The Gestation Factor | By: Dallas Releford | | Category: Short Story - Horror Bookmark and Share

The Gestation Factor

THE GESTATION FACTOR BY: Dallas G. Releford Old Ben tossed and tumbled in his bed kicking the blanket onto the carpeted floor at least twice before the telephone rang. He grunted, cursed the noise that dared to disturb his already irregular sleep and finally managed to toss the cover back and place his feet on the floor. His legs trembled as he struggled to get to his feet. At eighty-two years, he found mobility to be an asset that he appreciated more each day that he lived. It was dark in the room as he usually slept with the lights off (mostly to save electricity but he found that he could sleep better in the dark anyway) and struggled even more to adjust his sleepy eyes to the darkened room. Grabbing the iron bedstead, he managed to somehow steady himself and to stand erect. His granddaughter, Elizabeth had been prompting, no encouraging him to get a cane but he had only argued that he was still able to get around without one and left it at that. To walk with a cane would be just another way of admitting that he was getting old and he would never admit to that. Every bone (and just about everything else) in his body hurt him and he wondered if those few parts of him that didn’t hurt right at the moment, were still asleep? It didn’t matter because by the time he got to the still ringing telephone, all of his body parts would be awake and causing him pain. He cursed again as he stumbled his toe against the leg of the bed but just clinched his teeth together and kept going. He stopped long enough at the table in the corner to turn the lamp on and then picked up the telephone. “Ben,” he said, “who’s callin’?” There wasn’t an answer so he inquired again about who was calling and what they wanted. Ben hung the telephone up and started back to bed yawning as he did so but decided to watch a little television before finally retiring. He glanced at the big grandfather clock and realized that it was almost two o’clock in the morning. It didn’t matter though; he could sleep as late as he wished because there wasn’t any pressing business that he needed to attend to the next morning. There rarely was anything important that he had to do these days other than go to the numerous doctors that took most of his money. There were few things in his life that brought him as much pleasure as the company of his granddaughter did. Even the picture on the lamp table next to the wide screen HDTV television set gave him many hours of pleasure because the picture reminded him of the walks in the park on a sunny spring day, the hours they spent in the library together and the many times they had lunch or dinner together. Not only was Elizabeth a beautiful young woman with long silky brown hair, blue eyes and a light complexion but she had a good personality that made him want to spend all his time with her. She reminded him so much of his wife that had passed so many years ago. Maybe Elizabeth brought back some of the pleasantries that he had experienced with his wife? Somehow, he had always suspected that she was the only reason he held on to life for so long. Old Ben had stood there at her graduation from Indiana University with tears in his eyes because he was so happy for her. He had cried at her wedding and cried even more a year later when she had divorced the drunk that her husband had turned out to be but had encouraged her to continue with her life and to forget about him. When she received the letter from NASA accepting her for Astronaut training, he had given her all the support that he could. It had taken over half of the money in his bank account to help her get through college and now he dug in even deeper to help her finance the trip to Houston, Texas where she would begin her training and her new career. Old Ben didn’t really mind because he had all the money he needed. She had managed to get a BS in Biology and a MS in Space Science. These two degrees and a lot of hard work had landed her a permanent position at the space lab. She was interested in space exploration and eagerly applied for all open positions on the space program when they were available. Elizabeth Rogers had been in Houston only a year when he received a letter from her telling him that she had been accepted in the program that would train astronauts to go to Mars. She sounded so excited and Ben shared that excitement with her but somehow knew just how she felt. As he stood there staring at her picture, he remembered all those things. The trip to Mars had gone very well and she had only returned about two weeks ago after a long, tiresome trip to the red planet. She had given him her journal that she had kept during that trip. It contained various notes and writings about her experience while at NASA. She had explained that she just wanted him to keep it for her and that if he read it that he might understand what his investment had meant to her success. Ben had placed it beside her picture and there it had stayed since he put it there. His eyes weren’t so great anymore and he thought that he might take a look at it when he felt better. When he was tired as he had been for the last few days, his eyes bothered him. The Glaucoma that had plagued him for the last seven years was getting worse. The Laser treatments had helped a little and he could normally see better except when he hadn’t had very much sleep. Most of the time this wasn’t much of a problem because he had little else to do but sleep. When Elizabeth came to visit him for a few days (as she had diligently promised to do), he would promptly beg her to read the Journal for him. She would not deny him anything because she loved him and he knew it. It was something between them that had been there since the time she was a little girl and used to sit on his knee as he read her stories from the books he had bought for her. He probably could read the journal himself but having her read it to him would make it seem more real and allow her to share her experiences with him. Ben picked up the remote from the coffee table in front of him moaning from the pain in his back and legs as he bent over. The trip back up was even more painful as he struggled to straighten up his stiff body. He sat down on the couch in front of the coffee table and as he did so, he pushed the button and the screen of the Television instantly came to life. Ben flicked the channel button until he found the Fox News channel. He liked to keep up with current events and Fox most certainly was the best of all the news channels. He tried to focus his blurry and sleepy eyes on the huge screen but found the images somewhat fuzzy. He knew that the digital picture was perfectly clear but because of the disease that was gnawing at his eyes, he couldn’t see them clearly since he had just awakened a little while ago. He could see well enough to make out most of the people and images but he had to strain his eyes just a little to allow them to adjust so he could read the ticker that flowed across the bottom of the screen. There was a story about the war that was going on in China. Wasn’t there any end to War? He wondered. North Korea had invaded South Korea and the United States and its allies had attempted to invade North Korea but the Chinese didn’t like that and had launched their armies at South Korea. The American Alliance had decided to invade China and the war was on. Old Ben dozed a couple of times but finally awakened enough to hear his granddaughters name mentioned. A reporter, a female with beautiful, full legs and a shapely body was talking something about the mission to Mars. She was asking a technician or someone wearing a white lab coat about what it was that the Mars team had brought back to the earth. The technician was trying to deny that