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SIX TOES

B.E. SCHÄFER

SIX TOES A Novel by

B. E. SCHÄFER

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Disclaimer This book is a work of fiction. The characters, names, places and incidents are used fictitiously and are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance of actual person, living or dead is entirely coincidental. Written by Blake Schaefer Photo ©2009 Jeanie Schaefer Cover art by Barbara E. Zwickel Layout by Aztec Printing, Inc. Copyright©2009 by Blake Schaefer All rights reserved. Cordon Publications 731 C Erie Avenue Evansville, IN 47715 All reprints are reserved except with permission from the author, Blake Schaefer, as stipulated under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976. Published by Blake Schaefer in conjuction with Cordon Publications. First Printing, September 2009 Printed in the United States of America ISBN # 978-09822083-8-0

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Dedication

This book is lovingly dedicated to the memory of my father, Louis H. Schaefer and to my niece Jacqueline Schaefer-Banks who passed into the Lord’s kingdom before the completion of this novel. To my loving and supportive wife Jeanie, who has put up with me while I’ve chased my dreams. To all six of my children Dakota, Luke, Alexander, Noah, Amber and Owen: you inspire me and keep me enriched with new stories. To Debbie who read SIX TOES in its infancy and supported me entirely as I honed my craft. To Jeff, Terry, Brandon, Jason, Cora and Don: For your input, friendship and encouragement. You each played a part in molding this finished novel into what it is. I love you all!

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Contents Part One: THE BEGINNING TO THE END Part Two: STRANGERS IN TOWN Part Three: CHANGES Part Four: THE ANIMAL FACTOR

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Part One The Beginning To The End Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures: cattle, creeping things, and wild animals of all kind” And so it happened. God saw how good it was. Then God said “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and creatures that crawl on the ground Genesis: 1, 24-26

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Chapter 1

June 17th Alexander Prower crawled out from behind the couch with a sneaky sense of mischief. His wavy brown hair was tossed and his clothes were covered in dust bunnies. He reached for the shiny brass knob on the big brown door and turned it. It opened. He poked his head in, peeked around to see if anyone was there, and stepped inside. The little office with the tidy desk, green examining table and certificates on the wall had not always been inviting. It was the one place in his little world that he had spent so much time. He couldn't begin to count how many times he had been there. He hopped up on the big green examining table, gazed out the narrow window, and watched a tug push a barge down the river. His bright green eyes widened, and his lips parted in a smile as the barge created waves in its wake. Alex's eyes followed the tug, marveling at its great power. Keeping his eyes fixed on the chugging tug, he watched as it turned the bend. When it had disappeared from sight, he looked towards the sky. He pressed his face and hands against the warm glass, watching white pillows of clouds drift overhead. Alex jumped and glanced away from the window when he heard the door open. His face flushed with fear at the hideous face that stared hard at him. The man with the twisted face was practically bald, having but a few fuzzy strands of dark hair on the sides and back of his head. He looked rather threatening to the young seven-year-old The man stepped inside closed the door and walked towards Alex. 7


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Fearing the stranger's intentions, Alex cowed back, covering his face with his hands. *** Richard Melton walked up the long winding path that led up from the Ohio River to his laboratory in Southern Indiana. He was a medium size man, standing five eight, and looked very distraught on that day in 1981, only days before his thirty-seventh birthday. The government had hired Richard nine years earlier to head up a special research project. At the time it all had seemed grand. And his main reasoning for accepting the position was that they had offered a promise to let him continue his personal research in genetics for Mary Johns Pharmaceuticals, all completely backed and funded by the government, in exchange for his services. By the time the H.A.F. Project had fallen into the hands of the bureaucrats and the military brass, Richard had almost forgotten about what it was that had gotten him involved. The project, which most often was referred to as H. A. F., and officially classified, Human Animal Factor, was a top-secret government research plan set up to study the effects of certain biological and chemical components and their affect on humans and animals. It was mid-June of eighty-one when Richard realized that he was losing control over what had been his for so long. He knew that if he didn't act fast, he'd lose everything that he had built his career and life around. Richard walked through the huge pole barns that housed the laboratories of Lost Island, past the offices and into the shelter where the animals were kept. He strolled past the cages filled with guinea pigs, rabbits and cats. Cats...He had never much cared to use them for research. He had always seen them as foul disgusting creatures. He had used them during H. A. F. only because the whole project stemmed from one cat that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. At first Richard had been reluctant when Colonel Gregory and Lieutenant Travis had brought him the cat. After time Richard had 8


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grown accustomed to using them. And the fact that they were as easy to get as walking into the nearest alley made them a rather cheap tool. The cats had been one thing, but when Travis and James had brought in the foreigners, he resisted even more. He had never before bowed to human research and now he was wishing he never had. He walked on through the shelter, back into the lab, smelling the sulfur, mixed with a hint of iodine that often drifted through the base. He passed up the hall to the gymnasium where the children were playing. There were four of them, six year old Cali, Wyatt also six, Victor, who was seven, was not to be found as usual, and Alex the oldest at eight, was most likely to be found watching the barges. Richard with his thick dark hair, clean-shaven face, and chocolate brown eyes, towered over them at five eight. And to small children he was a giant who they listened to respectfully. Richard smiled at Cali, the red headed girl with freckles and yellow ribbons. "How is my princess?" She curtsied politely. "Fine, sir." "Do Richard a favor and find your brother." Cali smiled, "Yes, sir." And went off to find her brother Victor. Richard watched her skip off then looked down on Wyatt. "Have you seen your brother?" Wyatt with his wavy brown hair, brown eyes and shy ways could have passed for his brother's twin, even though he and Alex were a year apart in age. Wyatt shrugged. "I'm not s'posed to tell." Richard smiled. "The word is supposed, Wyatt. And, Alex will not be in trouble if you tell me." Shyly Wyatt looked up to Richard. "He's in the office watching the tugboat." Richard patted Wyatt on the back. "Good boy; now go wash up for supper and report to Patrick. I'll join you in a little while." Wyatt obeyed and Richard turned off towards his office in order to round up Alexander. 9


