Our Arctic tale of things unknown begins:
Leaning back forcefully against the supply huts lone entrance, Garcia’s breath escaped in raspy huffs as whitish vapor filled the confined space. Glancing about frantically for an upgrade for the short-handled meat-cleaver presently serving as her lone piece of artillery, the chopper pilot and former Marine instead found only toiletries and assorted canned foods. Moaning in frustration, she crouched down with an elbow still tucked tightly to the hut’s inner door.
Like a braced arm is gonna keep that thing outta here if it really wants in. About the same odds as a rusty meat cleaver slowing it down once it does decide to make my acquaintance.
The wind whistled like a baying teapot through what few miniscule cracks the hut provided, accompanied by the occasional thump of passing debris. Reaching up with a free hand to pull up the mouth portion of an ice-coated toboggan, Garcia’s head dipped until chin met parka collar.
This is not…just…can’t be. C-can’t be re-real. How the hell…is such a thing even possi-….Shit! Get a grip, get...a...grip…you know what you saw. Now just do what you have to do to survive…adapt…adapt and overcome. Somebody has to…has to...get away…alive to…report this.
Leaning back against the thick metal door with full weight and knees tucked inward, she laid the cleaver next to a snow-caked boot and removed a pair of heavily insulated gloves as the howling Antarctic gusts pounded between tightly tucked shoulder blades.
Why couldn’t they just have waited….waited for the feds to get here? Storm was supposed to let up in four or five hours. Jackass eggheads just couldn’t…help themselves. Find of the century be damned…there’s such a thing as protocol. I heard one of ‘em….Sarah, I think…yeah…I heard Sarah tell Marcus more than once not to leave that thing unguarded, much less sink a syringe into it. Just a few more hours and the feds…the men in black could have…might have prevented this…such wholesale slaughter.
A trio of heavy thuds slammed the side of the hut, causing Garcia to collapse into an instinctive shooter’s pose towards the source. A wild giggle ensued, the unstable sound of which did little to bolster an already shaken psyche.
Sh-shit…what am I gonna go...flash it my meanest... intimidating stare? Damned thing, whatever it is, butchered the entire staff and stacked ‘em at the center of the compound like cordwood. Saw at least three bodies…minus the heads…couldn’t even ID…no way to tell….and the blood…r-rivers of the stuff frozen…embedded into the turf like some kind of….maroon-colored s-skating rink.
Reclaiming the earlier position of human barricade, Garcia inhaled deeply before allowing a slow release through pursed, horribly chapped lips, the ensuing vapor trail mimicking a funnel cloud’s twisting plume. As the sudden bombardment ended as quickly as it had begun, there was time to reflect on the plethora of assorted horrors discovered in the past half-hour that had led to her involuntary imprisonment. The arrival of the storm with its wall of sleet and surface temps, wind gusts included, of minus seventy-five to one-hundred below, followed by the expected deluge of what was predicted as a foot-plus snowfall over the next several hours. A tiny, isolated research station, halfway through day thirty-six of a scheduled ninety-day project, essentially frozen into place. Soon after, as the staff and crew gathered in the dining hall for lunch, the announcement by Doctor Willard Marcus that testing would commence without delay on the mysterious specimen unearthed from an icy tomb just days earlier. Despite several cocked brows and at least one vocal reservation from Sarah Cain, a noted researcher, Marcus had pushed on full speed ahead with all the smug, maniacal glee of a stereotypical mad scientist. Hours later, awoken from a deep slumber, Garcia had tumbled from a narrow bunk within woefully cramped sleeping quarters to the sound of a piercing shriek. With parka, headgear and gloves re-donned in mere seconds, the quickness and gracefulness of such a drill practiced countless times on pervious military excursions, Garcia noted the empty, unruffled bunk normally occupied by Mack Peterson. A gruff, foulmouthed lout with a perpetually sour disposition, Peterson had been a late replacement as co-pilot of the stations lone assigned chopper. With a deep frown, she recalled his drunken promise a few hours after Marcus’ announcement to sneak into the generator room and ‘take a beer-foam piss on their prize exhibit’.
Taking off in a mad sprint, Garcia recalled leaping Peterson’s untouched bunk clearly enough, but had no memory of landing on the other side, instead waking in total darkness with a bleeding, golf-ball sized knot behind her right ear, having never departed the sleeping quarters.
The hellish tour of the compound soon ensued, wherein a pile of mismatched body parts and stripped torsos once belonging to the station staff was found stacked just outside the research building. Pausing briefly to commandeer the cleaver from an eerily silent kitchen, she'd utilized prepositioned guide-ropes to navigate from building to building through a blinding whiteout. She'd made it as far as the hut when the rope had suddenly gone slack, resulting in an impromptu reverse combat roll and ultimately, an unplanned entry into a powerless, pitch black but nonetheless welcome safe-haven.