anything out of the unusual had been found but the reporter just kept asking the question. It was clear that the technician was getting annoyed with the constant onslaught of questions that he could not answer and was looking desperately for a way out of the interview. At the mention of Elizabeth’s name, Ben became more aware and struggled to awaken and see what it was all about. Hardly awake yet, Ben did remember seeing the man in the white lab coat before but he couldn’t remember where he had seen him right away. Gradually, he realized that Elizabeth had a picture of the team that had prepared the Mars project in the Journal she had given to him. He was sure that the picture that was so carefully placed in the back of the Journal had the man in it. Was he mistaken or had he really seen the person before? After all, he had seen many people in his time but curiosity got the better of him and he painfully got up from the chair and retrieved the Journal from the table. Back in his comfortable chair, he opened the Journal to the last page and pulled out several black and white photographs. There were approximately twelve of them showing the team of astronauts, the lab where she worked some of the time and there were several other pictures of the inside and outside of the huge ship that had carried them to the surface of Mars and back home again. He nervously thumbed through the pictures until he found the one he wanted. It was a picture of several people all in lab coats standing in front of a brick building that had a sign in the front yard. Old Ben couldn’t make out what the sign said because it was partially blocked by some of the people. But he knew that Elizabeth had told him that it was the Houston Space Center for Advanced Research Lab. He did know that much and he hadn’t forgotten that fact. Old Ben turned on the lamp that resided on the table next to his chair. He read a lot (mostly the books with the large letters) and the light was essential to his favorite activity. Holding the picture under the lamp so he could see it better, Old Ben scanned the figures in the picture until he found the one he was interested in. The dark haired man was one of twelve other people in the picture and he was standing next to Elizabeth. Ben figured that he was a member of the lab team that studied samples that the astronauts brought back from space. Now that he was satisfied that the person on the news program and the person in the photograph were the same he was sure that he must be involved in something, but what? He hoped that whatever it was that the newsperson was asking about, that Elizabeth wasn’t involved in it especially if it was dangerous. She hadn’t mentioned anything about finding something unusual on Mars but she had said they had brought a lot of rocks back to be studied so maybe that was what the newswoman was talking about? The ringing of the telephone interrupted his thoughts of his favorite and only granddaughter. Almost cursing at the pain in his hips as he again struggled to get up, he made his way to the table and picked up the receiver. After only a few moments, he clumsily placed the handset in the black cradle and walked back to the chair where he sat down, placed his tired legs on the footstool and unknowingly dropped the Journal down into the side of the chair between the seat and the arm of the chair. The telephone rang again for several moments but Ben did not get up to answer it. There was a dark red liquid running out of his left ear. The same ear that had listened so intently to the voice on the other end of the telephone line. * * * “What do you really think they are?” Elizabeth asked the young technician standing across the table from her. On the stainless steel table in front of them was a tray with eighteen small round objects in it. A white cloth covered the table giving it a hospital environment appearance and also served as a “clean” area for them to work in. The young man reached up and scratched his head and as he did so his dark rimmed glasses almost fell off. He quickly and precisely grabbed them as if he had mastered the art from previous experiences. He had a puzzled look on his face as his eyes wandered from the objects in the pan to the beautiful dark-haired, blue-eyed woman in front of him. He was very fond of Elizabeth and even more so because they had worked together for several years. He knew that he didn’t have one chance in a million of winning her but he could at least dream of such possibilities. She didn’t know his thoughts and he didn’t intend ever letting her know. If she ever became aware that he felt that way about her then he could possibly lose her friendship forever. He didn’t want that to happen so he just dealt with it and looked forward to each day that he could spend with her. He didn’t want to lose her even though he knew that she could never be his. Every time he looked at her, he felt like a schoolboy in love for the first time and became very awkward when he realized that she was really there. Sometimes, he had trouble determining if he was dreaming about her or if she was really in his presence. “Bryan,” Elizabeth said again, “didn’t you hear me? Get your mind off those computer games and get back to what we were talking about, would you please?” Bryan Walters, the lowly lab technician who spent his days examining things (and making notes about them) and spending his nights watching television or playing computer games was suddenly jerked back into the real world by the angel that he loved. So that’s what she thinks of me, he thought. A game player who has nothing else to do? “Oh,” he replied trying to keep his composure while pretending to straightening his tie but the result was just as it always was, he felt like he was acting like an idiot. “Oh,” he replied again, “I’m sorry Elizabeth --- well, I was just thinking about those things --- I’ve never really seen anything like them. Can they be eggs or maybe some kind of life form that we aren’t even aware of yet? Maybe they’re just rounded stones that were formed by the high winds and the sand on Mars?” “Bryan,” Elizabeth demanded, “can’t you think for yourself? Can’t you see that they are all almost exactly the same size and the same weight? You’re the one that made out the preliminary report and recorded those factors. No --- well --- I’m thinking something entirely different. I’m thinking that those things are some kind of egg and that they are very old. The only question I have is; what is inside those things?” Bryan felt embarrassed and completely let down. Of course, he had recorded the information and of course, he had made out the report. But one thing was apparent and that was they weren’t going to be able to study the objects for too much longer. They both knew that the objects would be taken away for scientists with much more expertise than they had to study --- to their dismay and disgust --- so they both had agreed to use what time they had left to find out what they could about what the objects were. “I’m entirely sorry,” he muttered, not realizing that he was really saying anything, “but I didn’t mean to waste our time. I guess you’re right, they must be some kind of egg --- that’s about all they can be --- some kind of egg. Just what they are I don’t know but what would happen if we ran it through the x-ray machine or something?” “Bryan,” Elizabeth said not believing what she was hearing, “those eggs don’t belong to us and the X-rays might destroy whatever is in there. I don’t think we can get away with that unless --- unless maybe we don’t tell anyone.” “Oh, you can bet I wouldn’t tell anyone,” he replied hoping that she would say that she would go along with the suggestion. “I wouldn’t tell anyone and you can count on that. I mean, how would they know since we are the only ones that have examined the samples since