Chapter Twenty Two
As he rolled down the chute, Dirk discovered it wasnâ€™t as empty as he had thought. Small droplets of effluent remained, stinging every bare patch of skin and eating into his clothes. A bright glow appeared ahead of him. He had barely enough strength to stop himself at the end of the pipe. He hung out over a lake of the stuff, having emerged onto the edge of a cavern whoâ€™s size was beyond his ability to comprehend.
Glowbirds wafted around, casting a dim light over the black lake and the surrounding marble beaches. Just above his stood a cliff face rising up hundreds of feet. A rumbling sound emanated from behind him, snapping him back to reality. Desperate, he threw himself to the side, grabbing hold of a rocky ledge above.
Effluent poured out moments later, almost causing his hear to stop. He clambered towards the shore, dislodging stones beneath his feet. When he ran out of handholds, Dirk heaved himself over, landing with a thud on the rim. He staggered to his feet, looking back over the lake. A trio of pipes stuck out of the side of the cliff, empting into the reservoir.
He walked along the edge, coming to the side of a deep canyon. He looked down over the precipice, a dark blue glow coming from miles below. The glowing came from veined bands, like a river and its tributaries, though they overlapped to form nonsensical designs.
The sight made him shudder, the impossibility of where he was and what he had seen taking its toll. A deep thud shook the walls slightly, the bands of blue light shifting with the movement. He turned his head away, spotting something else in the darkness.
A terrace of some sort emerging from the canyon wall not far below, a large number of glowbirds gathering there. Dirkâ€™s insatiable curiosity pulled him towards it. Carefully he walked around the oval pool, the lip tapering to just a few inches near the centre. Once past it, he clambered along a narrow path carved into the stone face of the canyon.
Beyond rational thought, he slinked along the path, trying to ignore the long fall that awaited him after a single misstep. At the other end of the path he came to group of buildings, carved from the living rock. He slinked around them, freezing in several places when shadows fell across his path.
At last he arrived in the centre of the buildings. There stood a structure like a Greek amphitheater sunk into the side of the canyon, the far side opening to the canyon beyond. A statue stood in the gap, looking out over the valley.
At the bottom was a pool with a plugged drain, though it was empty at the moment. As Dirk too the place in, a noise echoed from behind him. A parade of the lobster-snake creatures were emerging from a tunnel above. A child ran through him when he spotted Tarcia among their ranks.
He ducked into one of the buildings, watching as they gathered around the pool. A knot formed in his stomach. Tarcia, unbound, stepped into the centre of the pool. She held up something and slid it over her face. Dirk realized it was a mask that looked exactly like the grasshopper faced creatures now surrounding her.
Transfixed, he watched as one of them approached a statue and pulled on its arm. It swung like a leaver; a loud grinding sound starting immediately after it had been thrown. A rushing noise followed. A black column of effluent surged down from above enveloping Tarcia in swirling blackness.
Instantly Dirk felt as though he were immersed in a vat of cockroaches, rushing all around him. Mind twisting, he emerged from the building and looked down at the doom of his employer. A shape momentarily emerged from the filling pool, only to be swallowed up again. The grinding returned, the flow stopped, and then silence fell.
Silence broken only by Dirkâ€™s chattering teeth. He clawed at his face, staggering around the top of the amphitheater. Then a claw emerged from the pool, and then another, a new creature emerging from the corruption were Tarcia had met her end.
It slithered out onto the rim, reaching its claws up to its face. The other creatures followed suit and before his eyes their faces came off, or rather the masks that had hid their faces. For the creatures had once been human.
From behind the mask emerged the hideous parody of Tarciaâ€™s face, now glued onto the head of an abomination. Her yellow eyes opened, looking over her claws. A smile crept over her grey lips as she twisted around to look over herself.
â€œYyyeeeeessss!â€ the creature cried. â€œAt last, at long last.â€
Then its eyes fell upon Dirk. The thing pointed its claw at him and seemed to beckon to him. Unable to process what he was experiencing, he stared back, mouth agape.
â€œDirk, come here Dirk,â€ she whispered, her voice exactly the same as Tarciaâ€™s. This made no sense to Dirk, as he had seen Tarcia being chemically burned alive, or so a fragment of his mind tried to believe.
â€œYou can become more, much more, if youâ€™d just come here,â€ she whispered, â€œDonâ€™t worry, it only hurts for a minute.â€
A primal scream escaped his lips, spots of color flashing before his eyes. The ground felt weak and brittle, as though it might shatter at any moment and send him tumbling into an infinite abyss. Barely in control of himself, Dirk drew out the Lugar and fired it at the abomination below, the last vestiges of reason imploring him to put Tarcia out of her misery before following her into oblivion.
His hands shook uncontrollably, the first two bullets flying wildly astray. The third impacted the creatureâ€™s carapace just below her ribcage. She laughed at his effort, slithering out of the pool and approaching him, the others remaining quite still.
â€œCome now,â€ she whispered, â€œJoin me, and together we can unravel the mysteries of this world, and more.â€
Out of options, Dirk pressed the searing barrel against his head and closed his eyes, tears rolling down his cheeks. A laugh emanated from the creature.
