|Thaumaturjekyll: Book One chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7||Book Two chapter 8 9 10 11|
A Night at Wolf Trap
by Jeffrey M. Mahr
©1999 Jeffrey M. Mahr -- all rights reserved
By trying we can easily endure adversity.
Another man's, I mean.
-- Mark Twain
"What was that? Did I hear someone scream?" Dr. Lanyon came running into the lab with a worried expression.
"Damn. I knew we needed better sound proofing." Hastie muttered to himself as his father's eyes locked onto Jack, who stood unsteadily.
"Is everything all right Miss?" the older man smiled. Turning to Hastie his smile turned to a frown. "I thought we agreed that you would tell your parents when you have a friend visiting?"
"Right Pop. I'm sorry. I guess I forgot." Gesturing to Jack, he continued. "Dad, I'd like you to meet Sonja. Sonja, this is my Dad."
Sonja seemed more preoccupied with herself and failed to acknowledge the introduction. Before his father's sensibilities could be aroused and Sonja was asked to leave, Hastie rushed to continue an introduction. "She's new to our school and asked for some help with chemistry. I hope you don't mind, but we were about to use the blackboard here in the lab for a study aid."
"Oh. Okay son. But next time we, your mother and I, want to know when you have friends over, and I want to know before you use the lab. I'm running the start up routine for the TSP off a timer and I would really prefer you not use the lab right now." Mrs. Lanyon appeared behind her husband just as he was finishing his instructions. She nodded in agreement and waited to be introduced.
"Hi Mom. This is Sonja. Sonja this is my Mom." Sonja nodded distractedly.
"Sonja, you have lovely hair, strawberry blonde, isn't it?"
"Your hair. The natural color is so lovely. You have these darker brown highlights at the tips and I was wondering why you would hide that beautiful color." Mrs. Lanyon stepped around her husband to approach Sonja and fluff out the younger woman's hair so it lay spread appealingly about her shoulders.
"Oh, uh, yes."
"Yes, what dear?"
"Yes, I'm a natural blonde. I'm going to have to make an appointment to have it cut so I can make it all one color." She glared at Hastie as he smirked and fought to stifle a snicker.
"Ah, folks. Can we continue this discussion in the living room?" Dr. Lanyon moved between the group and the closet door and tried to usher everyone out of the room. "I have an experiment under way and it would be safer if everyone moved this discussion to another room, like the living room." As if to emphasize his words, the closet rumbled. Everyone turned towards the door as the rumbling became louder.
"I think we should all leave now." Dr. Lanyon suggested with greater urgency.
The rumbling became a deep moan as it continued to grow in volume. Now it was so loud that everyone covered his or her ears as Dr. Lanyon grabbed Sonja in one hand and his wife with his other and started dragging them towards the exit.
As suddenly as it started, the noise stopped and everyone turned back to the closet door. There was a small red glow coming from the keyhole. The became brightened and before anyone could move the entire door vanished as a grey swirling vortex took it's place. The rumble began again and rapidly grew louder and louder until it was a roar. Papers, then small pieces of lab equipment, then books, furniture, and people began flying into the vortex. Several minutes later there was a faint click and the vortex snapped off, leaving a completely empty room.
Waves of heat shimmered over a reddish sandy plain surrounded by layered cliffs rounded and formed into strange shapes from ages of blowing wind. A single tree struggled to grow from a rocky ledge providing a limited amount of shade for the four bodies beneath it. It was not until night that anyone began to stir.
"Oh, I hurt." Assorted moans echoed the sentiment.
"Me too. What happened?" Sonja angrily tugged her hair away from her face.
"I don't know." Hastie struggled to a sitting position. "I guess Pop's experiment had a bug or two in it."
"Is that true dear?" Mrs. Lanyon groaned and asked her husband. Seeing Sonja struggling with her hair, she reached over to help. "Why don't you put your hair in a ponytail dear?"
"I'm afraid so, Emily dearest." Dr. Lanyon interjected before Sonja could snarl back her frustrated answer.
"Because I'm really Jack and I haven't the faintest idea how to do that."
"Excuse me? Jackie? I thought Hastie said your name was Sonja."
"He lied. I'm Jack. Jack Utterson. This body," she gestured, "is another one of Hastie's botched experiments."
"Is that true young man?" Mrs. Lanyon sounded angry.
"No Mom. Not really." A loud snort of disgust came from Jack's direction. "I followed the instructions exactly. It was great grandfather's formula."
Mrs. Lanyon's hand went to her mouth while Dr. Lanyon groaned, this time in disappointment.
"But Pop, you told me great grandpa had perfected it."
"Yes Hastie, he did. But I also told you that the family has decided we would never use it. It's too dangerous."
"Dangerous? Dangerous how? I knew you were holding out something from me Hastie." This time Jack's voice was tinged with worry.
"It's not dangerous damn it. It worked, didn't it?" Hastie responded quickly before turning back to his father. "Besides, I don't see how it could be any more dangerous that your TSP."
"That will be enough out of you young man." Dr. Lanyon glared at his son.