they were brought back from Mars.” “Maybe you’re right,” Elizabeth agreed. “It’s not like that is the only sample we have --- we have seventeen more in case something goes wrong with the one we’re going to test --- we really aren’t going to do any destructive testing, just try to see what is inside it. That really makes sense to me, don’t you think so?” Bryan scratched his chin like he always did when he was in deep thought. Sticking his neck out and having someone chop it off wasn’t a major contribution to good job security but he knew somewhere along the line, he had to make a contribution to science. Being a lab technician for the rest of his life wasn’t part of his plans and a major discovery like this might make the difference between home cooked meals, many lonely nights and dinner out nightly at some nice restaurant with a lovely wife like Elizabeth. Dreams can come true, he decided and if they were to come true then he would have to take chances. He was thinking fast but his thoughts were clouded with misconceptions about what could be and what actually was. “Sure, let’s do it,” he replied confidently. “What do we have to lose except our jobs? I suppose we can always go into the private sector and find something to do.” Elizabeth said nothing more but carefully selected one of the small, round, brown objects from the tray and placed it into a small white paper box. “Here it is,” she said handing it carefully to Bryan. “Do your thing but be extra careful with it. If we break one of those then we are in deep trouble.” “Don’t sweat it,” he said taking the box and walking toward the rear of the room where a huge machine hummed amidst various other test equipment and busy computers. “We’ll have this thing verified in a moment.” He placed the box under the huge lens that looked something like a telescope peering down at the egg. The machine was normally used to scan specimens brought back from space such as rocks and sand samples but Bryan figured that if it could see through such hard objects that the egg would be easy. He flicked the switch and the huge machine hummed even louder as electric motors turned gears and cogs and the huge barrel that contained the lens moved even closer to the fragile egg. They both watched the color monitor as the image they were watching was automatically adjusted. The blurred picture slowly came into focus and a sudden clear image of something inside the egg was revealed. “Oh, my goodness,” Elizabeth exclaimed! “It is even more remarkable than I had hoped for. Do you see the detail Bryan? Look at that --- it’s some kind of creature --- what kind of creature is it? I’ve never seen anything --- I mean, I’m not certain --- maybe a monkey or a baby gorilla or something like that?” “I don’t know,” Bryan said again scratching his chin, “it sort of looks like a human baby but it could also be something similar to our ancient ancestors. I really --- I just don’t know.” “Oh, I’m sure it’s something similar to an ape but what kind of ape it is I just don’t know,” Elizabeth surmised as she looked closely at the object. “Can we get some pictures of this image? In fact Bryan, get lots of pictures if you can.” “Sure,” he replied using the mouse to click on an option that would capture the image that was displayed on the computer screen. Sure, he would take many pictures from many different angles since the machine was quite capable of that. He had to place the egg on a round table beneath the lens that would rotate so that the egg could be photographed from different angles but that wasn’t much of a problem. Within minutes, they had pictures of the baby creature inside the egg from many angles. In a few more minutes, another click of the mouse produced a full three-dimensional image of the little being. Bryan excitedly printed the pictures on the color printer and handed them to Elizabeth after glancing at each one of them himself. “It’s definitely some kind of living being but I don’t think it is still alive,” he observed. Elizabeth seemed not to hear him as she sat down on the stool next to the stainless steel table behind them and studied the pictures with the greatest of interest. “There doesn’t seem to be any movement,” she murmured. “Maybe it’s in some kind of frozen state or something?” “Not very likely,” Bryan said. “We really don’t know how old these things are. You said you found them buried deep in the Martian sand while digging for deep rock samples. They could have been there for a very long time or they could have been laid there most recently.” “Right,” Elizabeth agreed, “and we don’t have any way of determining that as far as I know --- that is, finding out just how old they are. We will have to let the scientists figure that out. Say, do you know if you logged how many of these things there were? I mean, does anyone else know how many of these things were found and brought here?” “I don’t think so,” Bryan answered. “Why do you ask? I just referred to the samples in my report and that hasn’t even been turned in yet. They put me in charge of them to do the cataloguing and documentation until they could find someone qualified to perform the research on them. Are you thinking what I’m thinking you’re thinking?” “Afraid so,” Elizabeth said smiling sheepishly. “I think we should keep this one here for further study. I mean, don’t you think so? After all, I’m the one that found them.” “I guess so,” Bryan said and then quickly added, “but remember they don’t belong to us; they belong to the taxpayers and to the government. Keeping one of these things would really put us into deep, hot water if anyone found out about it.” “How many people ever come here anyway?” Elizabeth asked and then answered her own question. “Just you and me and a couple of other lab techs, that’s who and those other guys never bother any of our stuff just like we don’t bother theirs. We all have specific projects to work on and taking or tinkering with someone else’s project is strictly taboo.” “I was just concerned,” Bryan replied, “and I didn’t want us to get into any trouble.” “Oh, don’t worry so much,” Elizabeth cautioned him, “we can simply put it in the storage room in the back until they take the rest of them and then we can experiment with it at our leisure. If we make any major discoveries then we can say that it was accidentally left behind. Nobody will probably question that since I was the one that made the discovery. When are they supposed to pick the other sample up anyway?” “Probably this Friday which is only a few days away --- at least that is my estimation of the situation --- it will probably take them that long to assign the project to a team.” “Good,” Elizabeth deducted, “then that will give us time to change the reports to show that there are only seventeen eggs and not eighteen.” “You are a little-bit evil, sometimes,” Bryan teased, “but I like you anyway.” He noted that she either didn’t hear him or just ignored the statement altogether but he supposed that it really didn’t matter as long as he was still working on a common interest with her. He just wished that she had another common interest with him. “Well, let’s get it put away and get out of here. I have to go see my grandfather. We’ve been so busy with this research that I haven’t seen him in a few days. Would you like to go with me?” Bryan couldn’t really believe that he was being invited to go with her but suddenly remembered that he had promised his father that he would take the kids to the ballgame that evening. With such luck he would never get anywhere with her, he thought. In fact, with that kind of luck he wouldn’t even get another chance like that in twenty life times much less one. He quickly rummaged through his memory trying desperately to find some way out of the dilemma but nothing materialized. Would his father forgive him if he told him that he