[Collaborative Project with C. Willison of ImagesByCW]
A thick hazy smoke surrounded Sammie. She had lost her bearings, and couldn’t find her way out of the woods. The heat was unbearable. Her legs felt like blocks of wood, heavy and unresponsive. The fire was drawing nearer; she could see the forest’s undergrowth burst into flames. The heat just kept getting worse. Water… she needed water. The forest’s glow faded into blackness. A damp cloth on her forehead was exquisitely refreshing; a petite and gentle hand caressed her face.
“I had another nightmare, mom. It was so hot.”
The room was dark; nighttime; she had no idea how late. The moonlight details of her tiny room came slowly into focus. Odd details, like how much shorter her mother had become.
“Heya, Sammie. You were muttering somethin’ fierce.”
“Preston, you can’t be here. You’ll catch it for sure if my folks find you here.” Sammie knew how careful her sister Micah was about such rendezvous, and there had to be an awful good reason for it.
“They wouldn’t let me see you during the day. And I had to see you.”
Sammie tried to sit up, but her vision grayed, and she collapsed back onto her damp pillow. Her head felt like a pincushion. Preston dampened the cloth in the water basin next to her bed, and placed it back on her forehead. “I’ve gotta get you to the mine.”
“Preston, this is no time for one of your adventures… and I can barely stand up. And my folks can’t find you here!”
“There’s a thing in the mine. A creature. It can read minds. And it says it can help you. Cure you.”
It wasn’t like Preston to fib at a time like this, but it was hard for Sammie to wrap her muddled head around this.
“The mine? What creature?”
“It… looks like a giant stone brain.” Preston realized how crazy this all sounded, but he couldn’t think of any way to prove it without showing her. He had to convince her. “Sammie; you just have to trust me.”
Sammie didn’t think she could make it out of the house, let alone to the mine, but Preston seemed unusually determined, and Doc Jenkins hadn’t been able to help her. Besides; lying around in bed just wasn’t her style.
“Alright, alright. What time is it?”
“Just after midnight, I reckon.”
“You lunkhead, we’ll never make it to the mine and back by morning.”
“Those bugs; they’re s’pposta be real nasty, and the creature says they’re only gonna get worse.”
Sammie hadn’t been in serious trouble in several months; so she was about due, and now was as good a time as any. “Alright. Turn around and let me change.”
Sammie fished through the bottom drawer of her dresser, at last finding her treasured yellow polka dot dress. Micah had agreed to wash it for her in an unusual show of sisterly solidarity after her last adventure. She glanced over at Preston, who was dutifully sitting cross legged in the corner with his back to her. The lucky dog didn’t know how fortunate he was to wear trousers. She popped the dress on, slipped into her most comfortable shoes, and tapped him on the shoulder. The sole window of her ground floor bedroom was a tight fit to climb in and out of, especially with Preston trying his best to steady her, but they managed to get out with a minimum of ruckus. Sammie put her arm around Preston’s shoulder and he wrapped his around her waist to steady her. She was uncomfortable leaning on him as much as she did, but as weak and wobbly as she was, there seemed little choice. It was a long way to the mine.
They skirted the edge of her family’s property, trying to stay in the shadows as best as possible. Her illness was clearly wreaking havoc on her skulking technique. They had barely made it halfway down the street when a hushed whisper froze the two of them on their tracks. Someone was lurking behind the old Maple. Who could possible be here after midnight? Surely someone with something to hide. Should they try to find out who? After an uncomfortable silence, an oddly familiar voice called out.
“Micah, is that you?”
A tall, and rather shapely young woman in a long purple dress emerged from behind the old maple with a rather sheepish looking young man in tow.
Sammie seized the initiative; “What are you doing out at this time of night?”
“I… uh… you first,” said Micah, finally realizing that as the older sister, she was the one who should be asking questions.
“We’re going out. For something that might help me.”
“At this time of night? There’s no place open!”
“Preston found something that can cure me. At the mine. Right, Preston?”
Preston panicked. What should he say? Sammie barely believed him, but her older sister would surely think he was crazy. “Umm, yes. At the mine. There’s a special sort of mineral there that’s supposed to help someone with her condition.” He didn’t like fibbing, but the creature did look like a stone brain, so technically what he said was true.
“Why can’t you just bring it back to her?” asked Micah.
“Its… way too large. There’s no way I could get it out of the mine.”
Micah frowned at him. She was dissatisfied, but couldn’t think of any more objections. “I can’t let you go there by yourselves at night. We’ll have to go with you.”
“What?” said the the young man in a half-startled, half-disappointed tone.
“I guess the two of you don’t know each other. Isaac, this is Preston; Sammie’s little friend.”
