[Collaborative Project with C. Willison of ImagesByCW]
Sammie’s delirious half-sleep was interrupted by a knock. It was her sister Micah.
“Pa says to come to the parlor. Sounds real serious. I hope you and that boy Preston didn’t get us all in trouble.”
Sammie’s body ached all over as she struggled out of bed. Micah would have changed out of a rumpled nightgown into something nicer in that situation, but Sammie didn’t care. The whole family was assembled in the parlor.
Her father addressed them with a stern glare in his eyes.
“Mr. Adams came to me today.”
He paused deliberately, and glanced around the room, looking for guilty faces.
Sammie was far to groggy to react.
“He told me that one of his jars of alcohol from the barber shop was missing. We don’t know who did it, but since we have a key, he asked us first. I’m not going to question you all, but if any of you took it, you should know this: That’s wood alcohol in those jars, and if you drink it you’ll go blinder than a bat.”
Sammie’s mind wandered. She felt weak; and until now being weak was what she feared most. But going blind; what a new and horrible idea. Who knows what’s in store for me. And what’s that lunkhead Preston up to without me?
* * *
Preston was caught between terror and curiosity. He had done it; he had found the source, the answer, yet he had no idea what it meant. Had he sealed his own fate by so cleverly finding his way to this subterainian grotto? The object in the pool didn’t move; it just illuminated the cavern with a pulsating, unearthly light. In his dream he was drawn to the pool of water, stepping off the ledge to plummet to the rocks below him. Was his dream a premonition? Was it fate?
That was a word. A command. Should he obey? He had come this far, and nothing bad had happened to him. A good sign? Or was it like the will-o-whisps he had read about; luring people to their doom? The cavern wall was steep and smooth, but he reckoned he could make it down. He cautiously picked his way down to the water’s edge. This was different than his dream; he had not tumbled off the ledge like a lemming.
This object; this thing in the middle of the pool was clearly talking to him. Not talking, but communicating directly to his mind. What should he do?
Preston liked a nice refreshing dip in the water as much as any boy his age, but this did not sound at all good. Yet he couldn’t just stand at the edge of the grotto forever. He cautiously dipped his hand in the water. A shock went to his body, much as it had at the other cavern, yet this time it was milder.
“ALL THE WAY”
He could hear the creature’s voice clearer now. And so far no harm had befallen him. He pondered for a moment and gazed into the water. The creature’s unearthly glow illuminated not only the cavern, but below the surface of the water as well. It was crystal clear, and he could see nothing that looked dangerous below the surface.
It’ll be just like a plunge in Milton’s Creek he told himself, as he waded gingerly into the pool. The stone below his feet was smooth from millennia of water flow. He sat on an outcropping with his head just above the water and gazed at the creature. What now?
“YOU ARE A CAUTIOUS LITTLE CREATURE, AREN’T YOU?”
“Yes, sir. Who are you?”
“FOR HEAVENS SAKE STOP TALKING, YOUR VOICE IS CREATING A MOST UNPLEASANT ECHO.”
Preston hesitated; didn’t the creature want to communicate with him? He certainly didn’t want to offend, but what was he to do?
“What should I do if I can’t talk,” thought Preston.
“VERY GOOD; THAT’S MUCH BETTER.”
“What’s much better?” said Preston.
“YOU DID IT AGAIN. I SAID STOP TALKING!”
“But how, am I to…” thought Preston. “Can that creature read my mind?“
“THAT MUCH SHOULD BE OBVIOUS, NOW PLEASE STOP TALKING AND THINK; LIKE A SENTIENT LIFE FORM.”
Preston finally caught on. What should he try to say? Or better yet think.
“Hello sir, my name is Preston,” he thought, and paused a moment.
“NOW YOU HAVE IT.”
“You can really read my mind? Can you understand everything I’m thinking?“
“YES, OF COURSE, BUT I ONLY LISTEN TO WHAT YOU ACTIVELY THINK.”
“Why is that?“
“IT IS NOT POLITE TO READ THE PRIVATE THOUGHTS OF ANOTHER SENTIENT CREATURE. DON’T THEY HAVE MANNERS ON THIS PLANET?”
“Yes, sir. It’s just that we don’t have mind reading.”
“I AM A CEREBRON. AND I DON’T HAVE A NAME IN THE SENSE YOU DO. I CANNOT PROVIDE MY ORIGIN WITHOUT A COMMON FRAME OF REFERENCE.”
Preston pondered for a moment. “A reference. You mean like a map?”
“PRECISELY. A STAR CHART”
“I don’t have any maps with me. My father might have one in his study, but I would have to run back and get it. And I really need to help Sammie first.” Sammie… the bugs! He had to find out what was going on.
“IF YOU HAVE SEEN THIS REFERENCE, YOU NEED ONLY SHOW ME THE IMAGE IN YOUR MIND.”