couldn’t take the kids? He didn’t think so. His father was the type of person that expected him to follow through on his promises and you just didn’t back out on a commitment once you had made it. “Oh Elizabeth, I would love to go with you but I made a promise to my father to take the kids to the ballgame tonight and he bought the tickets for us and he would just kill me if I didn’t do it. He’s working late and there isn’t anyone else to take them.” “Oh, that’s fine,” she assured him, “it isn’t the end of the world but I just thought you’d like to get out of the lab for awhile and take a little ride.” She was right, he thought but maybe it was the end of his world? The one chance he might have had at getting a date with her or at least getting out with her and he blew it. A worm in an anthill had a better chance than he did. His heart sank deeper into the crevice behind his ribs, his face felt like a hot furnace and the world began to spin around. He struggled to stay conscious and not to let her know how the situation had devastated him but he was sure that she had detected that something was wrong. “Oh sure, we can do it some other time --- there will be other times since we work together --- and you’re right, it isn’t the end of the world.” “Sure,” Elizabeth agreed, “we can do it anytime that you like. I go to visit my grandfather quite often when I’m not out in space and you’re welcome to come with me if you want. Well, if you’ll put the sample away, I’ll be on my way and you have a good day.” When she had put her coat on and left the room Byron picked up the box and rubbed the perspiration from his brow with the sleeve of his lab coat. Carrying the box carefully in his left hand, he opened the door to the back room and made his way to the supply room. Was it hot in the supply room or was it just the stress that he was experiencing that made it feel hot? He found a shelf in the back of the room and placed the box with the sample egg in it behind the boxes of old continuous form computer paper. 3,000 sheets the lettering on the box read and he wondered when the last time was that human hands had touched the box. Since they didn’t use much of the continuous, sheet fed paper anymore, he figured the sample would be safe behind the boxes. It was probably the safest place to keep it. Satisfied that he had found the safest place for the samples, he hurried back to the lab to shut down the equipment and get ready to leave for the day. The ringing telephone not only shocked him but interrupted his remaining thoughts about the ride with Elizabeth. He walked over to the gray steel desk and picked up the receiver. “Hello,” he said followed by, “and who is calling?” He placed the telephone receiver back in the cradle and walked steadily toward the huge X-ray machine before suddenly collapsing to the floor as if all the life had gone out of his body. * * * Three hours later, Elizabeth rang the doorbell at her grandfather’s apartment. She had stopped to pick up a few things for him at the mall. She always brought him a few groceries, toiletries and maybe a meal from one of the fast food restaurants in town. When there wasn’t an answer she knocked very loudly a few times just in case he was in the bathroom or maybe asleep. There still wasn’t an answer and she tested the doorknob and found the door to be unlocked. She called out for him to come to the door and when he didn’t answer, she warned him that she was entering the room. Maybe he had gone to the doctor or even gone for a short walk or something, she thought. The first thing she saw when she entered the small apartment was her grandfather sitting comfortably in the easy chair with his feet at rest on the cushioned footstool. At first, she thought she would just leave and let him rest but then decided that since she had come all that distance to visit with him that she may as well awaken him. After all, he could sleep anytime and he probably would be happy to see her. He seemed to enjoy the visits she didn’t want to deny him any pleasure that she could give him. She walked toward him but before she could reach the chair where he was resting, he suddenly moved. “Oh, well if it isn’t Elizabeth,” he said without turning his head. It’s so pleasant to see you again. How are you doing dear?” She thought it was strange that he knew who she was without actually seeing her. Maybe he smelled her perfume or maybe he sensed her presence somehow? Whatever the reason was, it gave her the creeps. Even more curious was the fact the television was on but she figured he had dozed off to sleep while watching it. She had seen him do that quite a few times in the last few years. She sensed that something wasn’t quite right but just couldn’t figure out what it was. As she moved forward the body of the man she always called, “grandpa”, he turned and the head looked directly at her. His gray hair was “messy” to say the least and his eyes were rolling from side to side as if trying to find her. He now stood up without much effort and Elizabeth knew that was unusual because he had some difficulty in getting up and sitting down because of the early stages of Arthritis. The head began to move back and forth like a radar antenna searching for something to lock onto. With a little effort, it finally stopped and the eyes seemed to focus on her. The lips of the old man trembled as if he was trying to form some words. Had her grandfather had a stroke or something and didn’t realize it? What had happened to him since she last saw him? She wasn’t sure but she knew deep down from some ancient instinct that something was clearly wrong. “Grandpa,” she said nervously, her legs becoming weak and something was kicking around in her stomach, “grandpa, what is wrong with you? Are you sick or something?” “Oh, no dear,” he replied turning his full form around toward her but still standing between the chair and the cushioned footstool. “I just went to sleep while watching that thing over there.” He slowly raised his arm and pointed toward the television where the History channel was showing some of the highlights of the big war. Elizabeth thought that he moved like a Zombie and perhaps that was exactly what he had become, a vegetable that had replaced the man that had been struck down by a sudden onslaught of Alzheimer’s disease. She hoped not because the last thing she wanted to do was to put her beloved grandfather into some crummy, non-caring, irresponsible nursing home where they never had enough help and some of the employees they did have didn’t care about the people they were supposed to be taking care of. She suddenly lurched forward to catch him but she was too late as his legs collapsed and he fell across the padded footrest. She did manage to grab his arm in time to keep his head from contacting the coffee table that was in front of the couch to her right. His arm was as stiff as a poker and his body was extremely rigid. She attempted to pull him up from the position he was in over the footrest but it was like trying to lift a ton of stones. He finally gained some control of his body and with his assistance, she managed to get him back into the chair. “Grandpa,” she said almost out of breath, “you need to go to the emergency room or at least to a doctor. How do you feel?” “No, I’ll be fine,” he insisted but she could see something was happening with his eyes. They were rolling around again and there were drops of blood coming from them running down his cheeks like tiny raindrops, red raindrops. She stood there watching, just wondering in amazement about what was happening, as the flow continued until the blood was flowing freely from his nose and ears. Then it began to pop out of the pores in his skin, all over his head. In minutes, his entire head was a mass of bloody jelly. She screamed not knowing what to do or what action to