Chapter 1: Of Another
Hayne was being led by a continuous tug. He felt that his wrists were in roped binds, the tight knot causing the skin beneath to itch horribly. His surroundings were musty and cold compared to the previous hours of beaming heat and lack of wind. He was walking through an enclosed space, the wet walls pressing in on either side of him. The floor had at least an inch of liquid running along its surface, the gentle splash and swish of it reaching his ears with each step he took.
It was so eerily quiet that Hayne could hear his pulse hammering in his chest, as steady as it was. There was no need to fear what was coming. He had already heard from the others. He was simply to be washed, dressed in new tattered clothes, and sent back with a small meal. However, not everyone returned, and as far as anyone else was concerned, it didn’t matter. In the end, it would end badly anyway. But when everyone else panicked about what was upon them and what was to come, Hayne was out of the mix. He had already faced the worst. He was already lost. There was nothing that could take the humanity he had left away.
If he had counted correctly, it had only been a week since they’d been taken. One week of being starved in the small room with the dozens of other bodies. Some had either died or hadn’t bathed in weeks according to the rotten stench that had filled the place. Hayne hadn’t spent all of his time dwelling on the sickening idea. It was usually the distant screams and cries outside that kept him awake night after night. And the low hum that hadn’t ceased since they arrived. Hayne didn’t hear it now though. Now it was deathly silent as he was guided along. To where, he couldn’t be sure. The only thing he was certain of, was that he wasn’t afraid.
The man had been keeping a close eye on Hayne the moment he stepped into the room. No. The prison. It was clear that something was wrong with him when he groped at the walls, touching, listening, and even smelling around him. Everyone had the right sense to stay as far away from him as they could. Fortunately for him, he got a corner all to himself. But the man watched, finding himself in awe as Hayne remained standing, tilting and jerking his head about at every little noise.
There were a good two dozen people in the group, each chained by the ankles only a foot in length. They had captured anyone they could get. Women, men, children, young, old, and even the newborns. Half of them seemed to be sick while the other half were starved, their rib cages hugging the thin layer of skin they had left. And everyday, a handful were taken out again for what felt like days before they returned, freshly clothed and fed. Few never came back, which went unnoticed at first, until it was somebody’s family member that had vanished.
For the most part, nobody spoke of what was going on outside. Nobody wanted to believe it. Sometimes, when the screams of terror rose in the distance, loud enough to be heard over the Spirit’s Sing, the prisoners would pray in hushed voices. It was believed that the constant hum that echoed through the walls was a sign of comfort and reassurance from above. This wasn’t what the man considered it to be though. To him, it was a dangerous sound. One that was of a warning.
Hayne often pressed his ears to the wall, a frown upon his features. He was a younger man, perhaps in his mid-thirties. However, he had silver strands of hair embedded with the charcoal black that made him look older. His fair-colored skin was marked with deep scars, some curved in arches and some slit diagonally along his nose and lips, which were cracked and bleeding. He was tall and his arms dangled at an awkwardly long length. His head actually brushed against the lowest part of the ceiling and he hunched over to avoid it.
But it wasn’t the white of his hair or the scars on his face that stood out to everyone, nor was it his peculiar height or behavior. The way he acted didn’t bother a single person, because it was normal in his case. Where one’s eyes would rest on the face, and a blind man’s would lose its color to grow and be a dull grey, Hayne’s were empty sockets that only appeared as two black holes in his head. The cell was dark; so dark that it may have been difficult to spot at first. But when the small glint of the moon’s light shone through the single window and caught Hayne’s face for the first time, it had confirmed what everyone hoped they’d just imagined. Hayne was missing his eyes.
Hayne heard the series of clicks and cracking around him. They had brought him into another room and seated him on the ground. It was freezing, his body instantly becoming numb. He felt around him as his breathing hitched. Someone else was beside him, tied in rope to keep him from moving. A moan escaped his lips as Hayne suddenly realized the problem. He was dying, and it struck him that this man was bleeding. Either that or he was covered in sweat, but the person was gasping in shallow breaths. Hayne withdrew his trembling hand and shuffled back, feeling a looming presence over him.
“You’re l-lucky...you can’t see t-the world now,” the dying man sighed deeply, seeming to be his last words to anyone. Surely, he was dead now, leaving Hayne alone with the ones who’d captured him. He felt as they united his binds, their spiny fingers replacing them around his wrists. They tugged him upwards harshly, indicating for him to stand. He was picked up and set on a metal surface, his skin feeling like it was burning.
Hayne had adapted quickly when he and the others were first taken. He learned not to fight back. If one struggled, a loud bang rang out, followed by the thump of their body hitting the ground. After a mere handful of people were killed, nobody dared to attempt anything. They had been herded into pens like cattle. Picked out and sorted like animals to be sold. Then slaughtered when they grew too weak. They were no longer the strong race.
