This is chapter 5 of my novel, Foreign. I release a new chapter every Friday.
“Sir, can I come in?”
“Certainly. Take a seat. What have you got for me?”
“Inoculation is complete.”
“None. Initial reports indicate a probability of success at 97.3%.”
“Anything else, sir?”
“No. That is all.”
“Thank you, sir. Good day.”
“One last thing.”
“Remember, no one knows about this.”
“Certainly, sir. Of course.”
-From the office of the Secadoma
Man! That was the strangest dream! It was so vivid. Where would I have even come up with something like that? I mean, big men in black suits? Torture? I must have been playing some strange video games before bed last night. What was I playing, anyway?
Wait, I wasn’t playing anything last night! I worked til midnight and then came home. But then what?
Mark sat up in the darkness. His torso burned with pain as he raised himself, gasping aloud from the feeling. To his bewilderment, his right arm found empty space where the lamp on his nightstand should have been.
What the crap?!?
Panicked, he began flailing his arm around, searching for something familiar. Just empty space. He flung the blanket off of his body and leapt from his bed. As his feet touched the floor, an overhead light switched on. The room did not warm to a soft glow. Rather, a hard and sterile white light illuminated a foreign room.
No! Still squinting from the brightness, Mark looked at his left shoulder. Under the shirt sleeve, it was bandaged. He clawed at the dressing until it revealed his skin. A fresh, blistering wound, just like the one from the dream.
It can’t be! That wasn’t real. There’s no way! His head was swimming. What is this place?
He looked around and examined his surroundings. Dang. I feel like Han Solo, from Jedi! Everything was bright and blurry, no matter how hard he tried to focus. The mirror-like walls appeared to be identical to all of the other rooms he had seen – smooth and metallic. Underneath him was a shabby looking cot, small and uncomfortable, resting in the corner of the square room. In a corner next to the bed was something that resembled a bathroom. It appeared to be a shower stall, but there was no nozzle. On the wall was a touchpad with two blurry blobs.
Must be buttons.
Half way down the wall, adjacent to the shower, was a second touchpad with one button. On the floor next to the touchpad was a cube about the length of his forearm. In the upper corner that was opposite of the shower stall, there was blinking blue light.
They must be recording me or something.
That was it. The rest of the room was empty. Mark’s eyes fell upon himself. He was wearing a white form-fitting sort of jumpsuit. It covered his body from his feet up until his neck. To his surprise, he found that it provided the perfect amount of warmth.
Ok, so if all of this is real, then what is it? The last thing I remember was arguing with Justin. He was being totally emo because Heidi dumped him and I was all panicked because the police found out about who disappeared.
At that point, everything came together for him.
Shit! He’s probably here, too! I must have disappeared just like he did! Whatever happened to him also happened to me. That means that Justin could be here, too! And if either of them are here, they probably went through the same hell I did. I’ve got to find them!
Mark began to examine the room more carefully. Getting up off his bed, he painfully walked to the button on the wall next to the cube. My entire body is sore! As he got closer to the button, it still remained blurry. As far as he could tell, there was no text or anything else that might inform him of the button’s purpose. Using the large cube on the floor as a seat, he sat down to examine the button further. Wow! This square actually it is a seat. It’s padded and everything!
Curious, he decided to press the button. A portion in the wall immediately slid open and a six inch square metal plank extended outward. On it was it a smaller, ivory colored cube. Puzzled, Mark reached out his hand and touched it. Shocked by the cold, slimy texture, he quickly withdrew his hand. A different approach was needed. This time he drew his head close to the strange cube and tried smelling it. The mysterious object reminded him vaguely of tofu. At this, Mark felt a sudden pang in his stomach. How long has it been since I’ve eaten anything? Could this be some sort of food? As hungry as he suddenly had become, he decided not to risk anything. Who knew what this thing was? Eating it could possibly be the dumbest decision of his life, no matter how hungry he felt.
So he left the chair and decided to check out what he thought was the shower. Just as he stepped inside, he heard a hissing noise from behind him. Turning around with a start, he saw the far wall begin to open up. As the line in the wall began to widen allowing that hideous crimson glow to flood inward, he could make out the dark outline of two more black figures.
