Bat Blood : The Devil's Claw (peek inside)
Prelude plus first two chapters ( out of 38 )
Prelude - Terry’s Legacy
Flying barely above the tree tops over the vast Northern Ontario boreal forest, a solitary, north-west bound, olive green and grey helicopter approached a crescent-shaped ridge. The huge ridge was nothing more than a gigantic mound of rocks, boulders and debris, created during the last ice age. Over time, the fine silt inside it had been washed away, leaving behind a labyrinth of tunnels, caves and caverns, along with the ridge’s knuckle-like ravines. From the air, the mostly bare, pockmarked ridge was shaped like the decayed bones of a long, bent finger pointing to the east. From its long curled fingernail, to the hammer-like base at its southern end, the entire ridge had a diabolic look about it. Adding to the ridge’s gloomy mystique was the muddy quagmire of swamps and fallen trees that encircled it.
The helicopter pilot felt the top of a tall tree scrape his landing gear as he tried to skim over it. "That was close."
A sweaty man in a dark blue suit and black tie sat beside him. Clinging tightly to his seatbelt, he choked out, "Get even closer if you have too. We can’t afford to be picked up by their radar."
As the helicopter climbed upward, the pilot glanced over at his nervous passenger. "I’ll try to stick to the large ravine that cuts across the ridge, but remember what I told you." On the top of the rocky ridge there was almost no vegetation to hide behind. The helicopter twirled the grass and short, weather beaten brush on both sides of the ravine as it skimmed over the ridge.
A red light came on in front of the sweaty man. "Damn it. They’ve picked us up."
While pushing his craft to its limits, the seasoned pilot responded, "I told you that they probably would. I also told you that we’ll only be a couple quick bleeps on their screen before we vanish from sight again. It was to be expected."
On the far side of the ridge, the helicopter quickly sank into the forest and turned to the north. Hovering above the surface of large swamp, the sweaty man looked at his watch. "It’s almost time. I just hope Doctor Brook wasn’t caught."
Almost to the second, a loud explosion whipped the tree tops in front of them. The sweaty man watched the smoke and debris mushroom in the air. Carefully elevating the helicopter, the pilot smirked. "We don’t have to worry about their radar anymore."
The sweaty man sat up straight and released a sigh of relief. Grinning at the pilot he commented, "Now all we have to do is find out if the doctor was successful or not."
A plume of smoke and flames rose out of what appeared to be a rocky knoll. As the plant-life covering the man-made mound burned away, they could see why the research facility was never spotted by their spy planes. The entire exterior surface of the domed facility had been hidden beneath a thick layer of soil and brush. The sweaty man peered through his binoculars as people ran out of the inferno. "This isn’t right. I’m seeing too many white lab coats. Something must’ve gone wrong. There shouldn’t be any research personnel escaping."
Duncan Stuart carried Terry MacIntosh out of the building’s only remaining exit. Behind them, hand in hand, two chimps tried to sneak out. Dr. Stern spotted them and yelled, "Don’t let them escape."
A guard quickly drew her pistol and shot the furthest one in the back of the head. As the chimp fell, the second chimp stopped and turned around. Laurie Irvine’s second bullet landed in the centre of its forehead. Looking up, she saw the hovering helicopter turn around and fly away.
Patches of the fast paint job had flaked off the underside of the craft. A small section of the distinct Banting Pharmaceutical crest was clearly visible. Duncan’s eyes followed the helicopter until it disappeared over the ridge.
With the clinic’s star patient slung over his shoulder, Duncan forced his way through the thorn bushes that populated the swamp surrounding the facility. An hour later, he climbed out of the swamp next to one of the caves that littered Devil’s Claw Ridge and dropped to his knees. He could feel the smoke-free air coming out of the small opening. A steady breeze was all it took to push air through the vast array of tunnels and cracks that wove throughout the ridge’s porous structure. They were just lucky that the Devil’s curled fingernail was able to deflect some warm southern wind, westward through the ridge. Duncan filled his lungs with long, swelling breaths. Every muscle of his body trembled from exhaustion. With Terry still perched on his shoulder, Duncan threw his head up and thought, God, am I stupid? He looked down at his hands. The scars covering his face and most of his body reminded him of why he had agreed to take the job. How can they fulfill their part of the bargain now?
The narrow entrance was far too small for Duncan’s massive frame. Slightly leaning to one side, he slid Terry down his huge, blood-soaked arm and rolled him over into a sitting position. The thorns had ripped apart Duncan’s clothes and skin. Every part of his body was either cut or stuck by them. In places, it was hard to tell whose blood was whose. As Duncan began pulling out as many thorns as he could, he told Terry, "Even if the fire spreads, the air flowing through the ridge should be able to protect you." Duncan stopped to hack some smoke out of his lungs. His head fell to his chest as he muttered, "I hope Doctor Scott didn’t go back inside."
Terry looked up at him. "Me too." With a face that looked like a badly trowelled oil painting, Duncan’s scars made him appear to be a terrifying, emotionless monster. The little kindness he had ever shown to Terry, had always been twisted by his grotesque appearance.
Terry was barely eighteen when the last of his family and friends had finally disowned him. All because of a single, stupid, drunken night and a self-centred, wretched girl with AIDS. He went from a promising young hockey star, to a helpless, bedridden skeleton. Now, as his health was finally starting to improve, all his hopes for a future were being engulfed by the distant flames. Terry looked past Duncan and watched the flames shoot up above the trees. Turning to Duncan, he asked, "Why did you bother saving me? There were plenty of others still in the building. You could’ve saved Tiffany. She was young and had her whole life ahead of her."
Duncan felt Terry’s hollow-eyed stare gnawing at his wide chest as he stood up. "I didn’t have a choice. I had my orders."
"You could’ve left me outside with the rest and gone back in for them. You didn’t have to carry me all the way here. Tiffany and a lot of your co-workers were still trapped inside."
"That wasn’t an option."
The scars on Duncan’s face made it hard for Terry to read his emotions. "Why wasn’t it?"