â€œGo ahead; spend a few moments dead. A quick dip will fix you up.â€
A fresh terror engulfed him, his eyes shooting open and staring at the monstrosity as it grew nearer. Another scream escaped his lips before he turned and ran. He was now dizzy, the world shifting before his eyes. Several times he pressed the barrel against his head, the fear of being reanimated the only thing preventing him from pulling the trigger.
So confused was Dirk, that he wasnâ€™t sure the wall ahead of him was real until he plowed into it. He staggered back, clutching his nose. A loud tap echoed form behind.
â€œOh Dirk, you donâ€™t know what youâ€™re missing,â€ she called, appearing at the end of the hall.
He shrieked, firing at the silhouette. The creature shrugged it off, laughing at his effort. Dirk dodged down the left hand hallway, desperately trying to ignore the fact that he didnâ€™t know where he was going.
â€œJoin me,â€ said a voice from just over his shoulder.
He spun around, but saw no one there. The voice came again, Tarcia now filling his head. Running, running as fast as he could, he bashed the butt of the Lugar against his head. No matter how hard he tried her voice could not be silenced.
Colors washed over his vision, the corridor stretching before him, twisting. He didnâ€™t know where he was going any longer.Â A glowing blue tendril emerged from a wall. He shot it, causing the entire earth to heave.
Then he smacked into a wall again, the journal falling to the floor. The final words stared up at him.
â€œHeâ€™s become one of them, Johan betrayed us all,â€ Dirk murmured, slowly starting his quixotic escape again. â€œDamn Johan, damn that little bastard to the deepest circle of hell.â€
Directionless, he wandered into a vast chamber, coming upon his own corpse. He shook his head.
â€œNo, no I shall not be killed here, I must report to the Reichsmarshall what happened here. These brave men did not die in vain.â€
Dr. Victor Eckhart nodded, rushing up a stairwell. His mind twisted and reeled, becoming Dr. Eckhart one moment, then Dirk the next. senses gone, he spilled into a chamber filled with daylight and into the arms of Sofia Black
â€œGlad you made it,â€ she said, ascending into the light. â€œNo letâ€™s blow this joint.â€
â€œDa, I must report Dr. Johan Krimâ€™s betrayal to the Reichsmarshall.â€
â€œBut of course,â€ Sofia said brightly. â€œAnything for you Dr.â€
They emerged onto the jungle floor, the sunlight nearly blinding Dirk. After a moment he was able to see the vehicle that had winched them up. He turned, just in time to see the gap being covered behind him. He stared around at the gathered military men, not sure if what he was seeing was real.
â€œIâ€™ve recovered the sample, but there is no way the librarians are going to let us blow the place.â€
â€œGood work, agent,â€ a man in a black suit said, lighting up a cigarette. â€œAh, and you must be Mister Cunningham.â€
â€œIâ€™m agent Robert Fletcher, Central Intelligence Agency.â€
â€œYou knew? You know about all this?â€
â€œOf course,â€ he replied tonelessly, â€œmost of it anyway.â€
â€œIâ€™m going to tell people,â€ Dirk snarled, â€œThe public needs to know, you wonâ€™t be able to keep me quiet.â€
â€œOh, Iâ€™m sure.â€
â€œNot in the least, Mister Cunningham. Go ahead, try and report what has just transpired. I dare you.â€
â€œI-Iâ€™ll let them know, you canâ€™t cover this up. Iâ€™ll expose you all. Tell your real names.â€
â€œHow do you know that was my real name? Ben, get him out of here. Send him on a plane, to, wherever he wants.â€
â€œNo, thereâ€™s a jungle soviet union, and inhuman abominations living below the earth, I saw the great glowing jellyfish in the canyon.â€
â€œHow interesting Dirk,â€ said a gentle voice.
Dirk looked to either side, a muscular black man in a white suit holding him on the right side, a muscular white man in a white suit to his right. They carried him along a white corridor, his feet catching on the ground.
â€œNo, no let me go, I need to tell the public!â€ He cried, squirming in his straight jacket. â€œThey need to hear about this.â€
â€œIâ€™m sure Dr. Payne will listen to everything you have to say,â€ the gentle voice said again, coming from the black man to his right.
â€œWhere am I?! Who are you?!â€
â€œYouâ€™re in a safe place Dirk,â€ the man replied, depositing him into a padded room. â€œIâ€™m a friend, and weâ€™re here to help you.â€
â€œI need a reporter, someone to tell the public!â€ He screamed as the door shut. â€œSomeone, listen to me!â€ He ran to the door, pressing his face against the window. â€œWeâ€™re not on solid ground, horrors await in the depth of the earth. The government knows, they know but theyâ€™re keeping it from you.â€
Quiet instrumental music began playing behind him.
â€œFlecher, Sofia, I know youâ€™re behind this! Forget the Soviets, this isnâ€™t about the Soviets. Please, someone, tell Washington, tell him that a terror that lurks in the deep. Itâ€™s sleeping, waiting, itâ€™s real, warn them, warn them. Aaaahhahuhahatl! Ahmo occehpa! Ahmo occehpa! Nein! Nein! Nein!â€