Micah took Sammie’s other arm and put it around her shoulder. She was considerably taller than either Sammie or Preston, which made their gait a bit awkward, but Preston was happy for the help.
* * *
The dry canopy of foliage rustled overhead, occasionally sending a handful of leaves fluttering down on them. Had the trees been infested, or was it just the late summer dry spell? Sammie glanced at Preston, who was by now sweating profusely. Micah was taking most of Sammie’s weight, but Preston was helping all he could. And why was she out here anyway? Preston’s tale was impossible… but she believed that he believed it. The hike to the old mine seemed to pass in a haze, but now the entrance loomed dark and ominous in front of them. Going into the old mine in the dead of night should have been terrifying, even to her, but she was too dizzy and exhausted for fear.
As they descended down the mine shaft, Preston was once again thankful that Micah and Isaac had come with them – he might have managed to get Sammie here on his own, but he had no idea how he could have gotten her safely down the vertical shafts without them. But one thing kept nagging him; how would they react to the creature?
“I don’t know what to tell them. I don’t know how to explain this,” he thought.
“WELL, IT IS RATHER BOTHERSOME THAT YOU BROUGHT NOT ONE, BUT THREE ADDITIONAL LIFE FORMS WITH YOU.”
“Yes, well, I did need the help getting Sammie here.”
“I DO NOT THINK THEIR MINDS ARE INTERESTING, SO I DO NOT BELIEVE I WISH TO INTERACT WITH THEM.”
Preston wasn’t sure what this meant, but the creature didn’t seem concerned about Micah and Isaac, so he concentrated on helping Sammie down the last winding passage. They emerged into the grotto, and Preston prepared himself for their reactions. Would it be screams of terror? Shock? Amazement? How would he explain this?
This must be what Mother refers to as a delirium, thought Sammie, seeing the glowing stone brain. Curious that it should match Preston’s tall story, but for now she focused on making her way down the rock face.
Micah and Isaac helped Sammie down to the water’s edge. Preston glanced nervously at them, surprised that neither of them had shown the slightest curiosity about the glowing creature at the center of the subterranean pool. Had he over-reacted before? How come no one else was concerned in the slightest?
“Say, uh, Micah, what do you think of this room? It’s pretty… uh… unique, huh?”
“An ordinary cavern with bio-luminescent lichen covering some of the mineral formations.” she said in an oddly hollow voice.
“Yes. There is nothing of interest here. Let us collect your mineral to help the small human companion so we can go someplace more interesting,” said Isaac.
“Are you doing that?”
“YES. THEIR MINDS WERE NOT INTERESTING ENOUGH TO BOTHER INTERACTING WITH, SO I PROVIDED THEM WITH AN ALTERNATE PERCEPTION.”
“So, something like hypnosis?”
“SOMETHING LIKE THAT.”
Preston’s train of thought came back to the station. He had to help Sammie.
“Can you help Sammie?”
“LET ME EVALUATE HER CONDITION… HMM, THE INFECTION ISN’T TOO FAR ADVANCED. I CAN REMOVE IT. PLACE THE CONTAINMENT VESSEL BY ONE OF HER ORIFICES. I DO NOT WANT MY MINERAL WATER CONTAMINATED.”
“Orifices? You mean like her nose?”
“THAT WILL DO.”
“Lie back Sammie,” Preston said, placing an old towel under her head. He turned her head to the side, and placed a large jar under her nose. The whole thing seemed very odd to him, but with no other options in sight, what should he do?
Almost immediately, an orange fluid began seeping out of Sammie’s nose.
“I AGREE. ORGANIC LIFE FORMS AND ALL YOUR INTERNAL FLUIDS… THEY ARE MOST UNPLEASANT TO DEAL WITH.”
Sammie convulsed mildly, and continued oozing orange fluid.
“What’s happening? Is she ok?”
“I AM FORCING THE PARASITES AND CONTAMINANTS OUT OF HER BY TELEKINETICALLY INDUCING OSMOTIC PRESSURE. IF DONE TOO QUICKLY IT WILL DAMAGE THE UNDERLYING TISSUE.”
It was unnerving seeing… well seeing nothing; Preston could only observe the effects of what the creature was doing to her. But after 20 minutes the fluid stopped, and Sammie sneezed and shook her head. She seemed more alert than she had been all evening.
“Is she… cured?”
“THE PARASITES ARE GONE, AND HER LIFE-FUNCTIONS ARE STRONG. I WILL EVALUATE HER IMMUNE SYSTEM. SOMETIMES THESE PARASITES CAN CAUSE A SIGNIFICANT CHANGE IN THE HOST’S IMMUNE SYSTEM.”
“I’M AFRAID I HAVE RATHER BAD NEWS.”
…to be continued
The Miltonville Mine Mystery is a creative collaborative project (fictional short story with photo illustrations) 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!