This is Chapter 9 of my novel, Foreign. I post a new chapter every Friday. If you need to catch up on previous chapters, click here for the archives. If you are enjoying reading this, spread the word!
Mark and Justin’s eyes had adjusted to the scant light in the cage. They had been talking for longer than they realized.
“Why does the only bright place in this whole complex have to be the place where aliens are trying to eat you?” Justin bemoaned. He began to run his hands along the wall, feeling for a break or a seam. The light still left significant shadows in most parts of the cage.
Mark added, “Seriously. And everywhere else has to be some type of cage. What do you think this place is, anyway?”
Cocking his head to the side, Justin shrugged, “Beats me. More than anything, I want to find out where we are. You think this place is way out in the middle of a desert somewhere?”
That gave Mark and idea, “ Hey! You think this place is Area 51?”
“Whoa. I never thought of that. It totally could be. That would explain where those crazy antlions came from,” Justin proffered.
“Really? You think those things are aliens? Like actually from outer space? I call BS,” Mark maintained.
“Are you kidding me? Of course they’re aliens. Have you ever seen anything like them before? What’s more troubling though, is why the hell our government would let them eat people on a regular basis,” Justin said as he completed his search of the walls with his fingers. “Nothing. Not a damn thing anywhere.”
“Maybe it isn’t our government. Anyway, I bet the walls in here are just like the walls in our cells-“
“Cells? You were in multiple rooms?” Justin looked pretty confused.
Mark responded, “Yeah. The dark room I first appeared in, and then another one that had like a mini futuristic bathroom, a crappy bed, and some weird food cube dispenser. And in both rooms there wasn’t a seam in the whole room, but then every once in a while it would be like the wall was just opening up. Then those guys in black suits would come in whenever they felt like violating me or trying to kill me. It was pretty terrible. Wasn’t it that way for you, too?”
“Yeah. I guess I just forgot about that first room, the really dark one,” Justin said as he crawled near to one of the breath holes.
“Do you see anything?” Mark wondered.
“I don’t…know,” Justin pressed his face flat against the wall, with his eye as close as possible to the hole. “It’s hard to to get my eye real close. All I can see is just pure red light.”
Mark suggested to try one of the other breathing holes, “Try one of the dimmer ones. Maybe that one is looking right into a light.”
“Good idea,” Justin found one on the opposite of the cage and pressed his face against it. “Hm. It’s still hard to tell, but it looks like we might be high up. I think I see a row of those red runner lights like we’ve seen in the hall ways. And it looks kinda far away. I can only see like three, no,” straining, he leaned his head a bit further to see a different angle, “four. Ya, four of those running lights in a row.”
“So you can see about 16 to 20 feet, then?” Mark estimated. “The lights in all the hallways I went through seemed like they were maybe four or five feet apart.”
“Ya. That looks about right. Whoa!” The whole compartment lurched and Justin fell back from the wall. “Dude! Stop shaking this thing!”
“It wasn’t me,” Mark whispered. “And shut up. Who knows who might hear us? See if you can look out again.”
Even though Mark couldn’t really see it, Justin scowled at him as he silently approached the hole in the wall again. This was easier said than done, because the cage certainly felt like it was moving somewhere.
Justin pressed his eye socket against the wall again, peering out. The row of lights was gone. At the moment he just saw a dark void with a faint hue of red light on one side that was gradually fading out like a dying ember. After maybe half a minute of this, the red light was completely gone and to his right he thought he could make out a more yellow light that was gradually taking over the darkness. Mark could notice it too, as he laid in the cage. None of the other breath holes had red light any more. Most still were dark, but through a few on the side where he had been resting his injured leg, there was a growing yellow light.
The light grew in strength. Mark wasn’t sure whether this was encouraging or mortifying. He would find out soon enough.
After what felt like a trip of about sixty seconds, there was a bright yellow light coming in through all the holes. Justin had leaned away from the hole because the light was too bright for his eye to take after it had spent so long in the dim red light.
The cage came to an abrupt halt. Justin, who had been crouching, fell onto Mark, who had been sitting with his back against a wall with his injured leg sprawled out. More specifically, Justin fell onto Mark’s leg. The pain was so excruciating Mark had to ram his hand in his mouth and bite hard to keep from yelling out. As Justin got off Mark’s leg, he shot an apologetic look Mark’s way.
But they both had bigger worries than Marks ankle at the moment. What was going to happen now that the cage had been moved?
Right where Justin was looking, a blinding yellow horizontal line appeared and steadily expanded. Mark was right. This cage was just like the other rooms where walls just seemed to split and become doors. The light was so bright that neither Justin nor Mark were able to see anything outside their cell.
“Ackt! Qut ek? Qit uk tsider izvan!”