"Because she was just your nurse. She’s easy to replace, but you, you’re special. Your body is unique. For some reason it readily accepted the doctor’s experimental treatments. Apparently, you have close to a billion dollars’ worth of research floating around inside your veins. It took the doctor decades to get this far. The facility’s investors can’t afford to lose you. Especially now."
Duncan looked at Terry’s puzzled face. Dismissing his query, he continued, "You’re the only patient I could save. Right now, you are one of a kind." Duncan looked over his shoulder at the flames, "Despite tripling the security, I just didn’t count on a rogue insider." Looking back at Terry, Duncan noticed him staring at the blood on the huge knife dangling from his waist.
Terry remembered seeing Doctor Brook’s bloody body in the hallway. The clean cut that sliced through his throat had almost decapitated him. "You mean Doctor Brook, don’t you?"
"Yeah. He ran up the stairs after I caught him trying to set a second bomb in the stairwell. I had to disarm it. If it had gone off, the upper floors would’ve been sealed off. All of the researchers, doctors and patients inside would’ve been killed. I guess Doctor Brook was given an offer that he was willing to kill for." Putting his hand on Terry’s shoulder, Duncan smiled, "At least I got him before he got to you. He had already killed two patients before I caught up to him. Now that I’ve completed my orders, I have to get back to check on the doc. Don’t worry, we’ll be coming back for you as soon as possible. We won’t be long. You should be all right until then."
Terry thought for a moment. Why would a brilliant doctor want to destroy his own work? It doesn’t make sense. Something isn’t right. Unless? Terry looked up and asked, "Who is really in charge? Who are these investors? Who are you really taking your orders from?"
Duncan looked at Terry and smiled. Without a word, he turned and began making his way back to the burning facility. Terry could only watch him go and question why Doctor Brook did it. Money and fame don’t spur on a scientist like him. Their research is too deeply entwined with their own personal quest and religion. "Maybe the doctor had second thoughts on how his research was going to be used."
The cool evening air slowly crept into Terry’s body. Dressed in only a flimsy hospital gown, he began to shiver. Gazing westward, he watched Duncan’s head bob up and down in the dense, brush covered swamp. It seemed like the sun hovering above Duncan was being pulled out of the sky by the raging flames, and was being devoured by the fire’s relentless appetite. As the two balls of fire slowly merged into one, Terry could hear a loud cracking sound coming from the facility. Shortly after that, the constant chorus of painful screams echoing from the burning building was suddenly drowned out by a loud explosion accompanied by a huge, black mushrooming cloud.
Terry clenched his tearing eyes in agony as his pain medication wore off. Seconds felt like minutes and minutes, hours.
The distant whisking sound of a helicopter woke him from his pain-induced comatose state. Its spotlight finally broke through both the thick cloud of smoke and the falling night’s darkness. Terry quickly discovered that the extreme pain he was in had masked the thousands of harvesting needles that were extracting his blood. The mosquitoes’ abdomens were swollen into small, crimson balloons. He didn’t have the strength to scare them away. Looking upwards, he clenched his teeth and grinned. "And how many more plagues do you have for me? What did I do to deserve this?"
Terry suddenly gasped as pungent, burning fumes started to pour out of the cave, accompanied by a strange, high-pitched clicking. Curiously, he peered down the dark hole as a mass of fluttering, hungry bats engulfed him. Terry’s body trembled, shaking off some of the mosquitoes. The fleeing, blood ripened insects stirred an even larger swarm of hungry bats exiting the cave into an instant feeding frenzy. Confined to the narrow opening, they started plucking and devouring the plump insects right off of Terry’s petrified body. He tried to scream as he saw Duncan jump from the landing helicopter, followed by Dr. Scott. Terry’s face was sprayed by minute droplets of his own blood as the creatures mashed the ripened mosquitoes between their sharp, crushing teeth. As a pair of black wings whipped his face, Terry’s heart gave out and he gasped his last breath.
Duncan grabbed Terry and pulled him out of the confined shaft. Dr. Scott ran to Terry’s side and valiantly attempted to revive him. Nothing he did seemed to help. As the doctor worked, Duncan picked up a large stick and fought off the anxious, darting bats. With lightning-quick reflexes, he wacked a few against the side of the ridge. Their mangled bodies slid to the ground. Several more simply fell out of the air and flopped about. Their broken wings made them easy targets for Duncan to crush under his heavy boots.
It was too late. In desperation, Dr. Scott started filling syringes with Terry’s precious blood. He could feel his life’s work slowly dying in front of him. He knew that the fragile cells he had helped engineer could only survive for a short period outside of a living, warm-blooded body. The doctor put the needle to his arm. His hands shook. He couldn’t inject it. It would be like injecting a lethal dose of poison. The AIDS virus that still tainted Terry’s blood, along with the cells’ unique DNA profile, prevented him from ever transferring it into another human. Dr. Scott looked upwards with absolute hatred. The night’s sky was full of tumbling bats gorging themselves on the fleeing, thieving insects.
A blood-drenched bat slowly crawled out from under Terry’s body. The corpse was no longer offering it a safe haven. It twisted its battered head to face the angry pair. They paid no attention to it. Its head was covered with the blood dripping out of the incision where needles had once supplied Terry with hope. The enriched blood mingled with the creature’s along a deep gash on the side of its head. As the two men looked upwards, several other injured bats slowly crawled to safety. Behind them, the cave’s entrance was plastered in blood.
The doctor looked at the vials of blood. With every passing second, more of his precious cells were dying. As the doctor openly wept, within the shadows, all that remained of his research was slowly being infused into a primeval form of bat blood.
Slowly over the next three years, strange rumours began to spring up around the ridge. Most of them originated from the miners that harvested the gold there. It wasn’t until Dr. Scott read the headline of the local weekly newspaper, ‘Small Gremlins Terrorize Mine’, that his foul mood started to change. "Maybe the rumours were true." Deep inside, he had always known that any form of life will fight to survive, even if it is manmade. He scrunched up the newspaper and threw it at the door. "Those damn bats. They were right there." He pounded his fist on his desk. "Why didn’t I see it? They would’ve made ideal hosts. I could’ve injected a few of those creatures and saved everything."