His mouth being pried open brought him back to the present. Something ran along his teeth and tongue before it was closed again. Hayne couldn’t be sure what they were doing. There were no certain clues he could pick up until he felt the jetstream of water hit him. The liquid covered his neck, down to his feet. Next were his clothes, which were not being cut off his body.
He shivered from the cold as he was guided only a couple feet, where a blast of wind from every direction spread across his body, drying him in seconds. Hayne wanted to ask what they were doing. Every fiber in his body tingled with the thought of trying to communicate with them. But he had heard the peculiarities of their language, unlike anything that’d entered his ears before.
They lifted his arms, pulling his head through the hole in the shirt. Once they’d helped with his pants, forcing each of his legs individually through the holes, a tray was put in his hands. The clothes were incredibly uncomfortable and tight, but he pushed through it as the smell of meat filled his nose. This must have been the portion of food the others had told him about. He felt the platter and picked up a chunk of dry food, bringing it to his mouth to find it was bread.
It was difficult to swallow, but Hayne finally managed to finish the small loaf before eating the bits of raw meat with his stomach feeling sick. Once done, the rope binds greeted his wrists again, which could only mean that he’d be going back to the room that smelled of death, and where he could sense the eyes full of fear that stared at him, watching his every move.
It was an odd thing to see Hayne guided out of the cell, his head raised with confidence. Of all people, shouldn’t he have been the one to be freaking out the most? There was no way of knowing how truly horrid these beings were or what he could potentially be walking into. But suppose that’s what made him stronger? Suppose not seeing the bad things that now surrounded him twenty-four seven was what kept him sane? Maybe it was both.
The man had begun to worry as time ticked by and the eyeless man still hadn’t returned. He pictured him hanging from the wall as those things poked and prodded at him. Doing who knows what to the poor guy. He wasn’t sure why he was so caught up with the idea that Hayne may not even return. He assumed it was pity at first, but in the pit of his stomach, he knew that it was because he’d lost out on getting to hear his story. To actually become acquainted with him. He mentally kicked himself, thinking it was a very ridiculous thought indeed. What would benefit the blind man for being friends with him? As if having a friend even mattered anymore.
His thoughts were interrupted when the gate opened, Hayne’s features just well enough to make out in the dark. This time, he was guided towards him and people whispered amongst each other. Now, Hayne was chained beside the observant man, his face turned towards him.
“Do not fear me,” he said softly, “I can sense that you do.” The man gawked at him, finding himself at a loss for words.
“Everyone I encounter runs and rides away. I’ve been called a monster. A demon of the night. But now...it seems there is something far more threatening than me,” Hayne carried on as though he knew someone was actually listening to him. And for once, someone was.
“Who are they?” Hayne asked, fiddling with his fingers, not expecting the man to respond.
“What are they is a better question,” the man laughed dryly. Hayne, despite himself, perked up at the sound of someone else speaking. Speaking to him of all people!
“What are they? What do you mean?” Hayne wondered aloud, furrowing his brows. He thought this stranger was not trying to mess with him, play a filthy prank of some sorts to scare him away.
“Well it’s clear they’re not human. Haven’t you at least heard the way they talk?!” there was an uneasiness to the man’s voice, his words laced with terror and worry. It was true. Hayne didn’t want to believe it, so it’d been easy to deny. But whatever had taken them, was indeed not human. The series of clicks and odd chirps he’d heard when being led through the tunnels had been enough to persuade him. It was all just rather hard to wrap his head around.
“What do they look like?” Hayne quizzed, tilting his head towards the sound of someone shuffling close by.
“What difference would that make?” the man hissed, “It’s not as if you can picture it.” Hayne felt his blood run hot through his veins at the stranger’s absurd accusation. He turned his head sharply in his direction and put out a hand, feeling in front of him for the man. His fingers tapped the man’s face, making him jerk back in annoyance.
“You think I was born this way? A fool you are, sir! I once was able to see the beauty and torment of this world! I’ve seen color and shapes far more vibrant and far more structured than you’ve probably seen! That you’ll ever see in fact! I’ve laid my eyes on the waves that rise on the se and crash on the shore! I’ve seen a man’s fingers gracefully dance across the keys of a piano! I’ve seen the very life birthed from a woman’s body! And I have seen blood drawn on a battlefield. Fire blazing in the dead of night. My sight was taken from me before I had the chance to truly appreciate the gift it’d bestowed upon me. The sense to see. So, sir, I ask again….What do they look like?”
“They...look different to everyone…” the man croaked, drawing in a sharp breath.
