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NORTH CAROLINA

THERE WERE MANY ROUTES THAT BYRON EARLE PREFERRED TO THIS ONE.

THIS ONE COULD GO BAD IN A HURRY

A POORLY LOADED PAYLOAD COULD DOOM ANY TRUCKER.

WELL THAT’S JUST PERFECT

AND WHILE THIS CAMP WAS OWNED BY A LEGENDARY FAMILY OF ORIGNIAL NEW WORLD LOGGERS WHO HARVESTED THE FOREST WITH SECRET METHODS, THEIR MODERN SKILLS WERE LACKING.

BYRON INSISTED ON BEING THERE TO SUPERVISE THE LOADING TO CORRECT THEIR MISTAKES.

THERE WOULD BE NO INSPECTING THIS LOAD.


THE DANGER WASN’T IN DRAGGING A LOAD UP A MOUNTAIN. IT WAS COMING DOWN THE OTHER SIDE.

BYRON HADN’T BAILED ON A LOAD YET AND DIDN’T PLAN ON DOING IT TODAY. IT WAS THE ULTIMATE SIN IN HIS LINE OF WORK AND HE NEEDED THIS JOB.

WHAT THE?

A FLASH IN THE MIRROR.

WORKING FASTER NOW.

A CHILL.

HAND TIGHTENING ON A WRENCH.

“YAAAAHHH!!!!


THAT’S IT!!!!I AINT COMING BACK!

FUN TOO. WE’VE GOT SOME GREAT CURVES COMING UP. YOU’LL LIVE IT ...

WELL PAUL, YOU WERE RIGHT. THIS IS ONE BREATHTAKING STRETCH OF ROAD.

... YOU AND CURVES KIND OF GO TOGETHER.

AND TO THINK, MY ONLY COMPLAINT ABOUT THE TRIP SO FAR IS HOW WE CAN’T TALK OVER THE WIND... I DIDN’T REALIZE THAT WAS A PLUS


SHE LIKED THE EXCITEMENT, THE SPEED AND THE WIND, BUT IT WAS THE RAW INTIMACY WITH PAUL THAT MADE HER FEEL ALIVE.

SHEILA HAD NEVER BEEN ON A MOTORCYCLE BEFORE MEETING PAUL. SHE WAS OFFICIALLY HOOKED.

THEY’D MET A MONTH AGO AT AN APPLEBEES. SHE WAS HAVING LUNCH WITH HER GRANDMOTHER AND HE WAS TREATING HIS SON’S LITTLE LEAGUE TEAM CUPID’S ARROW CAME IN TO ICE CREAM AFTER A HARD-FOUGHT LOSS. THE FORM OF A MARISCINO

CHERRY AND A BLUE-FACED SHORTSTOP. SHELIA CAME TO THE BOYS’ RESCUE BEFORE PAUL AND THE OTHER KIDS AND DADS COULD EVEN REACT.

THE LEAST HE COULD DO WAS BUY HER A DRINK.


AT 55 MPH, THE ONLY PLACE QUIET ENOUGH FOR A CONVERSATION IS IN THE CALM AIR DIRECTLY BEHIND A BIG TRUCK.

ARE YOU SURE WE SHOULD BE THIS CLOSE!

THE VINEYARD IS ONLY ABOUT THREE MORE MILES!

“NO, WE SHOULDN’T AT ALL! THIS IS CRAZY! BUT I MISSED HEARING YOUR VOICE! “

EASY ROMEO! LET’S NOT TURN THIS ROMANCE INTO A TRAGEDY!

HOLD ON! I’M GONNA LET THE DRIVER SEE US.


NOW WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE THESE JOKERS DOING?


NO CHOICE BUT TO HIT BOTH BRAKES. HARD.

INSTINCT TURNS THE BARS TO THE RIGHT AND LUCK PLACES SHEILA’S BODY SLIGHTLY TO HIS LEFT, ALTERING THE CENTER OF GRAVITY JUST ENOUGH TO KEEP THE BIKE FROM SLIDING OUT FROM UNDER THEM AND INTO THE APPROACHING GUARDRAIL AT 50 MILES AN HOUR.