Enough’s enough already. This isn’t the place for hide and seek, especially with the main generator out of commission. Only a matter of time before the drifts trap me inside and I freeze in place. Gotta get to the com room and get the word out pronto. Storms gonna break soon enough…maybe I can light a fire under their asses to put pedal to metal. After all, nothing like the words ‘mass murder’ to perk up the ears and peak the curiosity. Just suck it up and gut it out….that’s all…you’ve faced tougher. Dig in those boot-heels, take in shorts breaths and keep the chin tucked. Com room should be forty or fifty steps…tops.
One thing for damn sure: If that monster is gonna snag me, it’ll sure as hell have to catch me first.
Pulling the door inward with a single, forceful tug, Garcia stepped back as a building drift collapsed inward to essentially bury both boots up the ankle, along with a large circular lump that at initial glance she simply thought to be a tightly rolled snowball. Upon closer inspection, however, following a series of hurricane-force gusts that served to clear away several layers of top coating, the mysterious oval was revealed to be the severed head of one Ronald Thompson, research assistant. Side-stepping past the displaced noggin with its single, opened-eye (resembling fossilized marble) and unhinged jaw (stretched to grisly proportions) with the same care one might take to avoid a live mine, Garcia soon departed the hut and leaned directly into a fresh round of lashing, whipping, bone-chilling gusts.
As the grueling trek commenced, a total of fifty-six steps that was akin to climbing a mountain of quicksand inside a wind tunnel, Garcia was shocked to see a bright beacon of light blaring forth from the com room’s open door. Stumbling inside and falling onto on hours, a vicious kick backward with a well-aimed boot-heel secured the door, which had been flapping wildly back and forth from the battering winds. Gasping aloud at every throat and chest numbing inhale, Garcia crawled painstakingly forward, eventually able to reach up with a badly shaking hand to grasp the edge of a table and pull upward. Peeling the frosty-coated toboggan bottom up and over until it rested over her brows, Garcia then reached up to wipe ice shards from both eyes before peering over to the controllers chair.
There, propped upright and with its back turned, calmly sat the monster.
Falling back with a silent scream, Garcia pulled the cleaver from the parka’s front left pocket and began swinging it wildly from side to side, the rusty blade slicing cleanly through a thick cloud of vapor pouring from its wheezing, horrified possessor.
Garcia saw the monster shift, as if only then acknowledging an outside presence. Skidding about on an ice-slickened heel, she darted through the nearest open door, that being the adjoining lavatory. It was there, haplessly trapped and staring directly into a partially fogged mirror, that chopper pilot and former U.S. Marine Jeanne Garcia saw the monster peering hungrily over her left shoulder. Her vocal cards fully recharged, she let loose with a full-blown rebel yell while whirling around in a graceful blur, the sharp-edge of the cleaver leading the way.
Stepping towards the waiting chopper, the trio of men appeared to be lined up by size with the largest figure bringing up the rear.
“Command Post med-lab is on the way from McMurtle…forty-five minutes to an hour out. They’ll bag and tag all the evidence,” the man on point announced, a gloved hand positioned over thick goggles in order to block the searing glare of a blazing noonday sun. Easily the shortest of the three, his knees pumped comically high while navigating the knee-high drifts, “sure as hell don’t have to worry about sample composition. Those corpses are rock solid…stuck together like bovine cutlets in a deep freeze.”
“Damn…worst case of IF I’ve ever bore witness too,” the second chimed in, a pudgy, full-bearded individual whose own uneasy gait appeared of the slightly inebriated sort.
“IF? I don’t…” the third of the trio inquired; tall, barrel-chested, and comically bowlegged, his considerable bulk equating to weightier issues atop the deep, virgin snow.
“Igloo fever,” the first blurted, pausing to pull the chopper hatch ajar and tossing in his duffel, “surprised me this Garcia chick wigged out so easily. From what I gather, she was a decorated war vet with multiple tours in the Middle East. Thick-skinned and battle-scarred…,” he paused, adjusting the goggles and turning about with a shrug, “well, go figure. Such extreme isolation has been known to trigger the insanity gene. ”
The second man stepped up just as the first backed away, placing his own sparse gear inside.
“Maybe she was having flashbacks to desert warfare, only this time the sandstorm in question was lily-white and coming down in sheets,” he huffed just as the last of the trio stepped forward to take position between them. Placing a gloved hand atop each hip, the big man briefly backed up a step and appeared to be sizing up the chopper up for impending combat.