take. At first, she just wanted to run but leaving her grandfather in that condition clearly wasn’t the right thing to do. The body began to jerk and quiver all over as if he was having some kind of epileptic fit. Apparently, in a lot of pain, he reached up and scratched at his nose and the skin fell away revealing a mass of bone and flesh. She covered her face and eyes with her hands just in time as blood splashed onto her hands and clothes. She peeped between her fingers, not really wanting to, but curiosity made her do it and couldn’t believe that his eyeballs had actually popped out and were hanging down from their sockets. Elizabeth had enough of it and her mind just couldn’t take anymore. She rushed for the telephone and fumbled with the receiver almost dropping it twice before finally managing to hold it up to her ear while she dialed 911 with her right hand. * * * “I don’t know what happened to him Miss Rogers,” Mr. Murphy, the county coroner replied as they sat in his office in the courthouse building on Front Street. “It is a most unusual situation and one that is difficult to understand considering the information that we have. You said he lived alone so there aren’t any witnesses or anyone that can tell us what actually happened. We only have a few clues that we can use to guess at what occurred to your grandfather three nights ago. For one thing, his eardrums were completely destroyed and there was some extensive damage to his brain. It was almost like someone used a Laser gun on his head and fried his brain and most of the bone structure in his skeleton. We have seen that microwaves and high-pitched sounds have some influence or effect on living tissue but the only way we can duplicate this would be to stick his head into a Microwave. I’m sorry --- I didn’t mean to put it so bluntly --- well, that is, it’s the only way that I know of explaining it to you, no matter how harsh it might seem.” “That’s okay,” Elizabeth said. She still had problems keeping the tears back as they discussed the matter. Even the guys with the life squad almost freaked out when they had seen the old man and the condition he was in. When they arrived, chunks of flesh had begun to fall from the quickly decomposing body. It was almost as if he had aged for many years as Elizabeth stood there helplessly watching. There was little else to do until the squad arrived. There was blood and flesh all over the place giving the indication that some horrible monster with large claws had completely slashed the body in numerous pieces. “That is fine, don’t worry about it,” Elizabeth continued realizing that the Coroner was in a difficult situation, “but it just seems so odd that this happened in such as short time. Could it be some kind of new virus or disease that did this?” “I don’t know that either but I’ve contacted the CDC in Atlanta and they’re sending a team up tomorrow. We’ve quarantined the body or what is left of it so that if it is something like that then it won’t be able to spread. Are you sure you’re alright Mrs. Rogers?” “Yes,” she replied, “and there’s no need for you to worry. I’m fine but, well it is painful --- I mean, I can handle it Mr. Murphy --- but I will never forget my grandfather. I suppose the only consolation that I have is that maybe we will find out what happened to him.” “Yes, we will and you can be assured of that,” Mr. Rogers said, “and I won’t stop until I have an answer for you. There is something else Miss Rogers,” he added. As if losing her grandfather wasn’t enough, now the man in front of her was telling her there was more. She wondered just how much more she could take. Her mother had died from years of stress caused when her father had walked out the door and was never heard from again. Working at the nursing home down the road wasn’t the most pleasant task that anyone could face every day. Caring for elderly people who demanded all of her time and attention drained her before the day was over. The facility was always seriously understaffed, the supervisors were difficult to deal with and the meager pay barely paid the bills. She had felt the same pain that her mother had felt when she came home so tired that she had to sleep a couple of hours before she could even manage to fix a meal for them. She was only sixteen when her father had left home but she vowed that she would help her mother some way. Elizabeth wanted to quit school right then and there and get a job but her mother wouldn’t hear of it. “You have to complete school child, go to college and make a life for yourself,” her mother had demanded. “You won’t have a chance out there if you don’t do all those things --- we’ll make it someway --- we always have and we always will.” Elizabeth was remembering those words that had rang in her ears and paid little attention to Mr. Murphy who seemed to be frozen in time. His mouth was half open and his eyes were fixed on her but she couldn’t break free of the memories of her mother who had sacrificed so much for her. His mouth was getting bigger and his tongue slowly grew until it was hanging down below his chin but she still was focused on a certain memory from her past. The memories rushed forward like she had pressed the fast forward button on a video tape player. The next scenes showed her the day the teacher had called her to the office and told her quite calmly that her mother had suffered a stroke. Her car wasn’t in the best of shape but she had managed to borrow her roommate’s car and had rushed to the hospital. There was now slow motion; her entire world was now in slow motion. The memories in her mind and the events that were happening in the coroner’s office were in slow motion with everything passing by her like a roller coaster struggling uphill. The fast forward button kicked in again and she was standing in the cemetery, the one out on Kirk road, the one with the beautiful evergreen and weeping willow trees but her mind wasn’t on the beauty of the place. Her mind was on her mother who was being lowered into the ground for the first and last time. She would never see her again but she had promised her mother when she was in the hospital that she would do everything in her power to go on without her. She intended to keep her promise. The tape blurred as the fast forward mechanism took control again. She was on Mars. She could hardly move because she was confined in the space suit and the lack of gravity made her feel nauseated but she struggled with the discomfort because she had promised her mother that she would succeed. Her mind was moving forward fast again and she found herself alone outside the little city that had been hastily constructed for their comfort and protection. In the distance, she could see the faint outline of something unusual in the red desert of the ancient world. Was it an ancient city she was looking at or was it just a mirage? Quickly making her way back to the all-land vehicle that she had parked nearby, she got in and drove off across the desert toward the city or the mirage. Elizabeth wondered how they had missed the beautiful white spirals that ejected from the ground and rose up into the sky. Maybe you could only see it at certain times of the day because of the clouds or dust storms that constantly invaded the Martian landscape? She was now in the city. There wasn’t much left of it but several dozen structures that had walls without roofs and the two twin towers that shot up from the surface to maybe sixteen floors above her head. They were white and had a pearl-like surface that reminded her of the insides of Clam Shells she had picked up on the beach as a child. Elizabeth was now seeing a variety of images and many were blurred and meant little to her but the next one she recognized as the exact moment and place where she had discovered the eggs. She began digging in the sand hoping