Standing just inside Doctor Scott’s office, Duncan questioned him. "How do you know they are the same creatures that attacked Terry?"
"There was blood everywhere. One or two of the creatures could have easily been infected. How else could a colony of bats evolve mentally to the point that they could terrorize a mine?"
Unique to the region, the Bear Den Mine started out as a bear’s den on the side of Devil’s Claw Ridge. Caught in a harsh winter storm, a trapper had sought refuge inside of the den in the mid-1900s. With freshly killed bear meat to live off of, he waited out the week-long storm. He explored the catacomb of natural caves, shelves and tunnels that riddled the ridge’s interior. That was when he found the first few flakes of gold. The ridge’s surrounding swampy marshes made it much too costly and dangerous to strip mine, not to mention all the environmental issues it would raise. Instead, the gold had to be carefully dug out of the unstable ridge’s heart.
A month later, the headlines of the newspaper read, ‘Gremlins Kill Two Miners.’ The doctor read further into the article. ‘The mine is presently shut down while the Ontario Ministry of Labour investigates the cause of the deaths. Reports suggest that the workers blame ‘gremlins’ for the deaths. Several miners had stated that they saw bat-like creatures with bodies the size of squirrels chewing on the electrical and hydraulic components of the excavating machine that caused the collapse.’
Looking over the results from his last batch of failed experiments, Doctor Scott slammed his fist down on his desktop. "I wish I knew exactly how Doctor Brook manipulated the stem cells he had used in his research." The doctor glanced over at the newspaper and summoned Duncan to his office.
Within a minute, Duncan entered. "What can I help you with?"
The doctor looked at him. "At least one of those creatures must still be carrying some of the doctor’s original cells in it." In almost a growl, he added, "And I don’t care if we have to kill every last one of them to find them."
Duncan wasted no time in contacting the mine’s owners. They were grateful to sign over the troublesome mine, along with most of the mosquito-ridden swamp that surrounded Devil’s Claw Ridge. Added to the property that the doctor already owned, the entire ridge was about to become his.
The day Doctor Scott took possession, the mine’s entrance was blocked by Ontario Provincial Police officers wearing gas masks. Dismayed miners had illegally gained entry the previous night and laced it with a poisonous gas. The natural porous makeup of the ridge surrounding the mine had dispersed the toxic gas, and made it lethal to any living thing that came near it.
On the western side of the ridge, above where the hammer-like head swings north to form the handle, Doctor Scott placed both of his hands on the gate that denied him entrance. The team of men he had assembled quietly stood in front of the gateway. They all watched as tiny plumes of greenish-yellow smoke puffed out of the cracks and holes that riddled the long, wide ridge.
Doctor Scott turned away in total disbelief. Duncan placed his hand on the doctor’s shoulder, "Remember, you built the cells to survive."
The doctor placed his hand over Duncan’s. "They failed, Terry."
"Humans are fragile. Bats are tough and almost impossible to get rid of. Ask any exterminator. I wouldn’t give up hope. Not yet."
Chapter One - The Gremlin Mine
It was several years before anyone would set foot near the abandoned mine. The locals had even renamed it the ‘Gremlin Mine’. It started with a mere reckless teenage dare. Shortly afterwards, a young adventurous couple saw a lot of potential in its unique, eerie mystique.
Kristofer Poirier tenderly kissed Michaela Douglas outside the mine’s entrance. "If we’re going to put everything together on time, I’ve got to get busy setting up." He glanced over at her gaunt fragile sister and took a deep breath, "I’m sorry, I never thought you would actually bring Sarah along or I would have picked you up as soon as your father left for work. I know how you feel about your sister, but her wheelchair is going to really slow us down." Kristofer paused for a moment and looked into Michaela’s sparkling blue eyes. "We better just get started."
The overgrown trees and bushes growing beside and along the middle of the mine’s entrance road rendered the exit almost invisible from highway 599. Only the locals knew where to turn off the highway to get onto the long, twisted, double lane road. With swamp on both sides, a wrong swerve and you’re buried in mud.
In front of the mine were posted ‘No Trespassing’ and other signs warning of dire hazards and danger. They were almost unreadable underneath the graffiti and bullet holes. As Kristofer opened the arched steel gates, he paid no attention to the old, rusted locks and thick chains that were cast aside with shiny chisel marks hacked into them. He looked back and waved to Michaela. Her long, curly red hair bounced around as she quickly placed a can of ginger ale into the beverage holder on Sarah’s electric wheelchair and strapped her in.
Sarah insisted that she drive her chair down the ramps of the trailer without any help. Michaela clenched her teeth and fists as Sarah slowly made her way down. Beside the ramp, Kristofer stood with his hand stretched out in front of him, just in case anything happened. "You’re lucky that there was enough room left on the trailer. We almost had to take your fold-up one."
Sarah smiled at him as she circled the bottom of the ramp. "I’m glad you made room. I would’ve felt lost without my wheels."
After re-adjusting the ramps, Kristofer jumped onto his ATV and drove it off of the trailer. After detaching the long, narrow trailer from the van, he re-attached it to the back of the ATV. On top of the pile of plywood already on the trailer, they loaded all the supplies and equipment that they had crammed into the van. "I’ll see you inside in a bit. Just keep to the middle of the tunnel. You can’t get lost."
Michaela bit her bottom lip as the light from his ATV illuminated the tunnel. Under her breath she squeezed out, "I hope that this isn’t a big mistake."
The high-pitched whine from Kristofer’s four wheel drive ATV rattled through every tunnel, shaft and cavern in the mine. He noticed small patches of fungus eating away at the old wooden support beams, along with the odd insect. To Kristofer they were some degree of reassurance that the poisonous gas was actually gone. Forcing down a lump in his throat, Kristofer wondered, How did she talk me into this? He knew that none of the other teenagers in the area were willing and capable of pulling off such a venture.