Preston tried to recall the last time he had stumbled across a drawing of the constellations. It was in his father’s encyclopedia, and covered two pages. He concentrated on the memory, although he was certain he couldn’t remember all of the details. “Is this what you mean?”
“YES, THIS SHOULD DO.”
“I AM FROM A SYSTEM IN THE CONSTELLATION YOU CALL LIBRA.”
Preston was puzzled. He had heard of the constellation, but he was sure he couldn’t identify it from the chart. He desperately wanted to ask about Sammie, but didn’t want to seem rude.
“Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, why are you here?”
“THE MINERAL CONTENT OF THIS PLANET IS MOST AGREEABLE.”
A good sign. The intention certainly didn’t seem to be nefarious.
“WE CEREBRON ARE NATURALLY TELEPATHIC, AND A FAVORABLE MINERAL CONTENT ALLOWS OUR BRAIN WAVES TO FLOW MORE EASILY.”
“So that’s why I can hear you so much better in the pool.”
“PRECISELY. ALTHOUGH THE MORE WE COMMUNICATE, THE MORE ATTUNED YOUR BRAIN WILL BECOME TO TELEPATHIC SIGNALS.”
Preston was fascinated by this, but he had to rein in his curiosity. First he would have to try to help Sammie.
“Sir, what are those bugs in the woods?”
Preston paused a moment and then try to recall an image of the bugs in his specimen jar.
“OH DEAR. THOSE APPEAR TO BE VELIAN NEMATODES. A RATHER INVASIVE SPECIES.”
“Did you bring them here?”
“CERTAINLY NOT BY INTENTION. ALTHOUGH I SUPPOSE IT’S POSSIBLE I PICKED SOME UP ON MY SHIP. NASTY CREATURES. I HAD A PET CETIAN MAMMOTH THAT WAS INFECTED WITH THEM ONCE. THEY NEARLY DROVE THE POOR CREATURE MAD. IN THE END I HAD TO IMPLODE HIS BRAIN TO PUT HIM OUT OF HIS MISERY.”
“But Sammie has been infected!”
“I’M TERRIBLY SORRY TO HEAR THAT.”
“IF YOU WISH, I CAN IMPLODE HER BRAIN.”
“Noo!” yelled Preston, “Sorry. I said that aloud. It’s just that Sammie is my best friend.”
“I UNDERSTAND. I SUPPOSE IT TAKES A WHILE FOR A MORE PRIMITIVE LIFE FORM TO GET USED TO TELEPATHIC COMMUNICATION.”
“Isn’t there something that can be done to help Sammie?”
“ASIDE FROM IMPLODING HER BRAIN?”
“Yes, aside from that.”
“IF THE INFECTION IS IN ITS EARLY STAGES, IT IS POSSIBLE TO REMOVE THE TENDRILS WITH MICRO SURGERY, AND ELIMINATE THE REMAINING TOXINS WITH A CELLULAR CLEANSE.”
“I don’t think Doc Jenkins can do that.“
“THE ONLY OTHER OPTION IS TELEKINETIC SURGERY, BUT IF YOUR PLANET’S TECHNOLOGY IS NOT ABLE TO ALLOW MICRO SURGERY, I DO NOT IMAGINE THAT IS AN OPTION EITHER.”
“Telekinetic. .. that means with the mind, right?”
“Could you do that?”
“HMM. IS THIS SAMMIE CREATURE LIKE YOU?”
” ‘cept that she’s a girl, yes.”
“YOUR ANATOMY IS NOT PARTICULARLY COMPLEX. IT MIGHT BE POSSIBLE.”
“IF YOU BRING HER HERE, I WILL ATTEMPT THE PROCEDURE, BUT YOU MUST BRING SOMETHING TO CONTAIN ANY FOREIGN BODIES I REMOVE. I DO NOT WANT ANYTHING TO CONTAMINATE MY MINERAL WATER.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ll go fetch her.”
The glare of the late afternoon sun stung Preston’s eyes; it took a minute for him to adjust to the bright light again. He could hardly remember any details of the tedious climb out of the mine. He glanced at himself – dusty rumpled clothing, splinters in his hands from climbing up the old wooden scaffolding, a scraped knee that was bleeding slightly. He should have been in pain, but felt only numbness. This was no dream; he had just snuck through an abandoned mine, encountered a creature stranger than anything he had ever read about in his novels, and found out that his best friend had a horrific alien infection. An interesting day; an interesting day indeed.
He shook his head, and began the long hike back to town. He had a thousand questions, and thus-far had only received answers to about three of them. Would any of the other answers be as disturbing as what he had found out today?
…to be continued
The Miltonville Mine Mystery is a creative collaborative project between David and Claudia Willison. I think you can tell who does what. Although actually we share a little of everything in this story. Stick around and see where the story goes!