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At Peace

Grant Barnes
[captaingrant1@hotmail.com]

Traces of half-remembered nightmares drifting through the sinister undertow of her mind, Angela stood in her thermal sleep wear and watched the dark. It writhed and twisted beyond the impossibly thick windowpane, countless snowflakes dancing wildly this way and that in the antarctic winds, thoughtless puppets operated by lunatic puppeteers. Phantoms, shapes whirled and undulated with neither rhyme nor reason. Although, a shrieking, mindless maelstrom governed the frozen wastes outside, where Angela stood it was as silent and still as the grave.

           She turned away from the huge window almost fearfully, leaving the bitter storm to rage unseen, feeling the numbing cold as she never had before. The overhead fluorescents, once harsh and boisterously bright, cast weak light over the room, somberly caressing sterile white walls and stainless steel counters. The steady drone of the generator had also degenerated, becoming an unhealthy, baleful wheeze. Angela knew it wouldn't be long before the generator fell victim to whatever mechanical disease was presently killing it, and the lights flickered desperately as if in response to this very thought.

           The room was large and simple, the same as almost every other in the barren bowels of Station 1178. Cluttering the counters were scientific instruments of a thousand different species; wooden racks crammed full of waiting test tubes, notepads with excited observations penciled across them in spidery scrawl, indifferent scales and mechanized measuring devices. Angela moved towards the litter of forlorn equipment. She ran a single finger down a thin layer of frost that had formed on the outside of a measuring cylinder, wondering absently when the gradually seeping cold that the generator was fighting against would close its icy fist over Station 1178 once and for all. It was a question to which she knew the answer all too well. Soon. Very soon. The lack of fear she felt, the weary indifference toward her own impending death, was magnificently unnatural.

           Outside, the fourth month of complete darkness continued. Angela's gaze returned to the elemental freak show outside the window, almost involuntarily, watching the mystifying swirls of dim snow amidst the senseless, hungry black. They whispered to her in a manner that was not at all auditory, restless ghosts imparting unspeakable truths and terrible revelations. Shuddering with greater depth than the pervading cold had yet been able to cause, Angela hastily left the laboratory.

           It was built some years ago in one of the less volatile areas of Antarctica, this research station, alone and inconsequential on some mammoth plateau that managed to avoid the brunt of an eternal winter's fury. Angela remembered seeing it from above as the helicopter, she and David traveled in, passed overhead, and although she didn't really think about it at the time, the station seemed infused with a terrible loneliness; a trace of grey all but swallowed up by the infinite expanse of white surrounding it. When she saw it that first time, the white was serene, angelic, beautiful. Recently, even when the storms ceased for an hour or so as they did every few days, it was something else. In the dancing, radiant circle of her flashlight, the white had been sinister, watchful, hungry. She no longer went outside for any reason, regardless of the weather conditions.

           There weren't storms around Station 1178 ever, or that had been the original idea at least. It was situated so as to avoid them, but nature proved that it could not be second-guessed by the likes of man, as it often did. The storms had grown in severity, and both Angela and David had become nervous. Neither of them voiced their fears. They lost contact with anyone and everyone when the blizzards became even worse, and the violent weather meant that no one could bring them out of the Antarctic wastes even if they wanted to. Supplies were low, and soon the pair ceased the research they had been sent to Station 1178 to do. It just seemed futile.

           She entered David's quarters, not in the least surprised to find that he was gone. His multiple heavy bedclothes lay twisted on the floor beside his bed, feverishly cast off for reasons unknown. One of the notepads they had once used to record data and results gleaned from their research sat atop his disheveled bed, only this one did not contain theories or futile conclusions, temperatures or pointless graphs. The top sheet was dated what she believed was two days ago. She picked it up and began to read.

Journal, I turn to you now only as a last resort. I fear that I will lose my sanity to whatever is happening here without some distraction. Even now I tend to believe it is a case of too little, too late.

           Angela feared to continue past this first paragraph, a doomed introduction written by a condemned man. Instead, she leafed quickly through the pages, desperately keeping her eyes from alighting on the cursed words that spilled past them. Page after page, an endless parade of penciled letters that cried out voicelessly. With growing horror, Angela realized that the document was not merely a diary, not just several pages of recounted events. It was a bible, an immense document with written pages numbering over three hundred by her reckoning, all apparently done within two days. The handwriting degenerated towards the end, neat uniform characters mutating into nightmarish parodies. Good God, she dared not read anymore, for she knew full well what horrible things lurked between the mundane lined paper sheets. And she valued her sanity far too much to subject it to anything like that.

           But before she replaced the notepad, Angela read the last line of Dr. David Ruses epic, tortured recount, her faded blue eyes staring at the jagged letters with wide-eyed fear and terrible understanding.

I must go now. The thing that hides in the darkness has called me, has called us, and it has waited far too long. I will go to it as I should have done in the beginning. We will find one another in the darkness, this traveler and I, and we will be at peace.

           Angela threw the notepad back upon the disordered bed and backed out of the room, trembling uncontrollably. The thing in the darkness, dear Lord, had David seen it too? She thought feverishly.

           Had David seen it move in the black, sinuous and seductive, coiled and watchful? Had David heard it call his name as he slept, heard the thing whisper and cajole and persuade and promise, as she herself had?

           As she herself did?

           Suddenly, she was back in the research laboratory, gazing into the darkness, her nails digging into her palms hard enough to draw blood. Fear had left her. The beautiful patterns of darkened snow were still out there, the gale-force winds tearing them apart and drawing them together almost rhythmically. Now Angela could hear them as David could, all the voices in the darkness, side by side with the thing that hid there; hand in hand with the Traveler.

           "Come with us, Angela."

           The voice that spoke from the darkness was soft and darkly enticing. It was ageless, toneless, terrible. It was a voice that whispered through sealed tombs and ancient vaults, a voice that echoed through lonely corridors and forgotten halls once night has fallen. Angela thought it was beautiful.

           "Out here, you can be beautiful. Come with us, and be at peace."

           She looked at her hands, deeply lined by age and experience. To be beautiful, to be no longer alone. To be with the Traveler.

           "I will come," she whispered.

           A trace of movement caught her eye. The test tubes now stood at jagged, bizarre angles, throwing impossible, sneering silhouettes on the walls. The counter itself seemed out of perspective, awkward and somehow sinister, leering and leaning and wrong. Beyond the doorway, where her and David's quarters lay, shadows coiled and undulated, shade pooling where no shade belonged. Everything had changed in some subtle but terribly fundamental way.

           The lights flickered for the last time and the generator uttered a death cry.

           Darkness.

           "Come with us, Angela," the Traveler said once again, patient and wondrous.

           The door was unlocked, and Angela slid it open, desperately. She relished the sting of the wind on her face as it burnt her, ignoring the beginnings of frostbite. She slid into the cold inferno, hearing the voices of the others, hearing David's voice. And the Traveler was waiting, as she knew it had been since she first arrived at Station 1178.

           It coiled its unspeakable self around her, colder than the winds and snow combined, slowly finishing her before the freezing atmosphere could, and Angela smiled. Death claimed her within seconds, but death was only the beginning. Even as she lay in the deep snow, staring sightlessly into the starless skies, the shriek of lunatic winds dominating the dark, loneliness and hate disappeared. Before long, her mouth froze into an eternal, dreadful grin and a thin glaze of ice formed over each dead blue eye, and it began to feed. For Angela, love was all that remained, love for the Traveler.

           And she was at peace.



About the Author (click here) © 2000 Grant Barnes, all rights reserved
 appears here by permission



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