Without waiting to see where the voice came from, Justin burst out from the cage ready to tackle. As he emerged from the cage, he could see more clearly that he was on a trajectory to smash into a ten year old boy, but he had already committed to his movements.
They made contact and the boy went down effortlessly. Slamming into the ground, Justin heard what sound like cracking knuckles. The boy yelled out in agony as his entire rib cage was crushed inward. Lungs punctured by ribs that had become knives, he gasped for air and tried to yell out. But something was off.
Everything he said, though it was gibberish, sounded like it was being spoken by a 35 year old man. Confused, Justin backed away from the body as it continued its death throws.
The boy’s face had a full beard.
What am I looking at?
“Who are you?” Justin demanded.
“Zg.. Tsi.. Gurk,” was all they were able to hear as he fruitlessly gasped for air.
Feeling guilty for watching the boy/man suffocate in front of him, Justin stood up, closed his eyes, lifted a foot, and stomped hard. Astounded by his strength, Justin squashed the head as if it were a piece of fruit.
“Holy crap, man! What was that for? You just murdered that guy!” Mark demanded.
“Are you serious? It was either him or us. You know that,” Justin answered in defense.
“I don’t know that. And neither did you. I couldn’t even see him when the door opened. Was he armed? I dunno. How old is he? He looks like he’s like fourteen and you just bashed his face in,” Mark was livid.
Justin retorted flatly, “Fine. The next time you’re helplessly sitting on your ass and somebody approaches us, I’ll let them shoot you.”
A part of Mark hoped Justin was being sarcastic.
As Justin scanned the room, making sure it was safe, Mark painfully got up off the floor of the cage. It took much longer than it should have, but his left leg was extremely stiff due to the pain in his ankle.
“Is walking with that thing going to be a problem?” Justin worried.
Mark lied a little, “I think it will be ok just once I get going. Keep looking around while I get used to how it feels.”
Standing right outside the antlion cage, Mark examined his ankle in the ample light. It didn’t look good. His ankle was already swelling significantly, bulging through the jumpsuit. He knew it was broken, but he he had to keep going. He took a tentative step and yelled out from the pain, crumpling back to the ground.
“What is it?” Justin turned back toward him in concern.
Mark looked up with a strained expression, “This thing is pretty jacked. I think I’m either going to have to hop on one foot or you are going to need to help me.”
“Crap. We’re not going to make it very far,” Justin lamented, “Here, let me help you back up.”
Arm in arm, they hobbled away from their prison, freedom hopefully ahead of them. After a few paces, Mark stopped Justin. They were right next to the body of Justin’s victim. It held Mark’s attention. The bearded face certainly looked like that of an adult, at least the part that wasn’t totally disfigured from Justin’s foot. However, the body was no bigger than that of a fourteen year old boy’s. The proportions were more akin to an adult male, though – broad shoulders and chest, muscular looking arms, and a square jaw. He was wearing a type of work suit, like a mechanic would wear.
“We should search him,” Mark suggested, “See if he has any keys or communication devices. Maybe he has a phone.”
“Good point,” replied Justin. “Can you stand by yourself for a bit while I check?”
Mark said, “Sure. I’m good. Check and see if he has pockets.”
Justin bent toward the body to see what he could find. The man had no external accessories like a watch or earrings. He did have one breast pocket. It felt like there was a credit card inside. Maybe they could identify him. What Justin pulled out was nothing resembling a credit card, even though it was about the same size.
The device responded to Justin’s touch and lit up. It startled him enough that he almost dropped it which wouldn’t have been good. It looked expensive. The pocket-sized screen displayed a red design or character that flashed.
“Huh. It almost looks like a Japanese iPhone or something. What do you think that design is?” Justin reached up and handed the device to Mark.
The screen was remarkably light in his hand. It might as well have been a credit card it was so small and light, but there was an animated character flashing on and off in red. It wasn’t anything Mark had seen before.
“I don’t think it’s Japanese. Or Chinese, for that matter. It really does look like a letter or some type of language, but it’s kinda creeping me out because I’ve never seen anything like it. Does he have anything else on him anywhere?” Mark asked, slipping the screen card into his pocket for safe keeping.
“Hm. Let me see… doesn’t look like it. Oh wait, I think he has a type of hearing aid in one ear. It’s really tiny, like one of those miracle ear things.” Justin observed.
Flippantly, Mark decided, “Nah. That’s useless. Let’s get out of here before somebody else comes.”
“Yep. Who knows how long it will take until somebody notices he’s gone?” Justin stood back up and joined arms with Mark. Together, they continued to walk away from the antlion cage and the dead body, approaching the edge of the room. Around the corner they found a little hallway with a door at the end and a flat screen on the wall by the door. The screen was black, but it looked backlit.
“Maybe it’s a touchscreen,” Mark wondered.