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*** The strange looking man parted his lips, speaking to Alex. "And which one are you?" Alex cowered closer to the cool block wall, keeping one eye on the man. "You don't need to be frightened; I won't hurt you. My name is Sam, what is yours?" Alex didn't answer, but watched the door opening and Richard coming in. Richard put his hand on Sam's shoulder. "What are you doing in here Sam?" Sam turned his blue eyes toward Richard. "What does it matter?" Richard took a deep breath and winked at Alex. "It's all right son, now go wash up for supper and join the others in the dining hall." Alex's green eyes stayed wide as he got down from the table. He eased past Sam, around Richard and out the door. When Alex had gone, Richard stepped to his desk pushed the red button next to his phone and shook his head. "It matters because this area is restricted to you, Sam. You know that you are not to leave Sector One. If you will not abide by that rule, I'll be forced to lock you in the cage. Now, what will it be?" Sam smiled snippily. "Now what is that word? Oh yeah, I got it...eat shit, Doc!" "Now, now," Richard scolded. "It is for your own protection and you know it." Sam frowned. "Who you trying to kid? You can only use that excuse for so long. Fact is, you're scared Rich. You know my intelligence is greater than yours and you're scared. Face the facts, you wouldn't be where you're at if it weren't for myself and the others." Richard stepped to the door and peeked out, wondering where security was. It had been ten minutes since he paged them. Stepping back to the desk, he pushed the red button again. Sam laughed. "That button doesn't work." Ignoring him, Richard commented on Sam's earlier accusation. "You have never scared me, Sam. You have caused me to worry a great deal in the past eight years, but you have never scared me." 10


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Sam walked over to Richard's desk, which was neatly organized. He placed his hand on a stack of papers, shuffling them about and causing some to fly across the room. "Eight years," Sam shouted while Richard chased after the papers. "Eight long years, I have been a prisoner in this godforsaken place. You took my wife, my children, and my life." Richard bent down to pick up some papers. When he stood again, he seemed hurt. "You chose not to be with her. The children were my doing, yes, but I did it for them." Sam looked at the big leather armchair behind Richard's desk. He pulled it out and sat down in it. "You're right, I chose to push Mary away. But, you had no right to tell her that the children died. You know how much the children meant to us." Richard glanced at Sam while he restacked the papers. "If I could change things, I would. I did not lay down the rules. James and Philip make up the rules and enforce those of the government. You and I both answer to them. You, in turn must answer to me. My diagnosis was that you were too mentally unstable to be with the children. I still stand by that. Sam and James support me. I know Philip Travis is on your side, but he isn't shit. James is still his superior. And when it comes to the children, I am boss." As if to prove Richard's psychiatric analysis as truth, Sam rubbed his hand on the soft tanned arms of the chair. "Hey, Doc. What do I have to do to get one of these in my office?" "You got one." Richard scoffed. "Not like this, mine is hard wood." Sam picked a letter opener up from the desk, letting it slide between his fingers. "Put that down!" Richard warned. Sam looked at the opener for a moment, and then drove it into the arm of the chair. He chuckled. "There, it's down." Richard stared blankly at Sam, just when the MPâ€&#x;S came in the door. Sam got 11


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up, putting his hands out to the guards. "No bother, gentlemen, I was just going back." Richard glanced angrily at the guards. "What took you so damn long?" The chief officer hesitated. He nodded towards the button by the phone. "Sorry, Sir. There has been a problem in the alarm system. We're working on it." Richard sighed. "Just get him out of here." Sam glared at Richard when the guards slapped on the cuffs. "You know youâ€&#x;re scared. Admit it, Rich." Richard said nothing. Sam laughed. "I'll own your life one day, Doc. Mark my word, you'll regret all this. I am the master!" Richard watched them lead Sam out and shut the door. Walking over to the chair he pulled the opener from it and sighed, fighting the fear that welled up inside him. In fact, he really was scared of Sam. The man was growing crazier by the day and somehow Richard felt as if everything was beginning to unravel. He simply was no longer in control. And that scared the hell out of him. *** Darkness had settled on Lost Island, but Alex lurked in the halls. He knew quite well that he should be in his room with the other boys, yet he wasn't feeling well and wanted to be alone. Alex edged quietly down the hall toward the animal shelter at the far end of the compound. He had almost reached the door when he thought he heard footsteps coming down the east hall. He dashed the last few feet, looked back and quickly turned the knob. He slipped inside the shelter, eased the door closed and reached for the light switch. Turning on the light, he walked over to the animal cages. He went to the one closest to the door and opened the bottom gate. Reaching inside, he groped about with his hands, until they found the soft fuzzy bundle. His right hand clutched the kitten and he pulled it from the cage. It pleasantly meowed. Alex cradled the kitten in his arms, petting it gently. It purred and he kissed it on the nose. "I love you Tabby." 12