“How is that possible?” Hayne scoffed, not sure if he should believe this man after all. Even if he had chosen to speak to him. He just sounded like a lunatic. Differently? There is no way possible for a being to change form. But then again...if these things are truly from somewhere else…
“How should I know? All I know is that I haven’t eaten in days! I’m surrounded by filth! And I’m talking to someone who doesn’t even have eyes! No offense,” the man muttered the last bit, and if he could have, Hayne probably would’ve rolled his eyes. Instead, he put out his hand,
“I’m Hayne. Hayne Gilroy.” The man took his hand, giving him a firm shake,
“Weldon Hoffman.” Hayne grinned and nodded,
“Pleased to meet you.”
Chapter 2: Engravings
“Will you stop doing that?” Hayne hissed towards the clanking of chains, “You’ve been at that for hours! You’re not getting anywhere!”
“Well I need something to do!” Weldon replied in irritation. He pulled at the chain that was stuck in the stone pillar again, grumbling as he furiously began chipping away again. The small rock was grinding down in size, edges sharpening as he dug quickly at the stone. His hand kept at it and he ignored the pain and numbness in his wrist. They needed to get out, and if he could do it, everyone else could too. Hayne brought his knees to his chest, seeming to contemplate the actions that they could play out. Or perhaps he was just sleeping. Weldon could never really tell, and either way, he couldn’t be much help anyway. Biting hard on his bottom lip, determined to get free, he continued breaking the stone, feeling his adrenaline rise with each bit that crumbled. He was getting there. He had to be. Sweat beaded at his forehead as he drew in a sharp breath. He could see the end of the chain, a long narrow pole going right through it, His skin boiled as he cursed, chucking the stone through the room, apparently hitting someone as they let out a yelp.
“I told you…” Hayne muttered, laying his head against the wall.
“Oh, shut up. I’ll figure something out,” Weldon let out a heavy sigh, giving his chains one last mighty tug, but to no avail.
“They’re smarter than us,” Hayne stated, turning his head towards him, “They would’ve considered all our ideas.” Weldon rolled his eyes. What does he know? He’s blind. Just because he’s been right about everything else so far...
“If they’re smarter than us,” he pointed out, drawing a circle in the dirt. It wasn’t even a proper cell. A huge iron door with a food slot, which was never even used, and barred windows. No toilets either. Where have all these people been going? Weldon scrunched up his nose at the idea.
“They are smarter than us. They’re different than us. Otherwise we would’ve figured it out by now. It’s been a week!” Hayne implied, quickly collecting himself as he got to his feet, raising his head in sudden alert, “Something’s coming.” Weldon frowned, straining to hear whatever he heard, but all he could make out was the quiet sobs and low humming, like loud drums were being played a mile away.
“I don’t hear anything,” Weldon shrugged and shook his head, having already settled on the fact that Hayne had lost his mind. Hayne was silent for a moment, his mouth slightly agape as he focused,
“That’s because my other senses have gotten better with my sight gone. Put your ear to that wall.” He pointed to the one that was lined up with the door and Weldon rolled his eyes. He scooted as close as he could, pressing his ear against the cold stone, blocking out any background noise from the other with his finger. It was soft, but he could now hear the distant whisper on the outside of the cell. They were steadily drawing nearer, their steps growing heavier with every stride.
“It’s them…” Hayne whispered, sliding along the wall into a crouching position. Weldon’s heart skipped a beat as the door opened with a slam, two familiar suited figures standing before them. They scanned the room, speaking in harsh whispers to one another. A black gooey substance ran along their arms and their slim fingers gripped the rope binds they’d use to drag someone away. Faces burned and charred, skin peeling like old musty wallpaper, and teeth coated in crimson blood and foam. He wondered what they really looked like under that mask. That horrid disguise that revealed his dark past.
Goosebumps prickled along his skin as they walked towards a woman, her head limp and her body clearly weak. One reached forward, tipping her back as she fell onto her side with a lifeless thump. Someone shrieked as a bundle of thin sheets was picked up, the whining from the baby echoing through the room.
“Leave him alone!” a frail woman cried out, stumbling to her feet. But as soon as she found her stance, the other creature lunged forward, jabbing her in the face with it’s weapon. She fell to the floor, dust kicked up around her. A man crawled to her side, sobbing quietly as the creature ushered to the other, returning back to the door. It was thrown roughly, the loud slam seeming to make the whole room tremble.
“They just left them! They left them!” a man screamed, his arms wrapped tightly around himself as he got to his feet, looking down at the two dead women with a hard expression. Weldon drew in a breath, not having realized he’d been holding it in until now.