IT WAS JUST ENOUGH TO KEEP THEM ALIVE FOR A FEW MORE SECONDS ANYWAY. IN THE THIRTY FEET OF THE SKID, THEIR SPEED CUTS NEARLY IN HALF.

IT WAS PROBABLY THE DIFFERENCE, AND PAUL THOUGHT OF THAT AS HE FLEW THROUGH THE AIR.


STRANGE ENCOUNTERS

BY BOB DRY AND BRIAN PARIS


THE GROUND WAS SOFT AT THE BOTTOM OF THE RAVINE. THEY WERE ALIVE—MORE DIZZY THAN EVEN IN PAIN. NOTHING BROKEN.

…AT LEAST NOTHING EITHER COULD TELL.

... WELL MAYBE HIS EYESIGHT PAUL THOUGHT

PAUL! WAIT!

WHAT THE HELL IS THIS? WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE?

GRUMBLE. GRUMBLE

I…I…DON’T THINK THEY UNDERSTAND. I TH-…THINK WE SHOULD LEAVE.

YEAH

YOU OKAY? YOU CAN MOVE?

ABOVE, AN EQUALLY FOREIGN OBSERVER BIDES HER TIME.


SHEILA! WE GOTTA GO!

I’M A DOCTOR. I HAVE TO HELP THEM.

THESE AREN’T DEEP. IF WE CAN STOP THE BLEEDING HE SHOULD BE OKAY. BUT WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO GET HIM OUT OF HERE.

FIND MY BAG. I’VE GOT SOME CLOTHES I CAN USE FOR BANDAGES.

SHEILA. LISTEN TO ME. THAT THING IS STILL OUT THERE. I DIDN’T KILL IT. IT WILL COME BACK. WE NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW.

FIND MY BAG!

UGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!

NONE OF THIS MADE ANY SENSE—THESE PEOPLE. WHAT LOOKED TO BE A SABER-TOOTH TIGER. A SABER TOOTH TIGER?


[INAUDIBLE] I’M A DOCTOR. I CAN HELP.

....OOOOOOOO...

IT’S OKAY. I WON’T HURT YOU. EASY. EASY.

PAUL, HE’S NOT GOING TO MAKE IT. HE’S LOSING TOO MUCH BLOOD.

SHE’S COMING WITH US.

...HE’S GONE.


HEY! EVERYBODY ALL RIGHT DOWN THERE?

I THOUGHT I HEARD SHOOTING.

DO YOU REALLY THINK IT’S A GOOD IDEA TO BRING HER ALONG?... I MEAN, I KNOW IT’S NOT SAFE HERE, BUT WE DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT HER. I DON’T EVEN THINK SHE SPEAKS ENGLISH

THANK GOD YOU TWO ARE OKAY. I’M SO SORRY. I COULDN’T HELP IT. THE DEER. I…I…

LISTEN! THAT MAN IS DEAD, AND WE NEED TO GET THIS ONE TO A HOSPITAL. AND SHE’S COMING WITH US.


WHOA! WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON DOWN HERE? I DON’T WANT NO TROUBLE. YOU GUYS CAN…”

WAIT MISTER, IT’S NOT WHAT YOU THINK.

I DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS EXACTLY, BUT WE’VE GOT TO GET THIS MAN TO A HOSPITAL. HE WAS ATTACKED BY A LARGE CAT. A MOUNTAIN LION, I THINK.

MOUNTAIN LION? IN THESE PARTS? NO WAY. YOU SHOT THEM!”

LOOK, WE DIDN’T SHOOT ANYONE. MY FRIEND HERE SHOT THE…THE MOUNTAIN LION AND IT RAN AWAY.

I ONLY GOT HIM IN THE SHOULDER. I DIDN’T DROP HIM. WE BETTER GET OUT OF HERE. NOW

RRRRROOOOOAAAAARRRRRR!!!!


ONE WEEKS LATER. WEST VIRGINIA.

LOOK, THE GUYS OVER AT BRIGHT CREEK WEREN’T EVEN WORKING THIS MORNING DUE TO THEIR PUMP GENERATOR GIVING OUT. IT HAD TO BE YOU GUYS.

YOU ABSOLUTELY SURE YOU DIDN’T HIT A GAS POCKET OR SOMETHING?