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Alex's head throbbed with an etching pain, he felt the headache coming earlier, and he knew the tremors would be close behind. Leaning back against the cage, he closed his eyes waiting on the inevitable. *** Down the east hall, James Gregory made his way towards the children's rooms. James was a big solid man with strong arms that were uniform protrusions of his upper body. He stopped at Cali's door and opened it. Cali lay in her bed, the blankets twisted around her and the red hair tossed about her face. James gently straightened the blankets. Cali turned in her sleep and yawned. James leaned over and kissed her forehead. She stirred. "Is it morning?" "No, dear," James whispered. "Go back to sleep." He pulled the sheet, tucking her in, and left the room. As he approached the boys' room, he began to wonder if Victor would be in bed. Victor had a habit of slipping out of his room at night. He let himself into the room and shined his flashlight on Victor's bed. Surprisingly the boy was sound asleep. In turn he checked Wyatt, then Alex. As the light beamed down on Alex's bed, James was startled to find him not there. James quickly left the room, wondering where the boy might have gotten off. It was not like him to take off in the night, and James had a feeling that something was wrong. *** At the other end of the building across the hall from the shelter, Richard Melton sat in his office, sorting through files. He read attentively for a moment then looked up when he thought he heard someone outside. Not hearing anything else, he returned to his reading. Richard flipped through the files read, then tapped on his computer keyboard. He scanned the screen and it seemed he was looking for something particular. Then, he stopped, grabbed the files up, read, flipped back a few pages then looked again at the screen. "Damn." 13


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Someone wanted him to look incompetent. But, who? Looking again at the file and again at the screen, he began to frantically search for the inconsistency he was seeing. He couldn't believe what he had found. It made no sense. Then it hit him someone had sabotaged the files. Again, Richard thought he heard someone outside. He piled the files neatly on the corner of his desk and shut off the computer. A knock came at his door just as he was reaching to shut off the light. He opened it and outside stood Patrick Moore Patrick was a short portly man, standing in at five-five. He had joined the project six months before the cats and the other volunteers had been brought in for the study project. He was a good doctor who caught on quickly to the basis of Richard's research. He had never questioned anything and had become Richard's right hand man. "What's up?" Richard asked. Pat pushed his glasses up. "Came to see if you wanted to join me for a beer." "In a minute, ready in a sec." Pat joined Richard in the office. Richard handed the files to Pat. "See if you can make sense of this." Pat skimmed over the file. "Computer glitch? Almost looks as if someone moved H. A. F. files into your project files." "I was thinking that. It makes it look as if we were doing some sort of genetic engineering." Pat starred at Richard. "I thought that is what you had me doing with the splicing of D. N. A.?" "We were only trying to isolate cells, Pat. Now we did do splicing on the gametes of the subjects, we gave them and the government what they wanted. But this stuff has been screwed with to make us look like incompetents. If anyone sees this, we're as good as finished." "What do you suppose we do?" Pat asked. Richard leaned back against the examining table. "Just keep it between us for now. Keep an eye on Sam and Philip Travis for the next day or so. I don't trust 14


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either of them." "What about James?" "I'll worry about him. This isn't something James would pull off." Pat scratched his cheek. "What is this going to do to us? Are we going to lose the project?" Richard lowered his head. "Don't know. I just don't know." *** Alex lay down next to the open cage, holding the kitten firmly in his grasp. Suddenly he let go his grip and put his hands to his head, moaning. His eyes rolled back, his body began to tremble and his bare little legs kicked. His left leg began to thrash against the open cage door, slamming it with quick violent force. His whole body began to quake; his muscles tightened and spit flew from his mouth. When the seizure eased, blood trickled down his leg where the metal gate had lacerated his skin. Alex let out a soft moan and fell into a deep sleep. Seeing the light on in the shelter, James stepped inside finding Alex on the floor. The kitten purred up next to him and James knelt down and put it back in the cage. After closing the door, he cradled Alex in his arms and hurried to take him to the infirmary. When they reached the door, Richard and Pat rushed in, finding Alex in James' arm. The three men looked at one another and Richard could only wonder what might happen next.

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Chapter 2

Sector One was as long as it was wide, large hut like building decorated blandly at best. It was rather empty looking, having only two doorways. One entered from the laboratory double doors made of solid steel. The other entry was a large concrete and steel structure that entered into a sterile environment. The gray block walls had no windows. Sparsely placed fluorescent fixtures gave off the only light in this dark cold gloomy hall. Either side of the building was lined with cell like cages, large enough to hold a tiger. A few of these cells had been closed in at one time or another, in order to provide some sort of privacy. Sam stood with his hands wrapped tightly around the cold bars of the cell he occupied. He was thinking hard about what to do next. He knew that he was evolving every day. His thoughts flashed quickly back to the long journey he and the others had embarked on years earlier. It had been a journey of survival that had landed them into the hands of those in charge of Lost Island. It seemed like yesterday when he and the others had been brought in, strung up and looked upon like animals. All the test, the pokes and prods came flashing back to him in a shock wave of endless memories. He thought of Mary, who had stood by him for so long, his brother who he felt had betrayed him in exchange for his own freedom. He also remembered Monica, who had died days after their arrival, and Linda who had been a victim like they. And, he knew his own survival rested on the choices he was about to make. He had Philip Travis on his side and that was a plus. He liked Travis; because he was the kind of man out for his own glory. He honestly liked Richard more, but 16