“I used to be a miner,” he said to no one in particular. He watched as the man holding the woman who’d gotten hit buried his face in her hair, mumbling apologies of sorts.
“When The War started...the mines were blown up. I wasn’t there, but I…” Weldon’s voice shook, “I saw what was left of them. And there’s not a day that goes by when...when I think it should’ve been me.” Soft sniffling came from around the room, everyone thinking back to the ones they’d lost. To the ones who’d given their lives for them.
“It should’ve been me.”
The War had started six years ago. They had called it The Massacre. The Unwinding of Time. Of People. Hayne had faced The Red Sea. The battlefield of his enemy and his people. He knew it all too well. He’s seen the hollowness in men’s hearts. He’d seen the rage and pain etched on their faces even after death. He remembered it so vividly, and yet, most had faded away, as though his mind was begging him to forget. And perhaps he would. But not now. He was still there, dressed in his dirty fatigues with the butt of his gun pressed to his shoulder.
He’d pulled that trigger so many times. It wasn’t as most had told him. It never got easier with each shot. It got brutally more challenging, because with each shot that rang out, the more Hayne realized that he was the killer. The more he realized how selfish he was and how he was just trying to save himself. Where did it end? When had humanity turned against each other? Things had been so perfect before the fourth war.
Hayne hadn’t been prepared to leave Claire, especially when it was a couple more months until she was due. He wasn’t sure when he’d get to see his baby boy, but there was nothing he could do. He’d be stuck there for five years, having only letters to write to her and his younger brother, who’d been more than upset with him when he’d heard the news. He hadn’t even said goodbye to him before he boarded the train, where the dark smoke billowed in dark clouds above. It had been one of the longest trips he’d ever been on, staring blankly out the window of that scarlet engine as he watched the skyscrapers fade out of view. The roads had turned into winding dirt paths, making him believe he’d been teleported to the past.
Time had always been a precious thing to Hayne. Everyday, he’d wake up, checking his clock and tallying the exact amount of days and hours that had passed since he’d left. He imagined how beautiful his newborn would be, and the smile that would grace his wife’s features. He hoped that his brother would stay close to her, watch over them when he was away. And he dreamed of the day when he returned home, the suitcases dropping from his hands as he ran towards his family with outstretched arms. But that day never was the day he had pictured after those one thousand-nine hundred-forty five days and seventeen hours.
Weldon only heard the crunch of gravel beneath his boots as he started towards the fog. It was thick, so thick that he couldn’t see the tunnel or tracks. It smelled very much unlike fog though. Smoke filled his nose as he broke into a run, cutting through the sheets of grey smoke, coughing and gagging. He stumbled over something and came to an abrupt stop, rubbing his stinging eyes as he looked down.
It was the blackened face that made a lump form in his throat, eyes seemingly bright against the darkened skin, practically glowing actually. After a moment, he recognized this man as Edgar. He had worked with him in the mines for two years. Weldon kneeled down beside him and checked Edgar’s pulse, tears streaming down his face as he quickly withdrew, covering his mouth in concern and fear. He turned to the entrance of the tunnel, his vision clearing as more bodies came into view. All of them had the same charred faces and dull lifeless eyes staring back at him.
“Where do they take them when they don’t return?” Hayne asked, not enjoying the eerie silence the room had left after the child had been taken. He himself hadn’t even known exactly where he had been when they took him. There had been water or something on the floor at one point. And...there’d been a man dying. He had died. Hayne was sure of it anyhow.
“I think they’re...they must be killed…” Weldon assumed in a low whisper, his gaze not focusing on anything in particular.
“Use ‘em for labor, I’d imagine,” a woman butt in from the opposite wall, rocking herself back and forth. Hayne frowned,
“Maybe they experiment on us like rotten animals!” someone else squeaked, bursting into hysterical cries.
“Well, there’s no use dwelling on trying to figure it out. No use in dwelling on these thoughts. We...we need to think of a plan,” Weldon mumbled, causing Hayne to consider this. These beings had taken them with an unknown motive. They’d shot dozens, dehydrated them. They were chained up, a handful of people disappearing by the day. Some not returning at all. So what were they to do? Why did this man always insist on devising a plan? Nothing was going to get them out of this mess. It wasn’t like the movies. This was real. Whoever they were, and whatever they wanted, was nothing good.
“We should see what happens first,” Hayne said, though he was mostly speaking to himself. Weldon’s chains jerked and Hayne’s breathing hitched as he felt his face get closer, the smell of dirt and metal on the man.