to find some ancient artifact or maybe some different rocks but after a while, she became tired and bored of the digging. Elizabeth walked around looking for a more favorable spot where she could dig deeper into the sand. She had figured that if ancient Martians had lived there that they must have left something in the sand that had survived over the centuries. Maybe an old plate, a cup or maybe even a shoe of some type. She had wandered around the towers and accidentally stepped on a mound of sand. Thinking it was just sand that had been deposited there by the severe Martian winds, she paid little attention at first. Her eyes were suddenly drawn to the spot by the appearance of something round and brown somewhat resembling pool balls. She watched herself pick up the first one that had been exposed by the strong gusts of wind blowing carelessly across the cool Martian surface. She had held it in her hand turning it over and over time after time as she carefully examined it. Curious, she cautiously and carefully swept the rest of the sand away from the mound exposing many more of the objects. She could feel the excitement build up in her as she realized that she had made an important discovery. That wasn’t the only thing she was now feeling. “Invasion --- leave mine alone --- not yours but mine and mine only,” something was saying in her head as she stood there holding the precious objects. “Part of me but not part of you,” it said again but she ignored the pulsating sensation in her mind. Just my imagination, she had said and let it go at that but there was a feeling that she was not alone. She remembered it all now. The first few moments had generated so much excitement that she had completely ignored the feelings of not being alone and the strange voice in her head. “Not yours but mine,” the voice had told her and she had chose to ignore it. Didn’t she have the curious objects in her hand and wasn’t she the only one around? She had been careful to make sure that nobody or anything else was near when she entered the ancient city. How could there have been anyone else there? The discovery was hers and she wasn’t going to give it up for anyone or anything. She hadn’t traveled all that distance to some faraway world and make the most important discovery of all time and just give it up. That wasn’t her style and it wasn’t something that a winner did. “It’s mine,” Mr. Murphy seemed to be saying but he was saying it in slow motion. Everything was still in slow motion but something happened that brought her back to reality. “I have something else to tell you --- there is something else that you must know,” Mr. Murphy was saying and his tongue was hanging all the way down and resting on his chest by now. It was like a snake crawling down from his mouth and seeking to strike her in the face if she moved. She became aware that his eyes were bulging out of the sockets and his ears were growing. Growing and looking a lot like those of Mr. Spock. They were getting longer and turned green as she watched. She wasn’t on Mars anymore but she was in the office of the Coroner. That much she could remember. Had she had a stroke like her mother or was there another possibility? Was she hallucinating or was she dreaming? Where was the reality? Elizabeth couldn’t really believe her eyes and yet she couldn’t really explain what was happening to the man who had been a normal human being only a little time ago. “What did you say Mr. Murphy?” Elizabeth was extremely shocked by what she was seeing but decided that she must be hallucinating and that everything was really normal. She had decided to treat everything just like it was a normal situation and Mr. Murphy wasn’t turning into a hideous monster right in front of her eyes. After all, there was plenty of time to panic later. But to her dismay that didn’t help matters much. Mr. Murphy just continued to turn into a Frankenstein that scared her even more than the character from the old movie had ever frightened her. The long green fingers with the long sharp fingernails didn’t do much for her ego and the fact that he only had three fingers now didn’t enhance her feelings that things were really normal. Should she pinch herself or maybe slap herself in the face just to see if she was asleep and dreaming? Or, should she get up and run from the room? All of these questions and many more came to her but before she could reach any conclusion about any of them, he began to stand up. He had grown a couple of feet and the little man that had seemed to have a kind and pleasant personality (considering the profession he was in anyway), now towered high above her like an ancient giant from the mounds of Ohio. Not realizing she was doing so, she picked up her purse and stood up. “Well, Mr. Murphy we can continue this conversation later,” she nervously replied trying to say the words without letting him know that she was scared out of her wits. “I have to go check on Bryan. We are supposed to go for a ride later.” “Never mind,” the ugly creature replied drawing the long, slimy tongue back into the dark green mouth, “he can’t help you. We have some business to attend to --- don’t we Elizabeth?” The last few words vibrated the air and made her shudder. The eerie voice sounded like someone talking from the bottom of a deep well. There was an echo that bounced off the walls of the room and almost shattered her nerves in the process. A thick, green liquid that reminded her of warm, green Jello was running from his mouth, eyes and ears not to mention what was left of the holes in his long, slender nose. Each time he turned his head, the slender nose flopped in the direction he turned his head. “What do you mean about Bryan?” She asked more concerned about her friend than she was herself. At first there wasn’t an answer but the beast couldn’t seem to help boasting about her friend. “He has been taken care of,” he replied and she thought he was smiling but she couldn’t really tell because the face had become so distorted that he didn’t resemble a human anymore. “He has been obsessed by those that he has chosen to possess.” “You mean --- you mean that he’s dead?” “Yes, I believe --- I think that is what you call --- cessation of the life force that is in you humans --- that is what you call it. He is no longer capable of using his body,” Mr. Murphy said and moved around the desk as if to gain a better position by which he might pounce on her. His movements were slow as if he wasn’t used to walking or manipulating his body. “You --- you killed Bryan,” Elizabeth stated as she swung her heavy purse completely around while turning her body at the same time. The purse contacted Mr. Murphy on the top of the head just above the two little knots that were forming on each side of his forehead. His entire body was quivering like a mass of jelly and this indicated to Elizabeth that he was going through some kind of transformation. What kind exactly she didn’t know and really didn’t care at the moment. Her only objective was to get as far away from him or it, as she could. The creature ignored her and this irritated her even more. Now she was getting angry. Angry that he had killed her friend and angry that she had found those objects and brought them back to Earth. What would have happened if she hadn’t brought them back? She would still have her grandfather and Bryan and she wouldn’t be standing here confronted by this terrible monster. The creature was maneuvering around the desk and slowly cutting off her retreat out the door. She moved on around the desk like some high school girl trying to avoid the advances of her teacher by playing “chase around the desk” or something. Where she had pounded him with the purse was a large knot that oozed out the greenish liquid reminding her of a boil that had become infected. She couldn’t get in a position to