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Richard was a man of “by the book” or nothing. However, Richard was a problem. He knew that Richard would never let him be free from the walls of the island. Richard knew how smart he was and understood to some degree, how Sam thought. After all, they were both men of science and had inside them the drive to achieve. Each in his own right was mad, yet somewhat genius in their plans. Nevertheless, Sam knew he'd have to outfox Richard. And now the time had come for himself to change the course of his destiny. Philip Travis came through the big double doors of Sector One stepping toward the cage that confined Sam. Philip Travis was a Lieutenant who wanted to be General. He was a squirrelly guy with blonde hair and beady eyes, having the look of perpetual no good tattooed on his face. Philip walked up to the bars and shrugged. "I tried Sam, they just won't listen to reason. You should have not disobeyed the rules. I can do only so much now." Sam reached through the bars and grabbed hold of Philip. Pulling him up to the bars Sam, threatened. "I could destroy you. Now, make up your mind or die." Philip broke free. "Testy aren't we? I could fix it so you sit in that cage and rot away. Now, you do as I tell you and I'll see to it you are a free man." "Don't waste my time. I'll get you if you do." "I've already got the ball in motion, Sam. You just sit back and wait. I'll give you the word and you and the children will be free. I've sent out the reports to the higher ups. I give it no time before they come in and start an inquest. Until then you be patient my friend." Sam laughed. "Eight years I have been patient and I don't have much left." Philip walked away from the cage. “I promise you'll be out of that cage soon. I'll need you on the outside to finish this." Sam watched Philip leave Sector One, and relished the thought of being outside the walls of Lost Island. He knew once outside, he could be what he already was, master of the universe. *** James handed the letter to Richard. Richard threw James a bewildered look. 17


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“What is this?” "An inquest. I call it a crock of shit, but there is nothing I can do now.” Richard was silent a moment, then he said. "We can get out. Leave this crap behind and start over.” "I thought of that," James countered. " In fact, I had a feeling you might suggest it." "How and where do we start?" James sat down on the metal chair, next to Richard's desk. "I could get my ass in the sling for this. But, if I don't do this, Philip is liable to cause us both a lot of pain. I thought it over and came up with one answer. First we must make the children forget this place ever existed. I was hoping you might know away to do that?" Richard nodded. "I might know a way, can't guarantee it will work, but I have an idea. Honestly, I wish we had destroyed them all. I keep thinking back to that first time when Sam escaped. I still believe he was out to kill me. I still think of all the shit he shot into my veins. He is smart, James. We can't trust that animal." "You just get it in the works, we only have six days before the inquest, and we have to have it done before then. Destroying Sam would only make things worse at this particular time. I'm not saying I don't agree with you. I am much to blame in all this as well." Richard frowned. "This is no time to be feeling at fault. We were all wrong for that matter. I hope the children will be safe out there." James gave a half-hearted smile. "I'm sure they will be. Now, let's get started." Working quickly and efficiently, the two men went about developing their plan. They considered every possible scenario, checking out everything that could possibly go wrong. When they had decided on a set plan of action, James shook his head. "I don't think anyone could ever figure out where they will be. I'11 be the only one who knows." "Don't hold your breath. I can't guarantee that my idea will work. Their minds are young, and we may cloud the truth. But a day could come when they might 18


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remember." For the next two days the two of them worked out their strategy and prepared to put their plan into action. They decided if it were all to work, they would need another one to trust. They decided to let Patrick help them in the final stages. On the twenty third of July, before breakfast, the three men ran over the plan one last time. Finally, James stretched and looked at Richard.

"You have given the

children the daily dose?" "After breakfast, then you'll give the final one. Let's hope it sticks." Pat looked at his friends. "I wish us all luck today. I have a strange feeling that something is going to go wrong. If it does, I want you to know that it has been a pleasure working with you both. I don't know where I'd be if it weren't for the two of you." James looked at the two, carefully reviewing if there was anything that they had forgotten. "Well, guys this is it. Do or die today. Nobody can ever know." He said, his voice cracking with a hint of uncertainty. "Nobody in the world." After breakfast, Patrick left the base to go after some supplies, James went to get things ready, and Richard rounded up the children. He quickly found, Cali, Alexander and Wyatt. But as usual, Victor had made himself scarce. He smiled at Cali. "See if you can find your brother. When you do, I want both of you in my office." Cali smiled, her freckles glowing. "Yes, sir." Her pigtails bounced as she ran off to find Victor, and Richard accompanied the boys to his office. Back in the office, Richard let Wyatt sit in the big brown leather armchair while he put Alex up on the green examining table. Wyatt curled up in the chair and Richard told Alex to lie down. Alex watched Richard with his bright green eyes, as he swabbed his arm with Alcohol. Richard then pulled out a giant syringe and Alexander shied. "What's that for?" Richard patted his shoulder. "It's for memories. Now, hold still, you'll only feel a small pinch." 19


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Alex turned his eyes to the window, looking to see if a barge might be going by. Richard pushed the needle into Alex's vein and he flinched. "Ouch!" "Done. Now see how easy that was." Richard commented as he withdrew the needle. Alex got down and Richard helped Wyatt up on to the table. Wyatt played with his ear and shyly spoke to Richard. "Are you going to give me memories too?" Richard smiled. "Yes." When Richard had finished with Wyatt, he turned to Alex who had taken the spot in the big armchair. He knelt down beside him. "I know you have been wondering about the fuss lately. See, Alex the people I work for are rather mixed up about my relationship with you and the other children. They don't quiet understand my thinking nor do I understand theirs. I realize this makes little sense right now, but one day you'll understand. You most likely will not get to see me again for a long time. Take care of your brother and trust no one but James Gregory and myself." A look of fear crossed over Alex. "Where are you going?" "You're going, son. You and the others are off to have a normal life and a real family." "I don't want to leave you." Alex cried. Richard gave Alexander a big bear hug. "I know, but I can no longer offer you anything but heartache. Now take your brother and wait outside in the lounge." A look of abandonment came across Alex as he got up from the big armchair. He took Wyatt by the hand and headed for the lounge. As he glanced back at Richard, the door flew open and Cali burst into the room. Her red hair tossed, her freckles glowing, she panted. "I found him." Skinny-legged Victor clad in T-shirt and shorts, stumbled in behind her. He was wet, covered in mud and smelled like fish. Richard shook his head. "Been playing in the back water again?" Like a child caught with his hand in the cookies; Victor slowly nodded. "Yes, sir." "Don't stand there dripping on the floor, go sit in the chair." Victor brushed his hand through his thick black hair, meandered to the chair, and 20