ALRIGHT. BUT NO ONE GOES BACK UNDERGROUND UNTIL WE FIGURE OUT WHAT HAPPENED DOWN THERE, YOU HEAR?

I’VE GOT MY BEST MAN ON IT, BUT NO, WE DON’T HAVE ANY IDEA YES WE DO!


NOW, I’M NOT A SEISMOLOGIST, BUT I’VE…LET’S JUST SAY…DABBLED. IT’S AN LA THING.”

DON’T YOU MEAN A G THANG?”

SORRY.

???????

WE SEE THE SCREEN WITH A SEISMOGRAPH SHOWING A STRAIGHT LINE THEN A GIANT SPIKE GOING BOTH WAYS THAT DIES OUT IN A VERY SHORT TAIL. LIKE I WAS SAYING. I’M NOT A SEISMOLOGIST, SO TAKE THIS FOR WHAT IT IS. BUT I DO KNOW HOW TO READ A SEISMOGRAPH, AND THESE READING FROM THIS MORNING ARE ALL KINDS OF MESSED UP

MALFUNCTION? BUM SENSORS?”

WHERE’S THE REST OF IT?”

EXACTLY. SEISMIC ACTIVITY IS JUST ENERGY WAVES. THEY START, THEY BUILD UP ON THEMSELVES AND START SHAKING THINGS UP. THEY DIE OUT THE SAME WAY, IN A LONG TAIL.

THIS EARTHQUAKE BEGAN AND ENDED LIKE THIS. IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE.

NOPE. I CHECKED. I’VE GOT CLEAN READING BEFORE AND AFTER THIS EVENT. LOOK.

REVERBERATIONS FROM THE ENERGY DISSIPATING THROUGH THE BEDROCK

THESE ARE DYNAMITE DETONATIONS AT THE AGREN 6 MINE. THEY KIND OF LOOK LIKE OUR FRIEND HERE, BUT WITH A MUCH LONGER TAIL.

EXACTLY. THESE ARE THE SAME SENSORS. THESE ARE FROM AN HOUR BEFORE AND OVER HERE ARE ANOTHER DETONATION TWENTY MINUTES AGO.


SO, WHAT, WE’VE GOT SOME KIND OF INSTANT EARTHQUAKE?

EVERYTHING WE KNOW ABOUT SCIENCE WAS CONSIDERED IMPOSSIBLE BEFORE WE UNDERSTOOD IT.

THAT’S WHAT IS SEEMS LIKE. BUT THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE.

I’M SERIOUS. WE HAVE A CHANCE TO EXPLAIN SOMETHING THAT CURRENTLY DEFIES EXPLANATION. IF WE CAN FIND OUT WHAT THIS IS ...

WE’LL BE FAMOUS.

WOW. THAT’S DEEP.


HEY BOSS, IS THIS THING BIG ENOUGH TO RUN THE AIR PUMPS?”

IT’LL BE FINE..

I HOPE YOU’RE RIGHT. BUT MY GRANDMA BOUGHT THIS SAME MODEL FROM THE BOX STORE FOR EMERGENCIES.

IT’S ONE THING TO KEEP HER LIGHTS ON IN HER TRAILER, BUT…”

LOOK, WE CAN’T BE SHUT DOWN FOR TWO DAYS JUST TO FIX OUR GENERATOR.

YEAH BOSS, BUT OUR OTHER GENERATOR IS AT LEAST FIVE TIMES AS STRONG!


NO WORRIES BOSS. THIS WILL BE FINE

THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT.

LISTEN. YOU WANT TO WORK OR NOT? YOU LIKE MISSING OUT ON A DAY’S WAGE? HOW ABOUT TWO? HOW ABOUT FOREVER?”

UHH,…YEAH. LET’S GET TO WORK!


SO IT’S A NEGATIVE ON SOLAR FLARES? THANKS DAX. I OWE YOU ONE. SAY HI TO JULES FOR ME

HEY MARK, IT’S PHIL. LONG TIME. LISTEN, I NEED TO KNOW IF YOU NEW MADRID FOLKS GOT ANY DATA ON US HERE IN SOUTHWEST WEST VIRGINIA THIS MORNING.