His skin began to crawl. Bowels began to churn. The sudden pain in Mark’s shoulder reminded him of what happened the last time he encountered these tormenters. Fight or flight mechanisms kicked into full gear.
I have to fight these guys, whatever the outcome. I won’t let them take me again.
He scoured the room in search of something to aid him. Unfortunately, yet again, the room seemed perfectly designed to leave him defenseless in this type of a situation. There was one new advantage, though.
He finally had a good look at these guys. Though his vision was still a little blurry, the bright light in this room was totally different than his last encounter with these terrors. Their bodies appeared as a solid matte black everywhere, with the stature of a professional wrestler. However, no muscles were apparent. Appendages appeared uniform and perfectly proportioned. Large, glassy eight ball-sized orbs sat where eyeballs should be. There were no pupils, irises, or anything that helped Mark discern any sort of movement. Were they even eyes or were they a type of lens? It almost seemed like these figures weren’t even living. Their movement and stature had a robotic air to it.
They paced toward him with such terrific grace and purpose. There was no avoiding them.
Mark swallowed as they approached.
“Alright. Come on you black bitches. Let’s try this again.”
Instead of cowering in the corner of the room like the last time he met these guys, Mark charged at them, hoping to catch them off guard. Having only been in one fight, and that was only recently, where he stood and watched the whole thing in shock, he had no clue what he was doing. As he was just about to tackle the guards, he realized how screwed he really was.
These guys hadn’t flinched or moved one bit. They were so unconcerned about his abilities that they didn’t even deign to parry his advance.
Mark crashed right into the waist of one of the guards with his uninjured shoulder and felt his right collar bone crash against the unyielding figure.
What the hell are these guys?
After no time at all, Mark found himself in a situation that felt all too familiar, being drug down an amber corridor. For the time being, there was nothing he could do, but try not cry from the pain in his chest. This time around, the guards walked him upright, gripping him under his arms.
In this orientation, he was able to see straight ahead. The carmine corridor stretched much longer than he thought it would. It was hard to tell for sure, but they looked to be approaching a junction. As it approached, they stopped before crossing it. Looking to his left, Mark saw two more guards approaching with a feeble looking figure in their grip. Its head, covered with dark hair, was sagging completely.
Could it be? Another prisoner, just like him? Feeling an ounce of hope, Mark considered whether he should try to communicate. Would his guards punish him? He had to take the risk. There was no hope in blind obedience.
As the two guards with their prisoner approached, Mark ventured a faint greeting. It came out almost as a whisper.
“Hey. Can you hear me?”
The head shot up and two white, wide-open eyes stared straight at Mark. As the prisoner realized Mark was looking back at him, he began to shout.
“Ayúdame! Ayuda! Por favor!” horrendous screams.
“What?” Mark replied in reflex.
“Ayúdame! Necesito ayuda!”
The guards continued to walk past him with their prisoner. Not one of the guards seemed to notice or care about the screams. Is this some kind of trick?
“What are you saying?”
“Ayúdame! Ayúdame. En el nombre de Cristo, ayúdame! Moriré! Por favor! Por favor!” The man began thrashing about, twisting, trying to make eye contact with Mark as he wailed inscrutable words.”
He was still held tightly in place by his guards while this man was lead away in front of him. The man’s hysterical screams began to fade away as he was carried away in front of Mark.
“I’m sorry! I don’t know what to do. What are you saying?”
“I don’t understand. Who are you?”
The intensity of his screams never faded, but they gradually grew quiet until they were abruptly cut short by what sounded like the slamming of a door.
With the abrupt sound, Mark’s captors began to drag him again… in the same direction of the man. With each step they took, his heart beat faster. The corridor began to feel hot. Combined with the deep red light, Mark had the distinct impression that he must be in Hell.
Onward the guards led him. Surely they must have been getting close to the room where that poor man met his fate. At last, the guards stopped him. They turned ninety degrees and faced a wall. Silent, motionless, they waited.