“See what happens first? Have you lost it? You know, I’ve got a funny feelin’ about you, Gilroy, and I’m not entirely sure if you’re one to trust or not. It’s been a week, and we’re losing more people. We don’t know why those-those things are here, but I don’t intend on stickin’ around to find out. So are you going to help us, or not?” Hayne clenched his fists, feeling a sudden urge to strike this guy in the mouth. He’d had enough of his stupidity. They couldn’t act without knowing what they were up against, and the only way to consider that, was to wait and see. Or in his case, hear or feel.
“You know what? Do what you want, Weldon. I don’t care. Just leave me out of it,” Hayne shifted further from the miner and crossed his arms over his chest. The room suddenly burst with life as a few people started moving about,
“If he’s not going to help us, he’s useless! They should take him next!” There was an eruption of chatter and arguing as the sound of chains dragging close made Hayne panic. Here, he felt what was going to happen next. These people were angry, burning with rage because of him. What did they plan on doing?! Pummeling him to death with rocks? They couldn’t reach him and their wrists were clasped with iron.
The shuffling of feet drew nearer and Hayne awaited some sort of attack. But Weldon’s voice boomed in front of him, sounding as though he were blocking him from the others.
“Nobody touched him!” There was a quiet stir, then complete silence as a sense of relief washed over Hayne. Though he wasn’t sure why he was standing up for him now.
“What on Earth are you saying now?” someone snapped, making Hayne recoil, “This Fender fella says one thing and makes it seem like this guy’s against us...Then what?!”
“It’s Weldon,” Weldon grumbled in annoyance, “And I know what I said. But...if we’re going to win this thing...we need him.” Hayne raised his head, his insides twisting at his words. Need him? Why did they need him?
“He ain’t got no eyes! What can he possibly do?!” a hoarse voice commented, his throat sounding dry and lost. Weldon seemed to hesitate before responding with,
“But he’s got plenty of brain. And if anyone’s going to get us out of here, it’s him. And if anyone tries laying their hands on him?” He paused for effect, “They’ll have to go through me first.” The people started whispering amongst each other before muttering their agreements, chains dragging away from Hayne and Weldon, who sat down next to him again.
“Did you really mean all that?” Hayne whispered softly, reaching out his hand towards him. To his surprise, Weldon took it, giving it a reassuring squeeze as he said,
“Of course I meant it. I’m not getting out of here without you, Gilroy.”
Chapter 3: Observers
“Now, there are how many again?” Weldon asked, narrowing his gaze at the people in the room. Everyone had their focus on him, having finally accepted that he would be in charge. He’d lead them to the end. And Hayne would be right behind him, the brains of the operation. The puppeteer.
“Fifteen women, thirteen men, and half a dozen kids. All the infants are gone,” Hayne reported as Weldon quickly jotted it down in the dirt with his finger.
“Does anyone know how many we started with?” he asked, licking his terribly cracked lips.
“At least three dozen? It’s hard to know for sure. Seven of us have already been taken and have returned. That’s seven different stories. I suggest we start there,” Hayne decided, moving his head around the room. Weldon nodded and examined how long the chains reached out. The room was small enough for everyone to hear one individual from opposite ends without having to yell, so this should’ve been fairly easy.
“There were only two of them. We were walking through this dark corridor, too dark for me to see anything. B-But I remember every turn. And I was walking in something wet. We may have been walking for about...half an hour? Before I saw the outline of the door,” Hayne listened to every single detail that was told, knowing that everything mattered. Whether it was the hints that told them who these beings were or where they’d taken them. They had to figure it out.
“Can you tell us what they looked like, Cynthia? What you saw when they showed their face?” Weldon asked softly as the younger woman choked out a sob.
“They looked l-like m-my husband, George. Only...they had these sp-spikes. Coming out of the side of their heads,” she whispered, a shiver running down Hayne’s spine.
“Okay. Then what happened? Take your time. Try and focus on what was around you,” Weldon coaxed gently. Cynthia drew in a stead breath,
“There were stone...stone faces on the walls in the room. The only light was from a couple of candles, but I saw the table and the tubes. They were everywhere, winding around the floor like snakes. God I hate those slimy things. I let them put me on the table and they strapped me down like an animal. I started screaming. At least..I tried to scream. But no sound came out of my mouth. I-It was as if I was mute! They started waving this glowing thing over my body, talking to each other with that clicking and tapping. I didn’t know what they were saying obviously, but...this is going to sound ridiculous, but they sounded worried.”
“Worried about what?” Hayne mumbled to himself, but nobody seemed to have heard him, far too entranced in the story.
“They put this disk in my mouth, sliding it along the inside of my cheeks before taking it and putting it in some metal box. I tried to reason with them then. To let me go. But-” Cynthia’s voice cracked and the man closest to her reached out a trembling hand, setting it on her arm to calm her.