The ATV’s headlight lit up ‘ALL WELCOME TO ZEB’S MINE’, sprayed in shiny, orange florescent paint on the tunnel’s wall. Kristofer rolled to a stop. Even though Zeb had told everyone that he had been in the mine, Kristofer had thought that it was just idle boasting. Zeb had been trying to get even with him ever since Kristofer told his father, an O.P.P. constable, about Zeb’s secret stash of illegal bear parts that he had helped poach for the oriental market. As a juvenile, Zeb got off with a fine and some community service. He didn’t even have to rat out his accomplices. With all the money he had made, the fine was mere pocket change. It was the humiliating community service that ate away at Zeb’s gut the most.
Grabbing a rock, Kristofer scraped and smashed off the words ‘TO ZEB’S MINE’, leaving only ‘ALL WELCOME’. The stone wall was soft and dusty and the paint came off easily in large, shiny flakes.
Only a dozen steps away, a spider’s web spanning the entire tunnel confirmed that no one, including Zeb, had travelled past that point for ages. In the mine’s almost dead air it would take months for a spider’s web to be laden with so much dust. It had only been a week since Zeb had boasted that he walked all though it.
Kristofer wasted no time getting to the mine’s main cavern. It wasn’t as high as he thought it would be, but much wider than he imagined. Working off his distaste for Zeb’s boast, he quickly unloaded the bamboo garden torches off of the trailer. Methodically he placed them into his homemade stands made out of old tire rims and arranged them into a big circle. After filling each one with lamp oil, he lit them. The metallic specks on the cavern’s wall sparkled in the flickering light. As the torches started to illuminate the monstrous cavern, Kristofer finally took a good look around. The cavern was once used for stockpiling ore before transporting it to an outside refinery. Now, except for a few pieces of broken machinery surrounding the elevator shaft leading to the lower levels, the cavern was empty. They were off to the side and shouldn’t affect their plans.
Kristofer’s spine trembled as a shiny, lightning shaped outcrop of golden ore glimmered off the top corner of the wall. All the miners knew about it. Where it was located, to dig it out could collapse the entire cavern, and maybe even that whole section of the ridge. It was too risky. The owners left it there to remind everyone what they were after. It was to be the last gold extracted from the mine.
All of the locals knew that the mine was poisoned, but with the high price of gold, none of Kristofer’s friends believed that anyone would abandon it. Not when there was money to be made. There were plenty of ways to protect workers from the gas. Along with his peers, he had grown up with the scary jokes and seemingly tall tales about the mine’s mischievous gremlins. Objects were moved or taken away, lunches stolen or eaten, equipment tampered with and even explosives removed from blasting holes within seconds of being detonated. The owners blamed the miners and the miners blamed the gremlins. Talking out loud, he muttered, "If the mine still contains gold, then why isn’t anyone mining it? Those mythical gremlins really did a number on everyone."
Most of the region’s population was terrified of the mine. Even years after the it was closed, the area seemed cursed with a rash of strange occurrences and bizarre accidents. The gremlins were the scapegoats for everything from misplaced items to mechanical breakdowns. But it was the eerie atmosphere the mine conjured up that made it the ideal place to stage a Halloween party. Costumes were optional; just showing up would be enough for everyone’s hearts to race.
As Kristofer lit the wick of the last torch, the huge cavern became miraculously transformed by the flaming ring of radiant light. Yellow, green, blue and red flashes of colour adorned the cavern as the dancing flames bounced their playful light off of the irregular, chiselled rocks jutting out of the ceiling and walls.
The glassy emerald eyes of the two creatures crawling above Kristofer’s head were lost in the glittering display. Clutching onto a support beam, the pair cautiously watched the strange intruder below them.
A loud ‘thud’ followed by a piercing, painful "AAAAAAAH" rang from the entrance tunnel into the cavern. The two creatures slunk back into a long, deep crevice between the beam and the roof. Only parts of their faces were left peering out.
Grabbing his flashlight, Kristofer ran to the tunnel. "Are you okay?"
A faint voice replied, "Yeah, Sarah’s wheelchair ran up the side of a rock and tipped over, that’s all."
"But are you all right?"
"We’ll be fine. Just get back to work. Remember, we’re on a deadline."
"All right. I’ll see you in a bit." Returning to work, Kristofer kept an ear out for what was happening in the tunnel.
"Sarah, you gotta start being more careful." Michaela barked out while strapping Sarah back into her wheelchair. "Someday I won’t be there for you." Picking up her lantern, she started to walk ahead to give Sarah as much light as possible.
All Sarah could think about was the mesmerizing glow that beamed from the end of the dark tunnel in front of her. As it taunted her, she felt jubilant for the first time in years. "Tell me this is really happening."
Michaela chuckled at her giddy sister. "Yes, and you’re going to remember this day for the rest of your life. I promised you that, remember, and I keep my word. But right now, Kristofer needs our help to finish getting everything ready."
Following Kristofer’s wide tire tracks, Sarah wiggled her way through the strewn debris that littered the tunnel. The mine’s stale air slowly crept into her lungs and left the taste of chalky, overcooked liver eaten off of an old rusty fork. Stopping, she finished what was left of her ginger ale. As the bubbles tickled her throat, she thought out loud, "Michaela, if the doctors knew where I was, they would all flip. They can’t prevent me from dying, but they sure don’t want me to live, either."
The doctors had diagnosed Sarah’s leukemia too late. With her body just rejecting a bone marrow transplant, her family knew that she would not be with them for much longer. Labelled a high risk, finding another donor fast enough was only a fairy-tale. Michaela smiled back. "They don’t, but I do."
Sarah stopped at the cavern’s opening, dazzled by the glimmering light show. The various flower-scented oils used in the lanterns created theillusion of an outdoor summer party. Their flickering flames produced a grand, multi coloured, ballroom effect as they bounced off the various mineral deposits embedded in the jagged rocks. "This is terrific." Her voice echoed throughout the mine. "Wow." She never thought Michaela and Kristofer’s planning and hard work would ever muster up something this grand. "You guys did a great job."