hit him again and he was quite aware that was what she wanted to do. What was she to do? She was still trying to get out when he suddenly staggered and fell to his knees. He seemed to momentarily regain his energy and managed to get to his feet. Elizabeth brought down the full weight of the desk lamp on his head but that didn’t seem to have much effect on him. He fell back into the leather chair that was placed in front of the desk. He sat there for a moment with the huge eyes just staring back at her. “You make me irate --- angry --- Elizabeth. All I want is mine back. I can’t exist in this body for very long unless I can rearrange it to suit my being --- my being is different than yours Elizabeth, different from your kind. I don’t mean you any harm, I just want to get mine back and leave this miserable planet. You attacked this body --- me --- without any provocation. I never meant to hurt you, you attacked me and you took my own kind from me.” “What are you? Where did you come from?” Elizabeth knew she was trapped. Her questions were more than an untimely probe into his intellectual being; they were a distraction to give her more time to think. His unlucky accident (he just happened to be in the way of the lamp she had held in her shaky hand) had trapped her for sure now. He was between her and the only door out of the place. “I’m surprised that you didn’t figure it out,” he said with the tongue flopping out of his mouth. He had to draw it back into his enlarged mouth before he could speak again. “I was there when you took mine --- I was with you when you took them onto your traveling machine, your spaceship I believe you call it --- you didn’t see me but I was there watching you and learning your ways. I learned a lot about your race in those many days that we traveled here and I planned to take my own kind back from you and to destroy all of you before you arrived on this world. However, I do feel some compassion for you and your predatory race. You are greedy and do not have any consideration for those of other races. You took what wasn’t yours and brought it here and for that you must give me compensation. We weren’t beings as far as you were concerned, we were something to be probed, tested and studied by your Earth scientists.” Elizabeth stood there trembling, for all intents and purposes, a trapped animal in a hole in the ground with but one entrance and one exit. She knew that almost everything the being had said was true but who was he and how had he arrived here at the same time she had? The eggs were all intact and none had hatched. The gestation period for the creatures must be at least a few days or even months. She was quite sure they hadn’t hatched in just a few hours or even a few days. Hadn’t she surveyed and counted the objects in the box along with Bryan? They all had been there. She had found eighteen and there were eighteen in the box. Bryan had kept one for later study but that one hadn’t been hatched yet either. Maybe the creature was invisible, just some kind of energy that could take over a human body? Maybe it wasn’t able to use that body because of some kind of inconsistency or incompatibility in the body structures? That would reasonably account for the terrible mutilation, defamation and deformity of the host body when the creature invaded it. It wasn’t used to the host and couldn’t quite control it so it attempted to change the structure to suit its own needs and failed miserably. “That still doesn’t tell me how you got here and what you are,” Elizabeth replied, “and how did you get to my grandfather you miserable bastard?” “Simply by following you but I got to him through the telephone line just as I did with your Bryan,” the creature answered. “I’m sorry --- I do have some feelings you know --- in fact, my feelings are almost similar to yours but far more advanced. Yes Elizabeth, I am a creature without form but that wasn’t always so. We have to be born just like you do. We are born a physical creature --- one that you wouldn’t want to see --- sometime in the future growth process we shed our body and take on a pure energy form, invisible to most other creatures. Some animals --- your earth cats for example --- can detect us but they can’t see us either. They just sense that we are there. We live for many years; thousands of your Earth years if you would want to know.” “That is interesting,” Elizabeth admitted. “Since you gave birth to these eggs, how is it that pure energy can give birth to visible, solid objects like the eggs?” She was attempting to back up and go around the desk the other way and out the door before the creature could stop her but as she moved back the creature started to get up from the chair. It was clear by his grunts and moans that he was hurt pretty bad. She moved back a little more gaining a little more courage with each careful move. The creature that had once been a man with a profitable and comfortable future raised its blistered right hand in an effort to signal for her to stop. It was apparent that it could not get up and every thought that Elizabeth had told her to get out while she could. Yet, there was something inside her head that pleaded with her to wait and see what the creature wanted, what he had to say. She was torn between the two thoughts, one to run away and be safe and the other one that was not so appealing, stay and maybe learn more about what had happened to her grandfather. There was another important reason for staying and she just thought of it as she completely turned and walked toward the door. As her hand reached for the doorknob she stopped, hesitated and then turned around to face her enemy. Her eyes could do nothing but focus on the purple, blistered hand that was still held up toward her. The green stuff was still emanating from every crevice of the body that was host to the strange being that had once been a resident of Mars. It was running from the mouth, nose and ears in huge streams. The green, slimy liquid was all over his chest. There was so much of it coming from his body that it had even accumulated on his lap and was running down to the floor in front of the easy chair. As she watched blood vessels in his neck and arms began to pop allowing even more of the green slime to escape the shaking, trembling body. “What is it that you want? What can I do that would please you so you will leave me and my kind alone,” she asked desperately almost hoping that she could arrange some deal that would get him or it off the planet and out of her hair once and forever. “You haven’t figured it all out yet?” The creature asked of her. “You haven’t figured it out because the truth has been right in front of you all the time, Elizabeth.” “What truth --- just what are you talking about anyway?” “I’m female just like you Elizabeth --- just because you can’t see me doesn’t mean that I don’t have a gender of some kind --- that’s why I’m having such difficulty adapting to this body, it’s a male and I’m a female. The metabolism; the chemistry just isn’t right and that’s why I can’t share the mind and the other bodily functions. We’re completely incompatible --- but you and I would be compatible, Elizabeth.” Elizabeth was stunned. So that was it, she or he or whatever the damn thing was, wanted her body. She could only imagine what the thing would do with it. If the creature were able to access her body, (if they were compatible that is) the creature would have access to a lot of NASA’s programs and resources. She would be able to get back to her home planet. It might take a long time but eventually she would get there. Elizabeth was sure that plan would include the rest of her family. Even she had said (if you read between the lines) that the eggs would hatch and the beings that developed would become invisible energy someday. “Not me,” Elizabeth said loudly and