"I'm afraid he might be right dear. Have you looked around?" Everyone looked beyond the piles of furniture, equipment and books that surrounded them.
"Uh, Pop? Something more than 'oh' seems called for here."
"Never mind, where we are. Give me one of those test tubes so I can get back to being me again." Jack started crawling toward Hastie with a clear intent to do whatever was necessary to get what she wanted.
"Hastie, didn't you tell Jack?"
"Tell me what?" The slow crawl stopped. She had made it as far as Mrs. Lanyon who gently put a comforting arm around the pretty blonde beside her.
"Hastie," Dr. Lanyon tsked. "You know what we've told you about telling the truth, the whole truth."
"Yes, father. Jack, you can't turn back for a fortnight."
"What? What the he... I mean heck, is a fortnight? And why can't I change?"
"A fortnight is fourteen days, two weeks."
"Thank you Dr. Lanyon. Now why do I have to wait so long? And for that matter," Jack asked Hastie, "how the heck were we going to go back to school after Halloween?"
"I... uh, I... forgot about that part."
"You forgot? Isn't it written in that damn book you studied?"
"No Jack." Dr. Lanyon explained, much to Hastie's relief. "It was just a notation in some other documents in grandfather's will, along with the warning that to try earlier would lock in the current form... if it didn't kill you first."
"Great. Just great." Jack put her hands to her face and cried while Mrs. Lanyon gently held her and rocked with her until a strange howling sound in the distance captured everyone's attention.
"Dear, I think we should think about what we need to do to make ourselves safe here, wherever here is."
"Very true. Lets see what we have that can help us. Everyone take a corner and start sorting. Whatever is broken, toss away from the tree. Whatever seems intact, place it beside the tree. Then we can make an inventory of what we have and see what we can use to get back home."
"Okay Pop, but going home may be a bit difficult."
Hastie merely pointed upward. There in the sky was the bright full moon helping them see. Beside it was a much smaller, reddish colored moon.
"Oh." They all silently began sorting through the piles of scattered items about them.
The larger and brighter of the two moons had set by the time the sorting was completed and four very tired people sat dejectedly about a small fire made of the combustible trash. The rest of the huge pile of junk had been tossed in a rough circle around them and the pitifully small pile of useful items had been stacked next to the fire. The unusable items had provided a more than sufficient supply of flammable material for a fire. The refrigerator had been emptied to provide a small meal of candy bars and warm soda.
"Let's review," sometimes Dr. Lanyon could not help being pedantic. "The good news is that we are alive and that we have a nearly full box of wooden matches. The bad news is that we have no food, no water, little more than the clothes on our backs, and our weapons consist of one laser pointer, two decorative sabers which none of us know how to use effectively, several small surgical knives, and enough chemicals to make a couple of pounds of nitrocellulose if we had some ice. Have I missed anything? Oh yes, we don't know where we are or how to get home." Everyone glumly agreed with his assessment.
"This sure ain't Kansas, Toto," Hastie muttered.
"Don't say 'ain't' dear," his mother corrected him as usual, but this time it lacked her usual fervor.
"Let's get some sleep folks. We should probably take turns keeping watch, although I have no idea what we need to watch for. How about two hour shifts? Who wants first shift?"
"I will. I'm not tired." Jack picked up one of the sabers and idly examined it. Something about it seemed to fascinate her although she had no idea what. While the others lay down on the sandy ground and tried to get comfortable, Jack began to slice the air with the blade.
Hastie was not that sleepy either. As the only action around was Jack playing with the big knife, he watched his friend. With a twinge of guilt he realized that in her current form, she was very pleasant to look at. "Hey, Sonja. When did you get so good with a blade?"
"I don't know. It just feels right." Hastie watched as Jack continued practicing her swordplay, moving faster and faster, making more and more difficult moves. She was good, very good. Better than he had any right to be, and there was something else. Something different about her. Hastie concentrated, trying to figure out what had changed.
Her hair? Was her hair a darker red than he remembered? Maybe, but that wasn't what was gnawing at the edges of his awareness. It was something else.
Her acceptance of the name Sonja? Hastie had been teasing, but Jack usually got irate when teased. Maybe, but he did not think that was it either.
Her clothes? Jack had been wearing a skin-tight reddish brown leather camisole when they'd come back from practice, hadn't she?
"Uh, Mom, Pop, Jack. I think we have another problem."
"What's that dear?"
"Something's happening to Son... Jack. Sh... his clothes are changing."
"Nonsense Hastie," his mother chided him. "I remember complimenting her on her choice of leather when we met."
"Mom. First off, that's Jack, not a 'her' and one problem is sh... he's not even correcting us. The second problem is like I said before, her clothes are changing. We were both wearing sweats with the school logo on them like mine when we left practice this afternoon."
"Are you sure dear? I recall complimenting her when we met."
"I'm sure Mom. I'm sure. Look. Now there's a scabbard too."
"Oh my, I don't remember that being there before."
"Neither do I," Dad chimed in.
"I don't get it. What's happening?"