“One of them c-climbed on top of me and all I remember was seeing the dirty sneer on George’s face. W-Why do they look like him? What are they?!” she lowered her head, pulling her knees to her chest as she rocked back and forth.
“I think...they take the form of what really scares us,” Hayne said, an uncomfortable shuffling starting around the room.
“How? H-How would they know? Why would they do that?” Weldon asked with a slight scoff.
“Well, we already know they’re not like us. They can’t be from here. Which could explain how. However they do it, we wouldn’t know. Perhaps it’s higher technology. As to why...I don’t know,” Hayne shrugged, trying to process everything correctly.
“If they have higher intelligence at all...why put us in chains?” Cynthia asked, peeking up in confusion. Weldon sighed and said,
“Because that’s all they need for us. We can’t get out of them. So why waste anything stronger if they don’t need it?” Everyone muttered their agreements as Hayne gestured to Weldon with a hand,
“Let’s hear someone else’s story. Marcus, was it? How about you?” An old man huffed from across the room, speaking in his sandpaper voice,
“Fine. But it ain’t pretty.” Weldon laughed dryly,
“None of this is.”
“These creatures didn’t look like no man. They had hair all over them bodies. They was covered in it! Like a big ol’ bear,” Weldon noticed the man shudder as he went on, “When they barged into my cabin to snatch me up, I grabbed my rifle and shot! Didn’t take ‘em down though! Didn’t leave one mark! So now I’m thinkin’ ‘this ain’t even a bear! These is wild things from some other place!’” Somebody coughed, though Weldon could hear the laughter behind it and the grubby old man pointed a wrinkly finger at them, baring a crooked set of teeth,
“Ah shut up ya Yankie! I ain’t outta my God damn mind yet! Where was I? Right, so it took me in a sack and carried me off somewhere. Dumped me in with a group of people I didn’t know. Not a single face. I ain’t one for social events though. Hate people. Always have. These bastards are far worse o’course. Only reason I’m helpin’ any a ya.”
“Where did you live before all this?” Hayne piped up, clearly deep in thought about something. Marcus let out a thick laugh, making Weldon twitch back in disgust.
“Lived out in the west. Weren’t bothered by no one! Nice and peaceful it was, yes sir! Didn’t have to stare at a bunch a ugly faces like you lot. Not sure how long it was when I was in that sack. Probably a couple hours. I’d say we’re still in Texas,” the man said with a curt nod, leaning back against the wall in satisfaction with himself. Well that didn’t help, did it? Weldon glanced at Hayne, who looked just as unhappy as he did.
Weldon picked at the dirt beneath his nails, grumbling as Hayne tapped his chin thoughtfully. He’d had quite a lot to keep him thinking. Nobody had spoken for a couple hours and the door had remained closed for longer than usual. There were still five stories left. Or maybe only four, if one of the women agreed to share her experience that was. It was a little boy around eleven or so who’d talk next, though Dexter hadn’t particularly liked the idea, claiming he shouldn’t have to rethink everything again.
Hayne had gone through each scenario in his head countless times, attempting to picture what every situation looked like from Cynthia and Marcus’s point of view. They had both described different parts of their abduction. The room and the hall Cynthia had been in was most like his own experience though. Walking through the wet stream and being placed on the table. What had that been? From what she had said, there hadn’t been any natural light nor anything that could potentially tell them where they were. She’d fallen asleep some time after, so he couldn’t ask her for more details. According to her, the walls had been made of stone. Were they in a cave of some sort? The inside of a mountain?
It would’ve explained how cold it always was. And the lack of light. Even the water. But why would they have brought people to a cave of all places?
“I’m ready to tell my story, mister,” a small voice rang out, breaking Hayne’s train of thought. Weldon snuffled and yawned before responding,
“Alright kid. Go ahea-”
“Jamey,” the boy interrupted impatiently.
“My name is, Jamey. Not ‘kid’,” Jamey replied, sounding offended at the childish nickname. Weldon hummed, grunting as he scooted closer to Hayne,
“Fine. Go ahead Jamey.”
Weldon closed his eyes as he listened, figuring they weren’t going to get anywhere with these observations. They’d hardly gotten any useful information at all. His original plan had been better than all this trouble in his opinion.
“They took my dad and little sister away from me. I haven’t seen them since they came into our house. I was sleeping and I heard her scream...so I rushed to her room and...it was standing over her. I thought it was a robber at first, but then it looked at me,” Jamey paused, staring down at his feet with a deep frown.