Justin touched it with his free hand. The screen came to life and a menu appeared. The menu contained eight boxes. Within each box there were more foreign characters. They all appeared different from each other, but it was clear that they were the same language. It just happened to be one that neither Mark nor Justin recognized.
“Should we touch one?” Justin was about to press the screen again.
“No. Of course not. What if one of the buttons is an alarm of some kind? Or what if we accidentally press a button that calls for help? We’ll be screwed,” Mark cautioned, “Let’s just leave. We’ve already been in here too long.”
Mark looked for the handle on the door to open it. There was no handle. The door didn’t budge when he tried pushing it and pulling it in various directions.
He lamented, “Crap. Maybe it’s only opened by one of those buttons. What do you think?”
Without answering Justin complied. The top right button looked good so he pressed it. From around the corner they both heard a hiss. Justin left Mark leaning against wall to peak around the corner. There was steam coming from inside the antlion cage and the front door had been closed. As he walked closer it became clear that the cage was somehow cleaning itself. Nothing to worry about. He walked back to Mark and the screen, ready to try a second time.
“What was it?” Mark wanted to know.
Justin casually responded, “ Nothing to worry about. The cage is doing some kind of self-cleaning thing. Maybe that’s what the guy was coming in here to do. Ok. Let’s try the top left one this time. Here goes nothing.”
The door slid open.
Through the door was a small room that resembled a break room. Two more teenagers were sitting at a table, relaxed. One was eating and the other held a screen card in his hand that held his attention.
With the sound of the opening door, the one staring at the screen card spoke in a deep voice, “ Zaz, ek nu?”
Justin and Mark exchanged a glance which they both understand to mean, “What the crap do we do?”
“Zazil?” the guy repeated after he had heard no response. He looked up from his screen card. The other looked over from his plate of food. When they realized that instead of Zazil they were looking at two strangers, they both jumped out of their chairs.
Incredulous, the other one asked, “Qua ek Zazil?”
Mark enunciated his response very slowly, “I don’t understand you.”
The color in their faces fell out of them. The one with the screen card looked down and quickly started twirling his fingers and tapping on it while the other one started to approach Justin and Mark.
“Whoa. Don’t come any closer, man!” Justin subconsciously stepped in front Mark.
The man kept approaching.
“I mean it. I’ll beat the shit outa you if you come here,” Justin clenched his fists.
He stepped closer.
As soon as he was within reach, Justin delivered one swift, direct blow to the guy’s face, right against the nose.
“Afk! Ziest!” The man yelled through hands clutching his nose as he fell back. It quickly became obvious that Justin had completely obliterated his nose as blood was running down all over his fingers and face. He tried to stand up straight, but found that he wasn’t able to regain his composure.
Ziest dropped his screen card at the sound of the commotion and ran to aid his friend. It was the last mistake he ever made. Justin’s knee connected on his stomach with such force that he instantly bent over to wretch. He never had time because Justin took ahold of his head with both hands and violently twisted. Ziest dropped to the ground. The one with the broken nose looked down at his friend with terror and then looked back at Justin right as another fist filled his vision. Then he saw nothing.
Mark cried out, “What the hell was that?”
“Me saving your ungrateful ass again,” Justin smarted. He raced to the screen card that lay abandoned on the table. There was a video of a face speaking something unintelligible. The face reacted when Justin peered down at it. As Justin picked it up, the video vanished and the screen started flashing the same red character that the other screen card had displayed.
“Must be some kind of stupid lock. Can you move enough to search these guys while I’ll check around this room? If these people aren’t onto us yet, they will be now. And if we don’t get out of here or find some way to change our clothes. We might as well go feed ourselves to those bugs.” Justin put down the screen card, left the table, and searched the closets on the back wall.
“We don’t fit any of the clothes of these weird teenager people, though. And our freakish hairless bodies don’t help,” Mark noted as he bent down to examine the guy who’d been called Ziest. Even simple tasks like crouching were terribly painful because of his ankle.
“We’re also going to have figure something out with that ankle. We won’t get anywhere otherwise,” Justin added. So far, none of the closets yielded anything that would be of assistance to them. But there were a few long closets at the end of the wall. They looked like they could have been utility closets. They turned out to be a coat closet, but the garments in this closet were more useful than just about anything else he could have imagined.
“Dude, You’ve got to come check this out. Whatever you’re looking at, this is better.” Justin motioned for Mark.
Reluctantly, Mark got up form examining Ziest’s head, which also happened to have a tiny hearing aid in its left ear. After standing up, he hobbled over to the closet and could not believe this incredible stroke of luck.
Mark touched them to make sure he really knew what he was seeing. Yep. Just as hard and rough as those he had seen not too long ago. Hanging in front of Mark and Justin were three full-sized black suits of armor.
For chapter 10, click here.