Dr. Lanyon cleared his throat and everyone turned towards him. "The clothes must be something to do with this place, but I can't guess what yet. However, I think I can explain, at least part of what's happening.
"When she took the Jekyll formula her body changed. Now her mind is changing to match her body. That's why she's adjusting to the use of the name Sonja. Watch." He turned to address Jack.
"Jack, would you please tell us your name."
"Sure." Her face showed the strain as she concentrated on what should have been a simple request. "It's Son... It's J... Son... Sonja. That's it, Sonja. My name's Sonja." Jack beamed at the others as he repeated the name over and over.
"Thank you Sonja," Dad smiled politely at her. "You can stop now."
"I can't explain why her clothes are changing, but I think I can explain what's responsible for the changes." He stopped and peered carefully at each of the others. "I'm pretty sure it's only happening to her, so I think it's a safe working hypothesis to assume that it's somehow related to her ingestion of the Jekyll formula."
"I haven't figured out exactly how yet, but that may help us."
"How's that son?"
"The formula can change us into forms that are better suited to surviving here."
"That's true son, but I don't remember any reference to changes in non-living matter. That's something new and, I must admit, worrisome to me."
"Yes Sonja, I mean Jack?"
"I think you should be aware that we are not alone, and don't call me Jack."
The two men quickly scanned the darkness but saw nothing. "What's up?"
"There are several large four legged creatures circling our campsite, I think six. Look away from the fire until you eyes adjust and you will be able to catch glimpses of the red glow of the fire in their eyes."
It took two tense minutes for their eyes to adjust and even then it took luck to catch the occasional momentary glint of red from the fire reflected in the eyes of the creatures in the darkness.
"Should we wake Mom?"
"No son. Let her sleep. Your mother is many things, but not a fighter."
The night was shattered by an unholy wail, like the one they had heard earlier, but much closer. "What was that?" Mrs. Lanyon was wide awake, eyes wide with fright as she jerked to an upright position.
"So much for not waking your mother," Dr. Lanyon muttered, before responding in a louder voice to his wife. "It's nothing dear. We have some animals nearby, but the fire is keeping at bay."
"Oh dear. Do we have enough wood to make it through the night?"
"More than enough dear," he answered aloud before muttering to himself, "I hope." There was no assurance that this world rotated on a twenty-four hour schedule.
"They're getting closer." Sonja had taken a wide-footed fighting stance as she concentrated on the things in
the dark."Dear. Stay by the fire and make sure it keeps burning as bright as it is now, but don't make it any bigger. We don't know how long the nights are here." Dr. Lanyon gestured to Hastie to move to another quadrant and find a weapon. As one, they ran to the lab table and yanked on legs until they broke off in their hands. A club was better than bare hands and neither felt comfortable with the lone saber left.
Clubs in hand each moved to a position at the barrier, about a third of the circumference of the circle of junk away from Sonja. From the noises behind them, Mrs. Lanyon was digging through the piles of useful material, but neither of the men were willing to look back towards the fire where she was for fear of losing what little night vision they had.
There was another undulating wail and everyone but Sonja jerked a bit. This one seemed louder and closer still. As the horrid caterwaul faded into the night Sonja spoke quietly but decisively. "They come."
Seconds ticked by with only the crackling of the fire to confirm the passage of time. The tension was unbearable and Hastie glanced at the tense and unmoving figure of Sonja, to his right. "Where the hell are they?"
Quickly turning back he found a huge slathering mouth full of teeth snarling at him just inches away from his face. Before he could scream in fear and shock it was on him, knocking him backwards to the sand within the circle and jumping onto his chest, knocking even more air from his lungs... and everything began to move in slow motion.
Gasping for breath he held the club against the thing's neck using both hands as he tried to keep the thing's teeth from his neck. As the jaws snapped at him he could hear sounds of battle around him, but couldn't concentrate as he felt the creature's neck sliding off the club. The next time those jaws closed it would surely be around his neck.
Suddenly, the thing on his chest spasmed, giving him a chance to drop the club and grab at it's neck just behind the teeth. Scrabbling for a better hold, his hand brushed against something stiff and hard and the creature spasmed again before snapping at his neck again.
Hastie knew that his grip was slipping. Desperately seeking a safer grip, he again brushed a stiff object imbedded in the thing's neck and once more the creature jerked as if in tremendous pain. Grasping at whatever had caused the creature pain, he absently noted that it was slick with some fluid, but that was secondary to his need to jab at the monstrosity on top of him with the moist, slippery object. He pushed it in firmly and twisted. The creature howled and squirmed, clawing his chest painfully. He pushed harder as the creature made yet another lunge at his neck. The teeth were close enough that they had moved out of sight below his chin when the creature became rigid and... and stopped moving.
Hastie kept pushing and twisting the stick, or what ever it was until he realized the thing was no longer moving. As he tiredly pushed it off, Hastie realized that the creature had horrible breath, like swamp gas and that there was some type of fluid on his chest. A tired hand brushed absently at the sticky liquid and held it up for his inspection. It was red. It was blood. His last thought before passing out was to wonder if it was his.