“My dad knew they were real. He’d been studying them ever since Mom left. It wasn’t how he drew them though. They were bigger. Scarier too. Like monsters, with long skinny fingers and metal suits. They had white eyes...like my grandfather’s. I tried to call for my dad, but it was as if I was frozen. I couldn’t move. I could only watch. And they took Izzy. When I could move again, I went to my dad’s room, but he was gone. Then another came for me...Then I woke up here.” Weldon blinked, jaw dropped as he gawked at the boy. His heart strings twisted as Jamey wiped the snot from his nose and glanced up, brushing off a couple people who reached out to him.
“Did they take you to that room?” Hayne burst out, his eyebrows raised to his hairline. Jamey took a shaky breath and nodded, avoiding looking at Hayne’s face directly,
“Yeah. I saw you there. They had your picture on a wall…” Weldon’s insides clenched tightly as his pulse quickened. Hayne tilted his head a bit and shrugged,
“Why would they have a picture of me?” Jamey bit his bottom lip, contemplating something as an eerie quietness flooded the room.
“I don’t know, but...you had eyes in the picture,” the boy whispered, everyone’s heads turning to face Hayne.
It just doesn’t make any sense. Why would I have eyes? Of all things. Were there more pictures like mine? Is this some sort of joke? Hayne ran his fingers through his hair, finding it hard to focus with the feeling of being watched. It wasn’t as though it was his fault! He didn’t put that picture there. And even if he had, how bad could that possibly be? I’m not working with them. I’m not a spy or anything. How ridiculous would that be?
“We have to figure out what they want with us,” Weldon pointed out the obvious, causing Hayne to scoff as he traced the cracks on the wall. He’d become quite familiar with his surroundings over the last week and some change. He knew that there were exactly seventy-one links in the chain that attached him to the pillar like the prisoner he was.
“Are you thinking of anything?” Weldon snapped harshly, lowering his voice as he added, “They’re counting on us.” Hayne’s brows knitted together at that and he chewed on the inside of his mouth, keeping back the smart response that was begging to leap out into the air. But he kept his jaw tightly clenched, shaking his head in annoyance. He couldn’t hold back much longer,
“You mean they’re counting on me. That boy. Jamey...he saw them the way they were. I’m sure of it. I don’t know how, but I know he saw them. He said his father had been studying them. Why don’t you start there? Then maybe we won’t feel so lost anymore.” Hayne turned onto his side to show he was done with the conversation. He was tired of trying to help when nobody would even listen to him.
“Hey kid,” Weldon called quietly to the boy a few feet away from him, his reply quick and sharp as though a knife was slashed through the air between them.
“I already told you my name is Jamey!” he hissed, making Weldon dismiss him with a wave of his hands.
“Yeah sure, Jimmy. Look, what did your dad research exactly?” Weldon asked impatiently. A few people stirred as they tuned into the conversation. Hayne could picture the looks on their faces, our and disturbed. None of them wanted to go down the rabbit hole again. They’d already opened up as much as they were going to.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Jamey growled, clearly not taking a lying to the guy who couldn’t even get his name right.
“Yes I would. What’d he research?” Weldon bit back in irritation. What an idiot. I suppose he never had kids...I never even got to talk to my kid. Hayne sat up and reached out, finding Weldon’s shoulder and brushing him aside,
“Let it go, will you?”
“But you said-”
“I know what I said, but quite frankly, you aren’t good at gathering information,” Hayne said an amused laugh, “I’ll handle this.” Weldon moved back to make room for Hayne as he faced the boy, a smile gracing his features. There can’t be much to it, right? Just a kid...talking to a guy with no eyes….Maybe this was a bad idea…
“Hello, Jamey. You know, I lost someone I loved too. My wife and my son. I...never even got to talk to him actually…” Hayne started, pulling his knees to his chest and resting his chin on them. He could feel the boy wasn’t looking at him, but he was listening.
“They took them, didn’t they?” Jamey whispered softly, as though he were somewhere else, his mouth speaking for him as his thoughts left him behind.
“No. My brother did. Do you remember the big war? Before all this?” Hayne felt a lump rise in his throat as the vision of battle flashed briefly through his memory.
“Yes. Everyone was fighting...I-I don’t remember why though…” the boy’s voice shook and Hayne felt the sudden urge to reach out to him. To comfort him like he used to imagine for his own baby boy. He never got to read him a book before bed or teach him how to skate-blade. He’d been old enough when he got back from the war, but it never happened.
“I was fighting, Jamey. I was there in the middle of everything. And...I had an accident…” Hayne could hear the distant echo of screams in his head, the memories blurred but still present, “I was sent home after five years. I was going to see my family again. But...when I got there, I saw my brother first. He didn’t like seeing me go to war and...it really hurt him.”
“Who’s older? You or him?” Jamey asked curiously.
“I was older,” Hayne mumbled almost inaudibly.