As Kristofer finished setting up the audio equipment, Sarah helped Michaela with other chores. After setting up the fold-up tables for the food and drinks, the two girls stapled a blue skirt around them. Next, they stapled a red skirt to the several sheets of plywood that Kristofer had screwed on top of sawhorses to use as a stage. Sarah unravelled and held the skirt the best she could for Michaela to staple. "Thanks guys, this may be the only real party I’ll ever get to."
Looking up, Michaela stretched her back into an arch. "You’re welcome, but remember what you promised. Dad can’t find out about today, so you better not get sick."
Smiling at Kristofer, Sarah bobbed her head. "You know, this is going to be the best Halloween dance anyone has ever pulled off. I’m just surprised that so many kids agreed to come."
"Hey, our parents get to go to their parties. Don’t we deserve to have one too?"
Kristofer laughed without even looking up. "And this is going to be great. Think of it, nobody’s place gets trashed and we don’t even have to worry about the mess. At least not right away."
With the final twist of a wrench, Kristofer connected a string of car batteries to the inverter on his homemade control panel. Springing to his feet, he declared, "There, we’re finished with time to spare. The others should be arriving any time now, it’s almost nine."
With a flip of a switch, music rang throughout the mine with acoustics that surpassed Sarah’s dreams. The sound improved even more as Kristofer fine-tuned his makeshift sound system. Echoing voices and beams of lights started to bounce around the tunnel. Despite all the excitement of the party, Sarah was slapped down from her emotional high as the first bunch of students arrived. Most of them had even taken the time to dress up. The arrival of the older teenagers made Sarah feel out of place. Biting her bottom lip, she slowly rolled her wheelchair backwards into the dark shadows behind the stage.
Michaela quickly glued on a long nose, wart and extended chin. She fluffed her hair into a wild mess and put on a ripped up shawl to finish converting herself into a witch. As the crowd flooded into the cavern, Michaela collected their contributions at the refreshment tables. A giant decorated punch bowl was transformed into her witch’s cauldron. Sticks wrapped with wrinkled plastic embedded with pulsating battery-operated mini-lights had created the embers and flames. Floating objects, food colour, gummy worms and such had turned the sparkling punch into a witch’s brew. Kristofer only had to put on an old, dirty leather work coat and hard hat with a light on it to quickly convert himself into a miner.
It wasn’t long before Zeb Ferguson made his grand entrance with two bottles of vodka sticking out of his side pockets and a fake tommy-gun in his hand. He was accompanied by two of his hooligan cohorts dressed like mobsters, each carrying a case of beer. Dressing up as gangsters from the ‘30s seemed appropriate. Zeb pulled out the vodka bottles and set them on the table in front of Michaela. "These are for the punch. That’ll get this party going."
Michaela flung her arms into the air in rage. "We told you, no alcohol! No one here can afford to go home smelling like booze. Are you trying to get everyone in trouble?"
"Hey, I’m Al Capone. I’m here to give these dry people what they really want."
Michaela grabbed a bottle and started pouring it on the ground. "No, you just want to cause trouble."
The commotion had alerted Kristofer. Before his feet left the stage, Zeb spotted him and started a wild chuckle. "So, the big squealer wants to stop everyone here from having some fun?"
Zeb’s buddies quickly set the beer on the ground and flanked Kristofer as he advanced. Surrounded, Kristofer stopped short. They both weighed the same, but Kristofer was thicker in the shoulders and arms, where Zeb carried more of his weight around his waist and thighs. "If you want to drink, you’ll have to leave and take it with you."
"You are your father’s son." Zeb grinned as his cohorts seized Kristofer’s arms. "Well, I’m going to have a beer and since this isn’t even your property, there’s no way I’m leaving." Adding in childish gibberish, "What’s wrong? Your daddy’s not here to run to. I wonder if he knows that you’re throwing a party on private property? Ain’t you afraid of getting in trouble? Your old man may even have to arrest you for unlawful trespassing and vandalism or something."
Kristofer lunged another step closer, dragging Zeb’s goons with him. Zeb launched a hard upward knee to his groin. Kristofer dropped to his knees. The two cohorts let go of his arms and stood back chuckling. As Kristofer rolled around in agony, Zeb started to laugh, "What, you can’t even stand up to me?"
Zeb bent over and clutched Kristofer’s chin. "Who would want to come to your party anyhow? Everybody came today because I assured them it was going to be a real party. Not some lame goody goody get-together for geeks like you." Smiling at his partners, he added, "But I should thank you for setting everything up for us, it looks like you did a fairly decent job. I should be able to easily handle everything from here."
As Zeb stood up, he swatted Kristofer’s face with an upwards wack of the back of his hand. The force of Zeb’s strike sent Kristofer’s hard hat flying. Climbing onto the stage, he grabbed the microphone and hoisted a beer into the air. "Did we come here to party or what? The punch is on me. Come and get it."
Michaela ran over to Kristofer. A few people, mostly from Zeb’s crowd, started to line up as the vodka was poured into the punch. Most of the party goers stood back in amazement. It took time for the quiet crowd to digest what was happening. After only hearing mumbling from the crowd, Zeb violently shook his beer and sprayed it over them, yelling, "Come on, let’s start this party!" He glimpsed at the foaming bottle and snickered before flinging it over his shoulder behind him.
The bottle smashed against the side of Sarah’s wheelchair. The top of the bottle snapped off and flew up, knocking off her wig. "You’re such a perve." Reaching down, Sarah picked up her beer-soaked wig and threw it as hard as she could. The wig missed him, hitting a stack of speakers instead. Two of them toppled off of the stage, stretching and pulling out wires as they fell.
"Look everyone, baldy’s here." Looking down at the speakers, Zeb stood there with his hands on his hips, grinning. "And just look at what the stupid freak has done this time."
"It’s all your fault." Sarah glared at him, yelling, "You always want to embarrass me! Look everyone, it’s the sick freak with no hair!"