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Alex yawned. "I feel sleepy." "Me too." Wyatt added. "Both of you go sit on the couch, now!" Richard ordered. With Wyatt and Alex in the lounge he turned to Cali who out of habit had already climbed up on the table. As he prepared the syringe for her, Colonel Gregory came into the room. James Gregory was dressed in his best uniform. His dress blues only brought out the blue in his eyes and his stance made one stop to look twice. He spoke fast. "The rat is coming and the mouse is not far behind. Where the hell, is Pat?" Richard whispered. "I sent him to Stonebridge. I figured it better if he was on his way." James nodded. "Yeah, you're probably right." Richard looked towards the lounge. "They are ready." "I'll get them out." James turned to the door, only to find Philip in the doorway. He knew James and Richard were up to something. "Colonel Gregory," He said. "I must ask you to come with me." James looked at him almost laughing. "What the hell are you talking about?" Philip tried to stand tall, but James towered over him. "It is difficult to say but I insist that you come quietly with me.� Richard who had finished giving the shot to Cali, turned to fill another. Victor sat quietly, in the big chair, his wet clothes clinging to him. James shook his head at Philip. "You better walk off now or I'll have your thrown in the brig." Philip ran his fingers through his blonde hair. "Tisk, James. You not I am going up. I find you in violation of codes 12, 13, 4 and 21. Now, what to you have to say?" Richard eased up behind Philip and jammed the needle into his neck. Philip jerked. "What the shi..." 21


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Seeing the action, James grabbed hold of Philip, so Richard could complete the task. Richard pushed down on the syringe until its contents were emptied into Philip's jugular. Philip went limp. James let him down to the floor and Richard laughed. "Sleep tight blondie." Richard quickly refilled the syringe, gave Victor his dose and he and James hurried the children out of the office. They crossed through the lounge, entered the laboratory, and went out the side door into the animal shelter. James hurried to the back door, opened it and motioned for the children. "This way," Alexander looked towards Richard with begging eyes. "I don't want to go." "I understand, Alex. This is all for the best. Remember what I told you. I'll always be thinking of you." Richard herded them through the door out to the awaiting van. Richard hugged each, telling them he loved them, putting them safely inside. Then he closed the door. He looked at James. "Better get them to where ever youâ€&#x;re taking them, the whole damn army will be down here soon. I know your taking a big risk with your career, don't worry; I'll take the full blame. I have it all planned, James. Pat will meet up with you about five. You were with him all day. And here is enough serum for the children. I've prepared enough for each and labeled each dose with his or her name. The tape player is set in the van." James smiled and shook Richard's hand. "Thanks. I want you to know. I do this for them as much as for my own conscience. You sure this will work?" Richard nodded. "The tape is subliminal hypnosis, it should, along with the drug, make them forget us and anything to do with this place. If they ever do remember, it will be years away." James looked at Richard, as if it would be the last time that they would see each other. Then he turned quietly, getting into the van and quickly sped away. Back inside, Richard went into his office sat down at his desk, turned on the computer and typed the word LEO. He then typed the words Cards, Solitude and Stanford. Then he moved his cursor to the left corner of his screen, where the 22


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word send was highlighted. Hitting return, then typing the word lock and delete, he shut off the computer and left the office. Going through the side door, he went into the lab. First he went to the refrigeration unit, grabbed up some samples and tossed them into the garbage disposal system. Returning to the counter, he cleaned up a small spill, and started to put some beakers away. As he reached up to a cabinet, the lights suddenly went out and someone came up behind, putting a half nelson hold on him. In the dark Richard could not see who had him. He struggled. "Philip...Sam? Sam is that you?" Then the voice came. "Yes dear doctor, it is I, Sam. Tell me where my children are?" "I guess they are out playing. Now, let me go." "Bull, Doc, now what have you and James done with them?" "I told you, I don't know what you are raving about. Where have you been, lately? What did they do with you?" "You had me locked up, you know that! I have been preparing to take over your project, while locked away like an animal." Richard flinched and Sam tightened his hold. "An experiment can't take over the project." "An experiment is all I have ever been to you. Toys of your trade, huh Doc? We were all innocent victims." "You had a choice, Sam." "Did I, crazy man?" "I think you're the crazy one. You spoiled this for all, Sam." Richard struggled to get away and in doing so, he knocked over a rather large beaker of sulfuric acid. The acid bubbled on the counter, moved like mercury and began to drip on the floor at the far end. Richard broke free of Sam's hold and made his way towards the end of the counter. Sam followed quickly behind, grabbing Richard's collar and dragging him down. 23


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The two men rolled about the floor. Sam choked Richard. "Die." Richard was gasping for breath and trying to break free of Sam's hold. The moment of fight seemed endless. Time had been replaced by a need to survive, a need to conquer as they stared into each other's eyes. For Sam it seemed to be the only justifiable means to end the nightmare. It seemed not so long ago that James and Richard had made themselves gods over him and the others involved in the project. Nothing mattered anymore. Every lie, every test and denial came dashing at him in a flash of wincing pain, as Richard kneed him in the groin. He felt like screaming, but held back. All the hate and rage escaped through his muscles. It was if a load of high voltage had been sent up his spine. Then he noticed the acid creeping, rolling into a gurgling pool near their heads. Its' putrid smell brought up in him a churning for revenge, like none he had ever felt. He raised Richard's head up and watched his adversary beg with his eyes for mercy. He caught sight of the acid eating away at a five-gallon plastic jug of rubbing alcohol. Then with cold malice, Sam grabbed Richard's hair and slammed his face into the stream of acid that now snaked across the floor. A blood-stopping wail came from Richard's throat as the acid ate at his left eye and cheek. Sam sniffed the air smelling the melting plastic jug, which was quickly being eaten away by the acid. He flipped Richard over and straddled his groin, grabbed his thigh and bent his leg back until he heard it snap at the knee. Again Richard let out a deafening bellow of pain. "God, help me..." Sam placed his hand on Richard's forehead and squeezed his fingers into his temples. Richard felt his brain pulse and momentarily he saw his life passing before him. He felt that somehow Sam was sucking out his every thought, emotion and memory. Richard could sense his own death to be near. His expression was one of confused horror. My god! Richard thought. My god, what is he doing? Then Sam released his grasp, put his hand to his own face and squeezed himself at the temples. 24