Seconds became minutes. Mark’s entire body was tense. Muscles began to tremor. These were to be the final moments of his life. Waiting for God knows what in God knows where. Then something occurred to him.
Am I already dead? Is this actually Hell?
The disgusting silence finally came to end with a screeching yelp that was interrupted by a sharp rhythmic clicking sound.
What in God’s name was that?
Before he could answer his own question the wall in front of him opened up and his guards threw his body into the abyssal unknown before him.
Slamming into the ground on his injured arm, he heard the door slam shut behind him.
Of course. Well, this is it, I suppose. I might as well just lay here in the dark and die.
Just then all the lights in the room suddenly came on. Through his squinting eyes he saw greenery all around him. It looked like a rain forest – plants with large leaves, big and bright flowers, and the roots of what had to have been a humungous tree.
You can’t be serious! One second I’m in Hell and now I’m in the Garden of Eden?!?
Trying to shake off his disbelief, he clambered onto all fours, and then finally rose to his feet. His eyes were gradually adjusting to the brightness. Sure enough, he appeared to be in a rain forest of some type. The sky above was blue just like he remembered it. In his immediate vicinity there were three large mangrove trees with their gnarled roots interweaving through each other. On the other side of him he found numerous bamboo trees.
Mark’s bewilderment was quickly lost on him when he heard a rhythmic clicking. Only this time it was much clearer than when he heard it on the other side of the door.
The space between the mangrove trees and bamboo where he was standing was actually a dirt path. Standing at the end of the path, about fifty feet away, was an insect resembling a praying mantis, only it was the size of a golden retriever. Pincers protruded from its mouth, opening and closing. Each movement produced the clicks he had heard previously. The jagged teeth in the pincers still had blood on them from the last victim, just like freshly used arrowheads. Mark wasn’t sure if this monstrosity had seen him just yet.
Think! There’s got to be a way out of this!
He looked around, hoping to find something he could use as a weapon or some place to where he could escape. Nothing. The insect closed its mouth and two bulbous eyes focused squarely upon Mark. Fat chance he didn’t see me!
Frozen in dread, Mark watched as the thing dug its insectoid hind legs into the ground and leapt toward him with a bloodthirsty howl.
Closer it came.
Maybe if I time this right, I can dodge its attack.
Mark crouched down, ready to spring to the side as it got close.
It came closer still.
When it was just a body length away Mark discovered that it might not jump toward him at all.
“Screw this,” he literally said aloud as he darted to his right, preparing to juke the creature. For a fraction of a second Mark thought his maneuver actually avoided the grip of those pincers that had lashed out for him. But as he was running from the insect he felt a snag on his left ankle. Looking down, the animal had grabbed a hold of his left leg and was pulling it straight toward its open mouth.
Mark was amazed and how quickly it moved for it’s size. In no time at all he was about to lose his leg to this disgusting thing. With his foot close enough that he could feel the heat of its breath, he bent himself around so that he was facing the animal. With all the strength he could muster, he swung is free fist straight into one of those bulging eyes that had been so intently focused its coming snack.
Like breaking through the top layer of congealed pudding, Mark’s fist smashed into the eye. It popped while cold emerald jelly coated his hand.
The animal roared and withdrew its grip to defend its vulnerable eye socket. That was Mark’s cue. He got up and sprinted toward the mangrove trees, hoping to find one with low branches for climbing. The first tree had nothing even remotely close that he could grab so he kept running. The next tree was the same, but even bigger than the first. Beyond the second tree was a long opening, without any trees for a while, with the bamboo continuing to be on his left. Behind him, he heard the frustrated sounds of a predator realizing it had lost its prey.
I’ve got to find a tree!
He kept running through the clearing and could hear the animal approaching from behind him. Apparently, it could still run quickly with only one eye.
An approaching group of mangroves looked promising. There was a cluster of multiple trees huddled together with gnarled roots intermingling in every direction. Mark ran straight up the roots toward the trunk of the first tree and saw a sagging branch from the adjacent tree that he hoped to grab. With the extra height from the roots, he jumped toward the branch with all his might. His arms crashed into it, but he held on, hanging from the branch.