"How could I have known anyone was back there? Besides, I doubt very much that you’re even supposed to be out of your bubble."
Kristofer hobbled over and stood in front of Sarah. "Drop it! Drop it now."
Michaela marched over to her sister, bellowing out, "She’s thirteen going on nothing. If anything happens to her, you’ll make your way to hell a lot sooner than you thought."
Feeling the crowd’s sour mood, Zeb took a long deep breath and stomped over to the tangled speakers. "Sorry folks, the party’s on hold while I fix the geek’s lame sound system."
When Zeb tossed the speakers back onto the stage, they started to squeal. Zeb had left the system on while he reattached the wires. The high-pitched racket he created caused the crowd to slowly turn away from the stage with their hands clamped over their ears.
Kristofer helped Michaela pick pieces of broken glass out of Sarah’s clothes and off her wheelchair. At the same time, Michaela looked her over for any cuts. Her ear and part of her cheek were the only parts that were bleeding. After releasing her seatbelt, the pair looked behind Sarah’s back and for more shards. That was when Sarah looked up and saw strange giant shadows floating over them. The crowd was yakking to each other and nobody was paying attention to anything. The more Sarah watched the soaring shadows, the clearer they became. As the speakers continued to squeal, one of the creatures swooped downwards toward Zeb.
Sarah screamed out, "Get me out of here!"
Zeb quickly turned around and looked at the hysterical Sarah. The creature knocked the hat off of his head and spun in the air. As he fell head first onto the stage, the spinning creature headed straight for the trio behind him.
Kristofer and Michaela stopped talking, looked up and froze. The huge, winged creature managed to swerve around the pair and collided into Sarah. The impact flipped her chair backwards. As she tumbled out of it, the creature latched onto the back of Sarah’s neck. It frantically clung to her side. Its teeth bit into her shoulder while its four sets of claws slashed into her back, face, neck and shoulder. In the shadows, Kristofer and Michaela couldn’t see much. Sarah’s screams and the two flailing bodies forced Michaela to cry out, "Do something!"
Kristofer picked up a heavy rock with both hands and waited for a clear shot. Seeing Sarah curl up into a ball, he saw his chance. Wasting no time, he hammered the creature with the rock. The side of the creature’s head was crushed by the hard glancing blow. Still tightly clinging to Sarah, its blood gushed out. With the deep gashes it had sliced into Sarah’s body, the creature’s blood freely mingled with hers. By the time the entwined pair stopped thrashing, they were both plastered in blood-drenched mud.
Michaela looked around for any more creatures. Nothing. The second creature had vanished. It had retreated into a dark gap on top of a support beam. From there it cautiously watched its partner’s demise. It hissed as loudly as it could in protest, but was easily drowned out by the curious, anxious crowd below.
Chapter Two - The Facility
With a short running punt, Kristofer kicked the creature off of Sarah like a football. After bouncing twice, its lifeless body hit the ground in a cloud of dust and rolled into the dark shadows next to the wall of the cavern. Michaela grabbed Sarah’s arm and dragged her toward a nearby lantern, leaving behind a wide trail of blood.
Frightened by Sarah’s motionless body, most of the crowd had drawn back. Some joked around thinking it was a Halloween prank. As Michaela frantically checked over Sarah’s injuries, Zeb watched her from the stage. Even in the dim light, he realized the severity of Sarah’s injuries. "It’s not my fault. She shouldn’t have been here in the first place. You can’t blame this on me."
Kristofer looked up at him and snarled. "Nothing is ever your fault."
All of the crowd’s suppressed anxiety about the mine started to surface. Their small talk had changed into morbid chatter. "Is she dead? Is it dead? What was it?" Panic struck as a lantern was knocked over by a hysterical girl, yelling, "It’s the gremlins, they are attacking." The spilt lamp oil quickly ignited into a fast spreading fire. The bottom of a boy’s homemade vampire cloak was lit on fire. He quickly tore it off and threw it to the ground. It acted like a giant wick and turned the spilt oil into a massive torch. Screams of terror rang through the panic ravished crowd. Another scared girl dressed as a rock singer walked backwards into another torch. Her red, gel-laced hair was set ablaze. Her boyfriend took off his pirate vest and smothered the flames. As he patted her singed hair to extinguish any embers, everyone started running to the exit.
"This party’s over. We gotta get out of here." Kristofer picked up Sarah and ran to his ATV. As Michaela hopped onto the trailer, he gently placed Sarah on her lap. The tunnel had grown into a chaotic gauntlet of crazed teenagers. Kristofer drove as close to the wall as he could to avoid the crowd. As more and more people jumped onto the trailer, it flipped onto its side. Michaela and Sarah were tossed off. Michaela grabbed Sarah and placed herself between her and the mob.
Kristofer could feel the trailer roll onto its side. Before the ATV was even fully stopped, he leaped off and ran to the two girls. A crowd swarmed around the vehicle. As the mob righted the trailer and drove it off, the three of them were left stranded. Kristofer picked Sarah up and started running down the tunnel. Jostled about by the panic-stricken crowd, Kristofer stepped on a mound of loose rocks and fell. His arms and shoulder safely protected Sarah as they hit the ground. Michaela was following so close behind that she ran into them and rolled over the pair. Landing in front of them, she fell flat on her back. Kristofer cradled Sarah in one arm as he sat up. He tried to wipe the sweat from his forehead with his free blood-soaked arm. "Michaela, get to the van. We’ll be right behind you."
Quickly bouncing up, she replied, "I’ll see you there."
Michaela slid the side door open as Kristofer reached the van and gently helped him lay Sarah inside of it. With Sarah resting on her good side, Michaela climbed in beside her. Running around to the driver’s seat, Kristofer called out. "Michaela, try to stop the bleeding. It’ll take at least half an hour before we can get to the medical station in New Osnaburgh."