WELL, OUR INSTRUMENTS ARE SHOWING AN ANOMALY, BUT WE’RE NOT REALLY SET UP FOR SEISMOLOGY.

CHECK THIS OUT. NOAA RECORDED A SUPER LOW PRESSURE READING IN OUR AREA THIS MORNING. 500 MILLIBARS. THAT’S CRAZY.

WOAH, I JUST SEARCHED FOR MORE 500 MILLIBAR PRESSURE READINGS ON NOAA. YOU WON’T BELIEVE THIS…

WHAT’S THAT? YEAH, THAT’S WHAT WE GOT. YOU EVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT?”

WHAT DO YOU MEAN ‘NOW THAT YOU MENTION IT’?

LAST WEEK? LAST WEEK1


WE DO THAT AND THEY’LL BE SOMEONE ELSE HERE TOMORROW. YOU KNOW THAT JIMMY.

ALRIGHT FELLAS, I DON’T TRUST THESE PUMPS. KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR BADGES. WE BAIL AT THE FIRST SIGN OF ELEVATED CO2.

YEAH, I KNOW.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LIGHTS?

HEADLAMPS ONLY. THE TEMPORARY GENOS CAN ONLY PROVIDE ENOUGH JUICE FOR THE PUMPS.

THIS JUST KEEPS GETTING BETTER.


ACCORDING TO MY FRIEND IN ARKANSAS, THERE WAS A SIMILAR SIGNATURE OUTSIDE OF BOONE, NORTH CAROLINA LAST WEEK.

WITH THE SAME INCREDIBLY STRANGE WEATHER CONDITIONS? THIS IS SO WEIRD.

THEY HAD WRITTEN IT OFF AS A BUG IN THEIR SYSTEM

WHERE WAS THE EPICENTER AGAIN?

INACCESSIBLE BY ROAD. BUT THE CLOSEST ROAD TO IT IS THE ENTRANCE TO THE BRIGHT CREEK MINE.”

SORRY. LET’S ROLL.”

NOT THOSE JERKS?


cough... cough... cough...

HANG IN THERE GUYS. THE ELEVATOR IS JUST A LITTLE FARTHER. IT WILL BE BETTER DOWN BELOW.

CO2 IS PRETTY BAD, JIMMY. WE NEED TO GET OUT OF THIS BAD AIR.

HEY WHAT’S THAT SMELL? WHAT YOU TALKING BOUT?

WHAA??? .... I SMELL IT TOO

THEN YOU MUST HAVE DEALT IT!

IT’S FRESH AIR. THE PUMPS ARE WORKING BETTER. COME ON!

LAUGHTER

IT SMELLS LIKE THE FOREST, BUT LIKE WAY MORE INTENSE.

AAAHHHHH!


JIMMY!

CAREFUL! THERE’S A STEP. A BIG ONE. WHERE THE HELL DID THAT COME FROM?

MINER 1 SHINES HIS HEADLAMP DOWN TO SEE THE FALLEN MINER. BEHIND HIM, VISIBLE IN THE EDGES OF THE LIGHT ARE ODD LOOKING SKULLS. FALLEN MINER: SHIELDING HIS EYES. “AHH, MY EYES. YOU’RE BLINDING ME. COME ON, TURN AWAY.“ SLOWLY THE BEAMS OF LIGHT LEAVE HIM AND DRIFT UPWARDS AND OUTWARDS IN ALL DIRECTIONS. FALLEN MINER GRABS HIS HELMET WITH LIGHT AND PUTS IT ON. “WHAT ARE YOU GUYS LOOKING AT?” WE SEE THE MINERS GROUPED TOGETHER STARING WIDE-EYED OUT INTO SPACE IN VARIOUS DIRECTIONS. FALLEN MINER “WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT?” REVEALS TO SEE A GIANT CAVE WITH LOTS OF CAVE DRAWINGS AND SKULLS AND BONES OF BOTH MEN AND CAVE BEARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ALSO THERE IS A DIVIDING LINE EVIDENCED BY THE DROPOFF THAT SIGNIFIES THE AREA OF THE CAVE THAT WAS DROPPED INTO THE MIDDLE OF A COAL MINE.


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