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Sam teetered backwards, and then gasped. "What a rush. I have done it. I now own your life Rich." Sam rose to his feet and headed for the door, just as the acid ignited the leaking alcohol. A blue flash of flame engulfed the lab and Sam turned back to look at Richard lying on the floor. The flame ignited a gas line and Richard looked up through his one hazed eye, just as the explosion brought a supporting beam down on Sam's ankle. Sam let out a cry of incredible pain, as he tried to push the beam off his ankle. Richard crawled over toward him and lay down beside him. "I gather we both die today?" Sam gave Richard a twisted smile. "The master cannot die." Richard looked at Sam, raised a hand as if to strike him, and Sam stared up and laughed. Richard heard a rumble, glanced up and, saw nothing else, but the ceiling crashing down. He covered his head, closed his eyes and blacked out. Sam looked up through blood soaked vision, when he heard the rumbling. Sam had only a moment before darkness and extreme heat had engulfed him. Hearing the explosion, James stopped the van at the end of Lost Island Road. He could see the smoke rise over the tree line through his mirror. Momentarily, James toyed with the idea of going back, but he knew he had to go on. Without looking back, James started the tape, and drove on. He could only wonder what had gone on. It hadn't taken long for the fire department to respond to the fire alarm. It was less then thirty minutes before the final flame was doused. When the base firemen began to search for hot spots, an unrecognizable figure crawled out from beneath the charred remains of the lab. His face burned, looking like some weird reptile. His hair singed, and his left eyelid melted shut. When questioned who he was, the burned man gurgled. Richard Melton."

25

"Ss...Ric...Doctor


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Part II Strangers In Town

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Chapter 3 Friday June 8, eleven years after the fire at Lost Island, Alexander Prower watched his brother Wyatt play the video game Tundra, down at Kuhn's Super Market. Wyatt moved the joystick, causing the knight to kick the evil demon. He quickly made it past the dancing fairies and went into the cave where his knight was devoured by the never-ending darkness. "Damn!" Wyatt pouted. "I almost finished level eight." Alex reached into his pocket, fumbling for the rectangular can. "Don't let it get to you. You'll master it one day." Wyatt frowned, watching Alex open the shiny can with the little key. "You‟re just trying to make me feel better." "Who? Me?" Alex chuckled as he rolled back the tin seal. Wyatt grimaced when Alex lifted one of the mustard covered sardines from the can. "Why do you eat those nasty things?” Alex shrugged, swallowing the sardine. "Just like them. Like you like your milk." Yeah, right. But milk does the body good." "Fish does too." "You know for both of us being adopted, we‟re not that different. Other than I'm the stupid one. Why can't I be good at things like you?" Wyatt pondered. Alex understood how Wyatt felt. It was true they were a lot alike; both had wavy brown hair. Alex kept his long and had it in a ponytail today, where Wyatt kept his short and feathered on the sides. Alex had a smile that made one think he was up to no good. And his green eyes were almost hypnotic. He seemed to be a born leader where Wyatt was more the follower. Wyatt was sort of shy and had always looked to Alex for all the answers. They both liked the video game Tundra, loved to fish and spend time down on the river. Other than the fact that Alex liked to eat fish like it was going out of style, one would never assume that they were each adopted. Sure Alex excelled in school. He was almost a genius‟ but when it came to Wyatt, there was a stumbling. Wyatt was slow to pick up on things and was rather clumsy. Yet Alex encouraged his brother and never looked on him as inadequate. Alex punched his brother in the arm. "You're not stupid. You're gifted. We better be getting home before we miss supper.” Wyatt agreed they should be heading home and the two of them turned for the door. Outside the store, Alex stopped Wyatt. "By the way...when are you going to ask out that new girl?" 27