The last time I had to do a pull-up was for the Presidential physical fitness test in middle school!
He tried to pull his body closer to the branch and he looked over his shoulder to see where his predator was. It was sprinting straight toward him down the trail with incredible determination, hellbent on eating the person who had smashed its eye. To his surprise, Mark effortlessly got his body up onto the branch.
I guess I’m in better shape than I thought!
He held himself up on the branch in a similar position to a gymnast on parallel bars, with his feet dangling below. It wasn’t a moment too soon. The creature was right beneath him, face looking straight up at him with one good eye. It snarled as it tried to jump up and grab Mark’s feet. Lucky for him, it was a terrible jumper. In addition, it didn’t appear to know how to clime trees either, or it must have been too stupid to know it could. Then growing impatient, the animal began to pace back and forth, keeping its mouth open and pincers snapping.
Maybe I’ll get lucky and it will just give up.
As if it could read Mark’s mind, it made a snorting sound and scampered off.
With a bit of respite, Mark situated himself on the branch so that he was straddling it, with one leg dangling on each side. From this position he was able to get his bearings.
How on earth did I get here? And where is here, by the way?
He was able to see in all directions. What he saw perplexed him. Somehow he had come into this jungle through a door in a dimly lit corridor. Yet, this room didn’t look like a room at all. There were no walls, no ceilings, and nothing looked artificial.
He was sitting about seven feet up in a small group of trees that was across a dirt trail enclosed by a sea of bamboo shoots. To his left, where there should have been the door he entered through, was just another group of mangrove trees and bamboo. The trail continued for a little way past that until it descended into a stream. Excluding that direction, he was completely surrounded by more trees so it was difficult to see very far.
In the few minutes he was able to look around, he saw no signs of civilization, humanity, or any other animals for that matter.
I won’t be able to stay here forever, I suppose.
About the same time that Mark decided to check out the stream, he heard the clicking sound made by the pincers of is one-eyed friend again.
Jumping from the tree and running for the river didn’t feel right. If he did that, he could only hope that the wretched beast didn’t like water or couldn’t swim. He wasn’t willing to make that gamble.
Sure enough, in the time it took for Mark to mull this over, the creature emerged from the bamboo shoots across the path and ran right back underneath Mark’s branch.
Seeing that Mark was sitting higher in the branch than before, it didn’t try to jump at him very long. Getting more creative, it tried running into the trunk of the tree to shake him out. To Mark’s relief, the tree didn’t budge. However, the unrelenting creature tried ramming the tree again. Still nothing happened. Unwilling to give up, the animal returned to the path by the bamboo and ran full-bore into the tree trunk.
Mark heard a crunch and the poor creature fell back away from the tree, stunned. He couldn’t help but laugh aloud. While it was writhing on the ground, he decided that this was his chance to take the offensive. He lifted is right leg over the branch and flung himself onto the creature.
Both feet made perfect contact on the bug’s head. One foot burst its other eye open and while the other foot cracked the skull. The head sort of sighed as it was compressed and the pincers shot of its mouth. The head became a chunky green mess all over Mark’s feet.
He stepped off the twitching carcass and turned around to take a better look at his adversary.
To his disbelief, it really did look like an oversized preying mantis. There was a type of shell that contained its flesh underneath. The lime green shell had a mottled pattern and felt hard and brittle, but smooth. It’s limbs were lean and taut, and its front claws looked painfully sharp. There was also dried blood all over them. An image of the hysterical man Mark met before this encounter flashed before him.
Mark then examined what was left of the head. From his estimate, it couldn’t have a very big brain, but the head was still big enough to have a very large mouth with teeth that resembled those of a shark.
The idea that Mark was able to kill this thing was completely baffling.
I need to wash this crap off.
Mark found the stream in no time. The water was the perfect temperature. In fact, it felt so good that he climbed all the way in. After washing and relaxing, he sat down at the edge of the stream and was suddenly overwhelmed with exhaustion. Just moments ago he had believed he would die and now he was siting in some random stream in who knew where. The exhaustion overcame him. He stopped fighting it, and laid down in the dirt. Then everything went black.
For chapter 6, click here.