down here, a wet chill pervading the air. Wind gusted harshly into my face, and it took me a few seconds to realise that it was coming from the wrong direction. There was definitely an opening ahead. My feet crunched on loose stone, and I found myself in the terminus room. The origin. I could have sworn I was being drawn inside, prompted by an invisible hand. I looked, and saw…nothing. Or an object masquerading as nothing. Those lamps stood in a circle, pointing their gaze at something so black it soaked up the light like a sponge. The air vibrated, pulsing, pressure pushing down on my ear drums. I found myself staring at it, struggling to comprehend just how wrong it was. Yet it was appealing, reassuring. I hungered to find out its inner workings, discover what lay beyond….
“Martins!” yelled Elizabeth, pulling me backwards. I had walked at least three metres towards the hole, and hadn’t realised. She’d actually dragged me to safety. The pressure abated somewhat, and my eyes regained some focus. Jesus, it felt like being blackout-drunk. But still, it was addictive. I wanted more, to be close to it again.
“One magical appearing mine shaft,” Elizabeth said grimly.
“What is it?” I managed. An electrical charge in the air had made my arm hairs raise.
“I don’t know Harrison. I’m so far out of my depth. Every reading I’ve managed to take says that this thing is not there. There is nothing in this room.”