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Wyatt cast his eyes upon him. "You know I'm not popular. I wish you wouldn't tease me." "Oh, so, I'm teasing you?" He said. He shoved him in a brotherly way and laughed. At first Wyatt thought about the consequences, but he swung a punch at Alex anyhow. He planted his fist in the middle of Alex's chest. Alex stumbled backwards. Wyatt let his fist drop, stepped back and waited for Alex to retaliate. Alex was breathing heavy, his shoulders back and his chest out. Wyatt watched Alex's eyes. Alex's eyes were green and opened very wide. "Don't hit me." Wyatt pleaded. "I'm...sorry." Alex drew a deep breath. He wet his lips and shook his head. "I'm sorry. My intent was only to encourage you." "You laughed at me." "That's what brothers are for." Alex said, reassuringly. "What did you get on that algebra test?" Wyatt glanced away. "A-b." "See-You can do things! Put your all into it and the sky has no limit." "I got a B Alex. A frickin‟ B." "That is a lot better than your average of C. If you can score in math...Surely you can score a date." Wyatt glanced down at the street, thinking deeply. Looking back at his brother he smiled. "Your right. I'm going to do it." "So, who you going to ask?" Wyatt felt excitement pulse his body. "The new girl in English class. Julie Melton. She's a babe Alex. I think, I'll ask her out." Alex smiled. "Think not. Just do it." Wyatt looked at him. "Want to be late for supper?" "What did you have in mind?" "C‟mon on. We're going to the trailer park." "That's a twenty minute walk both ways. We'll never make it back before dark. Why do you want to go there?" "Alex." He said, resting his hand on Alex's shoulder. "Sometimes you amaze me. If I'm going to ask her, it might as well be now. Come on let's go." They paused at the corner of Main and Riverside while waiting for a car to clear the intersection. Crossing, they walked up Riverside past the Solitude Twin Cinema. Once the only real excitement in Solitude: its faded marquee read, ALIENS FROM PLUTO and BLOOD LINE. These were second run movies that came months after their national release. Most people in the area drove across the river to Illinois or over to Stonebridge, Indiana to the Multi-Plex Cinema for new releases. It wasn't any wonder the Twin had ceased to operate. Most every other business had also experienced the same demise. In actuality Solitude was mostly a big square that sat on the point where the Wabash River fed into the Ohio River. It was a small town that had grown over night and dwindled to nothing almost as quickly. In the waning hours of the Second World War, the tiny river town had been home to a shipyard which had sparked a growth of industry in the years that followed. In the late 70's Richard Melton had established a lab with his government contract, lot s of families had 28


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moved to the region. Then came the recession and factories began closing. The local television manufacturer moved its operations to Mexico, leaving the plastic plant as the city's primary income producer. And in the mid 80's as the cold war ended, the government shut down Lost Island. Alex had lived his only real memories in Solitude. Having come to live with the Prowersâ€&#x; in July of 1982 when he was nine, he had very little recollection of his first few years. Wyatt had become part of the family four months later. They had got along from the start, except for the occasional brotherly spats. And until recently Alex had never thought about being anyplace else. Solitude was home and always would be. But part of him wanted to go to college and explore the places outside of this little town. Ten minutes later, Alex and Wyatt were at Lost Island Road and heading west out of town. By the time they neared the city limits it was nearing four pm. They both knew they'd barely make it to the park and back home before dark. On top of that they understood that they both were likely to be grounded for not being on time for supper. Still their undertaking seemed more important at that time. Lost Island road snaked west, and then took a dogleg turn back south to a dead end at the lab. On both sides of the road there was a network of trees, which seemed to bring the senses alive, when one passed by. When a spring breeze would blow, the smell of pine and sassafras would dance upon the hands of the wind. And the sweet smells of honey suckle and wild black berries that lined and tangled the roadside caused one to salivate. There were but a few houses on this outskirt road. Most were empty, having been once inhabited by laboratory technicians from Lost Island. On the north side of the road was a white aluminum sided home that some folks believed to be possessed and shrouded by evil. At night it seemed to loom, as if ready to devour anyone who would trespass. The place sometimes spooked Wyatt. Alex, on the other hand believed it to be harmless, as harmless as the person who lived inside. And that person was Linda Gawk, the town crazy, who hated children. They walked up the road, not talking much, and Wyatt himself was absorbed in thinking how to ask Julie out. He was nervous and was scared of being turned down. Alex used to date Kathy Kuhn. He wondered how Alex had gone about asking her. "How'd you do it?" He asked, stopping him. "What did you say to get Kathy to go out with you the first time? And why didn't you go to the prom with her?" "I didn't. You know how shy I can be. She asked me. We didn't go to the prom because we broke up. We just didn't click." "So; why am I doing this? Have you got a girlfriend?" "Cause your much more outgoing than I. And we're almost there. You're going to do this. Even if I have to drag you to her door." Wyatt chuckled. "What's so funny?" Alex asked. Wyatt laughed again. "You know...I'm going to do this, just to show you I have bigger balls, than you." "Right," Alex said as he fumbled in his jacket for another can of sardines. 29


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"What do you mean, „right‟? Why are you 'righting me'? You're the one who was asked out by a girl." "And I'm the one who had the balls to make you do this." Wyatt didn't say anything else as he noticed Mrs. Gawk staring at them from her front porch.Mrs. Gawk was the town prude. She was a woman in her mid forties, who never had any children and most believed, detested anything to do with a child. Her long thin dry reddish brown hair and pale-pitted complexion, reminded one of the Stygian witches. And, her righteous persona was enough to put the fear of God into a person. Some believed her constant ravings about the good book was a cover up for her true belief in the devil. She was a lonely woman in her forties who thought the world had shit on her. She loved to taunt Alex. Alex sort of felt sorry for her. Still, he liked to taunt her back. "Evening, Mrs. Gawk." Alex waived. "What has the good Lord asked for you to tell the world today?" Mrs. Gawk scowled. "You're a heathen Prower boy. God shall strike you down for your blasphemy. You‟re an abomination the devil's child." The boys continued on down the road as she shouted after them quoting from the bible. "Let he who plants the seed reap what he has sown!" Alex mouthed her every word as if it were a play he had memorized. Meanwhile, Wyatt mumbled. "What a loony bitch." They could still hear the echo of her voice as they came to Cedar Lane. They walked south down Cedar and followed it to the weather faded sign that read RIVER VIEW MOBILE PARK. Daylight had all but faded by the time they reached the first row of trailers. A cold damp breeze was moving in from the river. The air seemed stale, and the sky above looked threatening. "Which trailer is it?" Alex asked. "Beats me." "You mean we came all this way and you don't know where she lives?" "She lives here someplace. Look for a blue Chevette. Damn; I wish you had a car." "I do, too. We‟d better do this quick, if not we're going to get wet." The boys meandered through the park, and for a moment they began to wonder if they were the only ones there. *** Kathy Kuhn stood behind the register at Kuhn's supermarket ringing up the items that had been placed before her. She was a petite girl, and her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She punched the keys and pushed the groceries down the counter to her father. Her father, Bill Kuhn was surprised that they had a customer. Customers were few and far between these days. It seemed to him there were no longer many committed shoppers. It seemed like everyone was going up to Blairsville or to Stonebridge to shop at the giant box stores. Bill was a big, rough man who had grown up working his father‟s farm. And when the old General store in town closed up, he took a shot at opening up one of 30