angrily. “You’re not going to make a glob of green flesh out of me and you’re not going to control my mind. You can just forget about that. I’m getting out of here and in a few moments there will be enough military personnel and NASA scientists here to take care of you and rid our world of you and your kind forever.” “No Elizabeth,” the creature pleaded and Elizabeth almost felt sorry for it. She thought about using the fire extinguisher to spray chemicals all over it but then she decided that she could always do that. She decided to listen a little more. The hand and arm dropped to the chair and didn’t move anymore. It, like most of the rest of the body was now covered with green, pulsating slime. “Elizabeth,” the creature said, “just please listen to me with an open mind. Will you do at least that, Elizabeth?” “Yes,” she replied, “but you stay right there because if you move toward me I’m going out this door.” “Agreed Elizabeth,” it said. “You just listen and after you’ve heard what I have to say then you can leave if you wish. I can always find another female and you can’t stop me because you won’t be able to see me once I leave this body. Does that make sense?” “Yes,” Elizabeth agreed. “I hadn’t thought of that. Go on and tell me what you want to. I’ll listen. I suppose that I’m somewhat responsible for putting you in this position since I brought your eggs here without your permission.” “Yes, you are at that,” the being said, “but let’s forget about that for now. All I want is to get my family and myself out of this and I think you can provide the best answer. Elizabeth, I have observed that you are a very diligent and intelligent person. Let me explain why allowing me to share your body would be such a great thing for you to do.” The creature stopped several times before completing the few sentences it had uttered out of the purple, swollen mouth. By now, the tongue had also swollen and was almost too huge for the quivering mouth. This caused the creature great hardships while attempting to speak. Elizabeth could see that the body of Mr. Murphy was about done for and that the creature was having more difficulty controlling it. The breathing was becoming slower and she could tell that because of the way the chest was heaving up and down. Each breath must have felt like the last one to the creature. “Go ahead,” Elizabeth said setting herself down in a chair some distance from the body of Mr. Murphy. “I’m listening.” “I don’t have much time --- once I can’t use this body anymore, I won’t be able to communicate with you --- so painful. You see, when you earth people die your memories go with you or are lost forever. Not true with us. Our memories are passed on to our offspring. That is why it is important that I get those of mine back to Mars. Our race, what is left of it will need their knowledge in the future to expand and preserve our race. Once your people have settled there, we will share our knowledge with them and maybe together, we can rebuild the planet. Once we have become all energy, we have no need to build or control physical things. The cities you saw were built by another segment of our race millions of years ago before we entered the new phase of our existence. Therefore, we don’t have a need for buildings, spaceships and such things as you enjoy. The point I’m trying to make is that I have the knowledge of thousands of years of my race, millions of memories collected from thousands of beings before me. Our memories never die, they’re just passed on to the next being that is born. All of those eggs you have will produce a being with the exact same knowledge that I have; the knowledge of millennia, the memories of millions. From this you can deduce that if I share your mind and body that we will also share memories. You will have all the knowledge about Mars that you could ever want and you won’t even have to spend all your resources to get it. As a member of NASA you can help me to get back to Mars and you can help me save my own kind. Are you willing to do that Elizabeth?” The creature was right about one thing, Elizabeth Rogers was an intelligent person and as she walked up the long sidewalk toward the research lab two weeks later, she was much more intelligent than she had been the last time she had worked at the lab. She had a new lab coat, a new title and a new job. She had expected to see her friend Byran at the door waiting for her with some bit of gossip or maybe some information about some amazing and extraordinary discovery someone had made but deep down inside she knew that she would not see him anymore. She did have her memories of him and of times they had spent together and those were clearer than they had ever been. She had memories of green fields, great forests and great rivers that flowed through massive canyons under a bright blue Martian sky. She had memories of a tall, slender race of people that lived there paddling their small skidders (boats in the lingo of the Martians) up and down the rivers and streams. If she managed to live to be a million she knew that she could never relive or recall all the memories that she had access to but she would enjoy as many as she could. After all, that was her job now, to document all the memories that she could and write a historical record of the Martian races and their world. Others had been assigned to the project too. There were geologists, astronomers, astrophysicists and others. They didn’t have to do any real research now; all they had to do was record what was in her memory. Her hand found the small tape recorder in her purse that was slung around her shoulders that she used to record her thoughts from time to time. Pushing the record button, she began speaking into the microphone as she entered through the sliding doors and walked down the long hallway toward her new office and a new, exciting life. “The early Martians were a warlike people but after several thousand years they had almost completely relieved themselves of all types of conflict,” she said but suddenly stopped and flicked off the recording device. The door that had caught her attention had a sign on it. Martian Containment Lab she read. The door was locked but she had access cards to every door there. As the Administrator of the research lab, she had access to almost everything. Holding up the card in front of the card reader, she heard the lock click and the door slid back and she entered. On a lab table were several large glass-like boxes that resembled aquariums. The only difference was that there wasn’t any water in the containers and there was a screen on top of the tanks to keep whatever was in there from getting out and to provide them with fresh air. Elizabeth walked closer and then much closer. In the first tank, there were four small objects that she quickly recognized as the eggs she had brought from Mars. A sign on the side of the tank confirmed this. The other tanks contained creatures that were sitting there silently and quietly watching every move she made. A cold shiver ran down her spine. So those were the creatures that would one day grow up and then suddenly disappear, she thought. The thought that one of them was sharing her body didn’t make her feel any better about looking through a glass wall at several beings that had six legs, long mouths, small black beady eyes and were only about the size of a dinner plate. They are only babies and can’t hurt you, something inside her mind told her. They wouldn’t hurt you anyway. They are your friends and someday when they grow up you will realize that even more. Having a second opinion still didn’t make her feel any more relaxed about standing there and looking in at the large, furry, black spiders with the beady little eyes even if the one inside her told her differently. The End
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