“I’m the oldest too. It’s hard, isn’t it?” Hayne knew that there was no way this boy could know what he’d been through, but he felt as if Jamey was reading his mind, voicing his thoughts.
“Yes Jamey. Very hard. You want to get back to your family, right? To make sure your dad and Izzy are safe?”
“Of course,” Jamey said in shock, as though the answer was more than clear. Hayne nodded,
“Then I need to know one thing, okay? Do you think you can tell me what your dad studied?” It was silent for such a long time that Hayne was sure he wasn’t going to respond, but after collecting his thoughts and taking a deep breath, he spoke,
“Extraterrestrials. He studied extraterrestrials.”
“You can’t be serious!” Weldon hissed as he glanced at the boy, his face hidden away in the crook of his arm. Hayne was tapping his fingers on the pillar as he shrugged,
“It makes sense, doesn’t it? You said so yourself. They’re not human.”
“But aliens? That’s what children believe in!” Weldon scoffed, rolling his eyes.
“Would you prefer unicorns? Maybe witches?” Hayne tilted his head, giving the miner a lop-sided grin.
“I’d prefer an explanation. It’s just too surreal to process,” Weldon closed his eyes, picturing the charred faces of the people he’d left behind.
“All of this is surreal. But there’s nothing we can do to change that. We just...need to accept it,” Hayne whispered, his voice echoing in Weldon’s head. How was he supposed to accept it? They’d been captured, abducted by his very nightmare. The creatures that lurked in the shadows of his mind, haunting him through his sleep. There was no way of knowing what they were going to do to them. What they were doing with them. What was next? That was all Weldon wanted to know. What he needed to know. Before their time was up.
It was so quiet that Hayne could hear the vibration of everyone’s breathing, collected tightly in their chests. Weldon had fallen asleep a while ago, though he didn’t sound to be resting well. His breathing was quick and sharp and he kept mumbling nonsense that Hayne couldn’t really follow.
Sensing a lingering stare, he turned his head, hearing an intake of breath from the boy. Hayne raised his browns and shifted closer, a smile appearing on his face,
“What is it, Jamey?”
“I...um...I was just wondering how you...how you lost your eyes,” the boy muttered softly, tone hinted with a bit of nervousness. As if the words triggered the moment it happened, a searing pain like tearing veins and a series of hits banging in his head occurred and Hayne pressed his psalm firmly to his temples. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, it was as if Hayne was reliving the event. He could feel his pulse rise and the stinging pain that followed the cruel removal of his…
“I was in the war...the fourth and final-”
“The Quad-War?” Jamey butt in, suddenly curious now. Hayne pinched the bridge of his nose and grumbled,
“Is that what kids are calling it these days?”
“Yes sir. I-I personally thought it sounded ridiculous, but it sort of stuck after a while. So...you were saying?” Jamey brought his knees to his chest as Hayne sighed, shrugging off his comment as he went on,
“Everyone from all over the world was fighting. I’m sure they still are...if there are any people left who weren’t taken. Five years I was there, facing the battle. I...I should’ve died. I should’ve been the first to fall.”
“But you were still standing?” Jamey asked with a drizzle of empathy and pity. Hayne held back the lump that formed in his throat, warning of an upcoming break-down. He nodded and clenched his jaw, determined to stay strong.
“I was still standing,” he whispered, “And I watched as my people were killed. Right before me. I couldn’t save all of them. I felt like I’d...like I’d-”
“Failed them?” Jamey finished for him, causing Hayne to shudder and nod.
“So what happened?” the boy questions, silently begging to hear the end of the story, even if it was dark. Hayne wondered if he was finding it easy to forget the monsters around them. Perhaps that’s why he was so eager to hear more. It didn’t help him however, for he could still see everything so clearly. The lifeless bodies in forgotten heaps. Their skin looked as though it’d been ripped and peeled back to reveal the raw flesh beneath. Most had died from the Bold Roars, a giant tank-like battle suit that the Japanese had been fighting in.
Then there were those that had taken the Aztec approach, brutally taking apart any survivors they found on the field, desperate to shed blood and listen to human cries as they were killed slowly.
“I found myself in a bunker one day after I was knocked out trying to save another soldier. I was lucky to not have been shot and blown to bits. I was tied up though and there were...there were others there too....All of them had had their eyes...they were gone,” Hayne squeezed his hands tightly, nails digging sharply into his palms, knuckles turning a bright white.
“Y-You don’t have to go on, sir. I-It sounds like it was a nightmare for you. H-How did you get out of there though?” the boy exhaled and Hayne ran a finger along the rim of his eye sockets, blood rushing in his ears like rushing water as he spoke,
“One of my men found me before it was too late. He managed to get me back to my base. But...I thought I had already...died. It truly was a nightmare…”