Behind the driver’s seat, Michaela pulled out the bottom of the large bench built along the side. The padded bench slid down like a futon. Michaela carefully lifted her sister onto the bare cushion. She looked around the back of the van for anything that she could use. The van was set up for fishing and hunting trips. Most of Kristofer’s stuff was taken out to make room for the party supplies. "She’s bad. She needs to go to Sioux Lookout. She needs a real hospital."
As Kristofer swerved around the fleeing teenagers he argued, "She won’t make it. New Osnaburgh is much closer."
Still looking around for something she could use, Michaela screamed out, "Where’s your first aid kit?"
"It’s back in the mine. I have some T-shirts in the drawer under the seat. You can tear them up and use them for bandages."
Michaela peered under the bed and decided that it was too much trouble. Even if they were put in there clean, they probably aren’t that way now. Tearing away Sarah’s top, Michaela saw the true extent of her injuries. Part of the creature’s jaw was embedded into the back of Sarah’s shoulder. When Kristofer hit it, he must’ve shattered its jaw. Wasting no time, she took off her shawl. Then she quickly removed her top and tore it into strips. She rolled some of the strips into thick, manageable pads that she could pack tightly next to the protruding jaw. Before bandaging it up with the remaining pieces of her top, Michaela overlapped the cups of her bra to shield the site and hold everything in place. As she finished tying everything in place, her makeshift bandages were already soaked in blood. "Kristofer, give me your jacket."
As Kristofer turned onto the highway he yelled back, "What? I missed what you said." Kristofer glimpsed in the rear-view mirror and saw Michaela’s naked, scratched-up back. Even with her tattered witch’s shawl back on, the bright red lines were clearly visible.
Michaela sharply repeated, "Your jacket."
Kristofer wiggled off his jacket and told her, "Take it."
Michaela stretched her blood drenched hand behind her and grabbed the jacket. After removing the shawl, she slipped on the jacket. She looked around the van for anything else she could use. Shivering from fear, she cried out, "Do you have any blankets in here I could cover her with?"
"I think I shoved one in the small cupboard across from the bed. The one above the counter." Looking in his rear-view mirror, he added, "My cell phone is back there, in the drawer below the stove. There’s not always a doctor on duty. You better call ahead and tell them we’re coming."
Dialling 911 was all she could think of, but that was good enough. Fumbling with the phone in one hand while applying pressure on the large gash in Sarah’s neck, she finally got through. As Kristofer frantically drove, Michaela relayed Sarah’s condition. Above the roaring engine she yelled out, "Kristofer, turn around and head south. They’re going to have a helicopter meet us in the big lot where the logging trucks hold up and park for the night. From there, they will be flying Sarah to the hospital."
"Okay." Kristofer turned around in the middle of the road. Looking in the rear-view mirror, he watched Michaela tend to Sarah. A lump came to his throat as he saw the tears running down Michaela’s quivering cheeks.
Sarah looked up at Michaela, feeling nothing. It was like a dream, no pain, no smells, not even the taste of the blood that had flowed from her cheek into her open mouth. Looking over at Michaela, Sarah worked up the strength to whisper, "Thanks Sis. Everything is okay," before passing out.
Michaela cried out, "You’re not going to die on me."
Kristofer was barely stopped before spotting the helicopter. Refusing to leave Sarah, Michaela climbed in with her. She watched as the paramedics worked and jabbed an IV into Sarah’s arm. Sarah flinched. A tall thin paramedic announced, "At least we know that she’s still alive."
The paramedics slowly removed Michaela’s crude bandages. They both froze and stared at the strange section of a jaw sticking out. A large canine tooth was embedded deep into an artery in Sarah’s neck. Removing it would’ve caused a greater loss of blood than Sarah could afford. Turning to Michaela, the thin paramedic smiled, "I’m glad you didn’t attempt to remove it. Using your bra to hold the jaw fragment in place was good thinking. You must love your sister, ‘cause I never saw anyone willing to do that before." While packing the area with gauze, he took a closer look at the section of jaw. "What attacked her?"
"It resembled a giant ugly bat. It almost looked like the demons you see on fake Halloween tombstones."
Both paramedics worked quickly, bandaging Sarah back up. "That jaw is not from any bat. Did you actually see it? Was it a young wolf, a wolverine or some kind of big cat?"
Michaela didn’t know what to say. Besides her, only Sarah and Kristofer saw it. Even Zeb barely got a glimpse. "It dropped down on her from the ceiling of the main cavern of the old abandoned Gremlin Mine. It had wings and its body was almost half my size."
In a half a chuckle, one paramedic jested, "That rules out the gremlins. Any stories I’ve heard about them, they are only a foot tall."
"You weren’t there."
"Wolverines are good climbers and they love to jump on top of an easy kill. There have been a few sightings of them around here. They go straight for the throat. I bet that’s what it was. Maybe even a racoon. They climb and can get really vicious. Maybe it just fell off of a support beam and landed on her. As far as the wings go, in a dark, poorly lit mine, you probably just saw shadows."
Michaela tried remembering what happened. Shadows were everywhere. Everything was so quick and the lighting wasn’t the greatest. Trying to remember every detail was too much for her. Maybe her imagination had got the better of her. Was it flying, gliding in a long plunge or merely falling? It all happened so fast. Maybe it landed on Zeb’s head and simply bounced back onto Sarah. Could it have been a wolverine? What looked like wings could have been shadows. It may have been hiding on one of the thick beams supporting the roof of the cavern.
In the hospital, the doctors checked Michaela over for any cuts or sores in case of rabies before she was allowed in to see Sarah. It was mid-afternoon before Sarah finally woke up and felt Michaela’s hand. "I’m sorry I ruined your bash."
Squeezing Sarah’s hand, Michaela blabbered out, "You’re the only sister I have. I don’t want you to die."
The two quietly enjoyed each other’s company until their father stepped into the doorway. "If your mother was still alive, she would have a fit."
Sarah jerked as Michaela jumped up and wrapped her arms around her teary-eyed father. With her head buried in his chest, she told him, "I’m sorry. It was all my fault."