“Could be…could be…gotta tell ya, she was one strange chick. Tight-lipped and grim. Never saw her crack a smile. In the Army we used to refer to such individuals as perpetually ragged. Probably been on the edge of crackin’ for days…maybe even weeks. I was damn fortunate not to wind up in that monkey pile of dead bodies myself.”
“No argument there, Mister Peterson,” the first man nodded while continuously refitting his goggles, “prime time for generator issues, at least from your perspective, yes?”
The second man remained silent, though with crossed arms and a slight tilt of the head, he appeared to be carefully gauging the larger man’s response.
“Yeah, have to confess I’m a firm believer in fate, Marshal,” the big man grinned, “hell, now more than ever. I take it you law enforcement types think along different lines.”
“Force of habit,” the first man replied with yet another shrug, “don’t take it personally, but we will have to deta…um, hold you at the base until some details of the murder scene are…cleared up.”
“Not a problem, Marshal Weems. Brother, I’m just happy to be upright and jawin’ with you fellas. Walkin’ into that com room to find little Miss Grimm screamin’ about how she’d sliced up the staff to ‘protect the world from infection’ before runnin’ that clever blade over her own throat isn’t a memory that’s liable to fade anytime soon. Here’s hopin’ that base of yours has an on-site head-shrink.”
“Have to say, you did sound understandably shaken on the radio transmission...kept referring to SOS as 'OSS'. Not to worry, Peterson, we’ll make sure you get all the counseling you need. Well, you ready to fly off this burg?”
“Damn straight, Marshal. Sure you don’t want me to take the stick on this bad boy?” the big man beamed, gesturing towards the chopper with the wave of his left hand, “been a coon’s age since I flew a Squirrel.”
The second man regarded the first with an openly sarcastic frown before offering a tight-lipped reply.
“We can manage, Mister Peterson. Climb aboard please.”
Twenty minutes later with the research compound far in the distance, the chopper sailed over freshly layered tundra, the bright, deep-blue sky giving no hint of the frenzied chaos it had so recently birthed.
“One thing still puzzles me,” Marshal Derek Weems blurted suddenly, forced to shout to drown out the chopper’s whirling blades. Sitting directly across from Peterson as his partner navigated the single-engine AS350 over a never-ending series of snow-crusted ranges, the veteran Air Marshal muted further comment until he and the larger man had locked eyes.
“The lead scientist, Marcus…”
“Yeah, ol’ doc Derangement we called ‘im….smart as a whip and twice as egotistical,” Peterson replied with a pained grimace while casually removing the glove from his left hand, “kept my distance from the whole lot of ‘em…snooty assholes with a god complex.”
“Yes, well, he reported some great find that had all the feds with clipboards fully erect with excitement. Thing is…” the Marshal concluded, cocking a brow quizzically, “…and I know I’m just a jerk with a badge that probably wouldn’t know a dinosaur bone from a rooster’s drumstick, but I saw absolutely nothing to catch even the untrained eye on display inside that lab-nothing but trays of empty beakers, frost-coated test-tubes, and a half-dozen laptops taking up desk space.
Of course, there was that squared chunk of ice hidden away and blocked off in the generator room…looked like it’d been dug out from the inside. Weird,” he shrugged, “but then, what the hell do I know, right?”
“You got me, Marshal,” the large man replied with a weary exhale while staring blankly down into the passing blur of sheer whiteness below, his glove-less left hand tucked snugly beneath the adjoining thigh, “how much further to the base, ya think? My eyelids are growin’ heavier by the minute…didn’t exactly get my quota of shuteye last night.”
The Marshal rose cautiously and leaned past the big man into the cockpit to begin a short, mostly inaudible exchange with his partner.
Meanwhile, in sneaking a peek down at the appendage he’d gone to such pains to hide away, the monster that had been veteran co-pilot Mack Peterson released a low squeal of unbridled joy that was as decidedly inhuman as the slimy, wriggling tentacles on display.
“Less than a half-hour out, Peterson,” Marshal Weems soon announced with a wink the big man’s way, “a hot meal, a sympathetic ear and a soft bed…sound like a plan?”
“Yes sir…it most certainly does at that,” the Peterson-thing replied with a nod, a subtle, uncontrollable twitch of its right eye going as unnoticed as the jagged appearance of its piranha-like teeth.
“Especially that part about a sympathetic ear…I get the feelin’ I’ll be needing as much kind human contact as earthly possible.”
Author's note: Thank you and rest in peace, John W. Campbell (author of 'Who Goes There'). John Carpenter's 1982 film masterpiece 'The THING' was one of my main inspirations in becoming a writer of Sci-Fi/horror fiction.