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those independent grocery stores. It had been a smart move at the time. He had been twenty-five years old, and with his father cosigning the loan, he had walked in to Solitude Federal Bank and got himself the money to get started. That had been in sixty-six, and now at the age of forty, he was sacking his last bag of groceries. He was closing up on his dreams. His wife had gone missing a year ago, like many others in the town had of late. He had searched months for her and it seemed that no one else gave a damn. Now left to raise their only child by himself, he was getting out. Kathy's future was most important to him. He was going to go to work as manager for one those big club stores and send Kathy off to college. In some ways he felt a sense of relief knowing that the hassle of keeping up with a full inventory was no longer his. He placed the last item in the sack and smiled at the customer. "Thank you, Julie." Kathy looked at Julie. "That will be thirty six forty nine." Julie Melton with her long auburn hair and twinkling brown eyes, handed Kathy two twenties. "So when are you moving out?" Kathy frowned. "Day after tomorrow. Wish I could have come to know you better," Kathy hit the total key on the register and one of her nails broke. Blood seeped from the quick of the nail bed. At that moment she realized her finger looked rather inflamed. The skin was soft, rather red and gamy. Julie frowned. "Same here. Are you okay?" Kathy sucked her finger and nodded. Bill picked up the sacks of groceries and carried them to the door. I'll help you get these out. You better get home before the storm hits." Outside Julie opened the hatch on her blue Chevette and Bill placed them in the back. "Thank you, Mr. Kuhn." "You're welcome." Kathy stood at the door, waving to Julie as she got in the car. "Bye, Julie." Then she sucked her finger some more. Julie waved and closed the door as a few drops of rain splattered on the windshield. *** A flash of light came up behind them. A single car crept up the lane towards them. As it drew near them it slowed. "I think that's her car!" Wyatt piped. The car slowed to a halt and Julie leaned over, rolling down the window. "Hey, Wyatt. What are you doing way out here?" "A..a." Wyatt stuttered and Alex gave him a coaxing poke in the ribs. "We're just out on a nature hike." Alex poked him again and Julie smiled. "Looks like you picked a bad time. Going to rain." Alex spoke up. "Sorry to be forward, do you think you can give us a ride home." "Sure. I got to take these groceries back to the trailer first. Hop in." Alex opened the door climbing in back and Wyatt sat up front. They were all silent on the short drive to the trailer. 31


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The trailer in actuality was an old Winnebago that had long since seen it days on the road. With its' white oxidized paint and fading gold lettering, it looked like some scene from a b-grade horror flick. Julie pulled the car to a stop and the boys helped her carry the groceries inside. The interior was neatly kept; but had the smell of age in its walls was evident. Julie busied herself with putting the groceries away. "Have you guys eaten? I was going to nuke these frozen pizzas. You‟re welcome to stay." Alex nodded for Wyatt to say something. "Sure, that would be nice. Alex why don‟t you call home?" Wyatt said. "You call home. You have better luck with Mom." Alex replied. "If it's a bother, I can take you home now." "No bother..." Wyatt commented. "Where's your phone?" Julie pointed. "Over there by the TV" Alex sat at the little nook like table while Wyatt called home. Julie turned on the oven and got the pizza ready. Alex watched Julie as she went about her work. His brother had made a fine choice. He thought. She was a pretty little thing, auburn hair, brown eyes, perfect curves and complexion. She was almost too perfect and very mature for seventeen. She aroused Alex. And if Wyatt wasn't his brother, he'd have made a go at her himself. Wyatt returned from the phone. "Everything is set." Alex spoke. "Julie, you sure it's okay that we stay." "Yeah! Dad will be working late. He'll never know. Besides, I'd have just sat around here all night trying to get something to watch on that old TV." "Your bathroom?" Wyatt questioned. Julie patted her hand on the little closet like door next to the sink. "Sort of cramped, but it's right here." Wyatt excused himself and Alex sparked up a conversation with Julie. "Where's your mom?" "Dead." "Sorry-I didn't mean to pry." "That's okay She died giving me birth. I never knew her. I guess that's why I like Wyatt, Him being adopted. Don't tell him I like him. I don't want him to think I'm all mushy or something." "I won't. You know we're both adopted." Alex informed. "Oh, Wyatt told me. I didn't mean it the way it sounded. I just felt connected to him is all? He has been so nice, Alex. He even helped me with my algebra." Alex smirked. "He did?" "Yeah, that's my only weak subject. Daddy tells me that I can do better. He has a hard time understanding how I can ace everything and get C's in math." "I'd be happy with that." Julie sighed. "With my father it has to be one hundred percent. By the way Wyatt did tell me that he used to suck in math. He told me how you helped him. So I guess you can say you sort of helped me." Alex smiled. "Don't tell him that I said anything, but Wyatt he really likes you." "Is that why you came out here tonight?" Alex smiled saying nothing as Wyatt came out of the bathroom. 32


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33

Six Toes  

In a small midwest town there lies a dark hidden secret that is about to be revealed. Caused from experimentation gone awry and young adoles...

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