Still dressed in his dusty work clothes, Robert Douglas looked around the private room as he made his way to Sarah’s bed. "I wasn’t sure I got the right room. They first told me that she was in a ward in the children’s wing." He reached over and took Sarah’s hand. "I’m sorry, it took a while for the foreman to reach me and get me out of the mine." Dropping to his knees, he added. "You scared the shit out of me." Despite the extra chair in the room, he remained kneeling on the floor next to Sarah’s bed as a group of doctors came in.
"Mr. Douglas, I’m Doctor Scott. I need to talk to you about your daughter."
Robert looked at him, "Where’s her regular doctor? I’ve never seen you before. What’s going on here?"
"I’m sorry for the confusion. I’m a specialist from a private medical research facility near Savant Lake. I was brought in on your daughter’s case by the new owner of the Bear Den Mine. I’m the one that arranged for her to be moved into a private room. Under the circumstances, I thought that it might be best for her." The tall, well-groomed doctor studied Robert’s confused reaction before continuing. "You know that she was trespassing on private property that was posted well beyond what the law required for liability."
"I know the mine."
"Despite this, the owner wants to make sure your daughter is properly cared for. They want to circumvent any additional bad publicity to the mine. They feel that it’ll be hard enough to reopen it as is."
The words ‘reopen the mine’, brought Robert’s eyebrows to attention. For a brief moment his back straightened and he forgot about Sarah. Then Michaela squeezed his hand and his tears started to flow again.
Robert’s unexpected reaction made Doctor Scott wait a couple seconds before continuing. "The owner is also willing to issue a cash settlement under the condition that I personally oversee your daughter’s recovery to the very end, with your full co-operation, plus your silence."
"What about her cancer?"
"I’ve been made aware of your daughter’s cancer treatments. The facility that I manage has all the medical resources required to both continue the treatments and look after her recovery."
"I never heard of any cancer research facility in this area."
"We’re a privately funded research facility with no need to draw attention to ourselves. Our research is cutting edge and very secretive in nature. A high level of security is very important to us until all our pending patents can be secured."
"So, are you or are you not doing cancer research?"
"I can’t confirm or deny the nature of our research to anyone. However, I can assure you that we want your daughter to recover as quickly as possible. She will receive the best possible care. I’ve looked over her medical history and know that we can offer her a lot more than she has ever received before. We’re offering her access to one of Canada’s most advanced medical research facilities, one of the best in the world. She won’t get another chance like this."
Robert Douglas looked at Sarah’s bandaged face. "How long does she have?"
"Before this happened, her doctors gave her only a few months to live. I saw her records and I’ve done a few quick tests of my own. Her blood and tissue type are very good matches for the research that we are doing. If you agree to let us treat her, we could give her years instead of months. If we are completely successful in every aspect of our research, she may even be able to provide you with a grandchild."
Sarah’s father put his hands on top of his head and took a couple deep breaths. My kids were trespassing. They broke the law. Now Sarah has the chance to be rewarded with a future to prevent bad publicity? It’s like winning the lottery without buying a ticket. Looking up at the doctor, he asked, "How often could we see her?"
"Visits will have to be arranged." Doctor Scott looked at the bewildered father and handed him some papers. "Here is the paperwork that I need you to sign before we can get started. Any delay could cost your daughter her life. She was very fragile before this occurred. With all the blood she has lost, time is extremely critical."
Flipping through the pages, the tears in his eyes melted the letters and words together. Sitting on the bed next to Sarah’s lifeless body, he simply found the last page and signed it. "There, but if anything happens to her, I’ll become your worst nightmare."
Before leaving the room, Dr. Scott turned to Michaela, "Were you injured? I couldn’t help but notice all the blood on your jacket."
"No, this is my boyfriend’s jacket. He gave it to me after I tore my blouse into bandages. The blood is Sarah’s. He was wearing it when he carried her out of the mine."
Doctor Scott briefly looked the jacket over. It was made of heavy leather. Nothing could have soaked through it and survived. He quickly glanced over at her father and Sarah. Anxious to get her to his facility, he decided he had to let it go. Smiling, he replied, "That was nice of him." After taking a step, he turned back and asked, "By the way, did anyone else get close to the creature that caused all this?"
"Yeah, Zeb Ferguson. The creature knocked his hat off before attacking Sarah."
After watching Sarah and her father fly off in a helicopter, Michaela sat on a bench outside of the hospital and waited for Kristofer for what seemed to be an eternity. Almost five hours had passed since they were airlifted to the hospital and her thoughts fled from Sarah to Kristofer. The way he drives, it should have only taken him an hour and a half to get to the hospital. Bracing her elbows to her knees, she cradled her chin in her hands. She tried to ignore all the chatter of patients and visitors discussing possible outcomes of various test results. All she wanted to hear was the distinctive hum of Kristofer’s van. As a heavy weight gripped her shoulder, she jumped.
Michaela turned and sharply said, "Don’t do that!"
"I’m sorry. You must have been somewhere else when I was talking to you."
It was the thin paramedic from the helicopter. "I was. First my sister and now my boyfriend, you know, the one that was driving the van. He’s missing. I feel that I’m in the twilight zone or something."
"I wouldn’t worry about him. A few minutes after we got your sister admitted, a hooded team of white suits wearing gas masks came out and hosed down the helicopter. They used some kind of plumbing solvent to scrub everything the blood could have come in contact with. The stuff was strong enough to strip off the wax and peel away some of the paint. Those guys took everything. Then they checked me over to make sure I wasn’t infected. They probably stopped your boyfriend and did the same thing." Staring at Michaela’s blank face, he added, "I haven’t been through anything like that since that laboratory was destroyed a few years back. Tell me, what really happened back there?"
The paramedic looked down at the blood-stained jacket Michaela was wearing. Lifting his hand, he stepped back and checked to see if any blood had gotten onto him. Michaela watched him run to the hand sanitizer dispenser beside the door. As he looked back at her, the anguish on his face ran shivers up her spine.
Michaela’s jaw fell. She didn’t know what to tell him.
Chapter Three - Fort Scott
. . . . . 36 more chapters to go . . .