Copyright © 2015 by D'Artagnon
That Place Between Sleep and Awake
Kyle tried to blink his eyes, but they seemed to be operating in slow motion. Any time he shifted his focus, his vision swam, a flood of blurry images and colors instead of the sharpness he was used to. Sounds felt weird to him as well. Not distorted so much as compressed, like his ears were having trouble cramming the sound information into his brain, making the sounds thicker, heavier.
He tried again to shrug himself off his shoulder, but he couldn't move. Breathing felt more like drinking chocolate milk, like the air was thicker, clingy. Kyle couldn't feel his fingers or toes and that sensation continued up his limbs. It was so disorienting that he wasn't even sure how far up his limbs that numbness went. He felt like panicking, but his body simply would not respond to the fear.
"Check him," the older man who had ordered the others to shoot Kyle said. One of the men in the camo jump suits moved to Kyles side and turned him onto his back. His hand pressed roughly at Kyle's neck, seeking a pulse. Kyle barely felt it himself, except as a slow, thick pounding in his temples.
The sunlight squirted through the clouds overhead, just catching the edge of the trailer Kyle had been stacking wood in. His face was right in the path of the sun and shadow line, further distorting his vision. He barely felt the man in hunting fatigues checking him over. He felt suddenly nauseous but had no energy to even think of vomiting. Either way, his body wasn't responding.
"Kid's still breathing. No temperature spikes. He must have a heart like a lion to still be awake with three tranks in him." The man slid the darts out of Kyle's left pectoral muscle. Kyle barely felt them leave his flesh. One of the other men tossed Kyle's jacket from the far side of the trailer and the one leaning over Kyle covered the boy with it. He'd been working without his jacket, not wanting to get sweat on the only winter coat he had.
A commotion caught Kyle's attention and he groggily turned to follow the sound. His neck muscles were very loose and he had to wiggle his head about slowly to focus on the sound. His eyes still weren't entirely cooperating and a sweep of vertigo lifted him and dropped him, over and over, like a small boat brought in on the tide, beached, but only enough that the waves kept lifting and dropping one end in the pounding surging surf.
While he tried to focus, Kyle felt the ground beside him jump, another body roughly pushed to the ground that had bounced off his shoulder. His stomach tried to heave as the impact sent his head to rocking back and forth, furthering the sense of vertigo that filled his deadened limbs and confused mind.
"Kyle?" he heard, realizing he should recognize the voice. But he couldn't. His body and mind were so disjointed, so lapsing in conjunction, that he felt a slow panic envelop him even as he slid sideways into an itchy, cinnamon-scented, muggy, rotating, light-scattering, lavender, icy fog.
In his fog, Kyle looked around. He sat up suddenly, realizing almost at once that he wasn't really sitting up physically. First of all, the landscape was vastly different than the lot he and his father had been clear cutting. There pretty much wasn't a landscape in this place he found himself. It reminded him of being on an ice sheet while the stadium lights were off. The fog was dark, but somehow still white, perhaps with a purplish tinge. Gloomy but not scary, odd but not unnatural. He moved to stand and found he could with his usual ease. The fog moved around him as he stood, staying no higher than his knees, but the diffused light remained fairly constant.
"Where am I?" Kyle thought, his internal voice echoing in the emptiness. His body felt far too solid, yet buoyant almost. Like he wasn't really standing on anything, even though his sense of balance clearly felt like his was upright. He looked around deeper and realized that the fog near him was only one aspect of the atmosphere. The lower fog seemed to grow at his knees, but the fog around him seemed to develop outwardly from him at about the same distance from his head to his knees, as if his body heat were somehow pushing the mists back. Kyle also got the sense, right away, that the fog was a lot deeper than he had first guessed. He wasn't in some place about the size of a hockey rink, or even an indoor arena. He was in some largely open place, any boundaries of which he couldn't perceive.
Something in the vast seeming expanse of clouds rippled, causing swirls in the density of the vapors. Kyle felt the motion, as if little hairs on his arms were disturbed by the passing of air. He felt the dampness of the fog, cloying and salty, making his skin feel simultaneously dirty and sticky, like an oily film clinging to him, organic in its viscosity.
He turned his head, sweeping his vision to follow the ripples. His training with hockey and other sports had taught him to use the peripheral edge of his vision, to look between two areas so as to keep both within his vision before making a move. It was a technique that had served him well, giving him a moments warning before a hard check would have bashed him into the glass or to give him a heads up about a teammate drifting into a good pass or shooting lane for a "no look" pass. Much of his effectiveness on the ice was from his ability to get the puck where it needs to go, not just in his own scoring talent.
So he cast his gaze around, following the ripples, as they seemed to move around him, circling to his left. He found turning in the thick fog was relatively easy, like swimming underwater without having to worry about breathing or how deep he might be. Kyle's body turned, his hands and feet twisting in the fog with almost practiced ease, tracking the cloudy puffs and streaks. For a moment, something in the periphery of his vision, on the opposite side from where he was turning, slipped in closer, catching his attention.
He stopped and shot his head around, focusing his eyes. Something very like a tentacle undulated in the fog, slithering away into the mists, and away from his field of vision. "What the fuck?" Kyle whispered. He tried to step forward and found his motion more like drifting than striding. He looked down and saw his legs churning as he tried to move, almost like treading water, but his muscled making swirling patterns in the fog, similar to a swimmer's wake.
A movement in the fog drew his eyes back up, and the tentacle brushed past his shoulder before swishing beyond him and swinging wildly away from Kyle, back into the mists. He reflexively ducked left, his shoulders coming up defensively, hands held stiffly to protect his face. It had been a dark purple, with glistening bits of sickly dark green in tight little patterns of dots as highlights. Glossy, wet perhaps, Kyle thought. Like something from a fish scale. A shudder passed through Kyle's body as he imagined the size of the creature that tentacle might belong to. It had been easily as thick as his thigh, and that was possibly at the terminal end. Something told him that it was much thicker, much larger, where it joined with the creature's body. A body still hidden in the dark, opaque fog.
A deep, rumbling echo rolled through Kyle's body. It traveled through the thicker parts of him like the vibration of a freight train, through his fingers and toes and other parts like a building coming down. His breath caught in his throat as the sound penetrated him, rising in pitch from a rumble with no meaning, just power, to something like a deep, guttural voice, waking. The power of the sound chilled Kyle, deeply.
"I see you," the voice rumbled, causing trembles in Kyle's chest. If he had any control over his bladder, the force of that voice would have lost it for him. Kyle slowly turned, looking for the source of the voice, but the constantly billowing clouds of opaque lavender darkness continued to swirl without revealing anything. The scent of cinnamon and decaying fish seemed to merge and swell about Kyle, adding slight nausea to his disorientation, pain and fear.
"Who are you? Where are you?" Kyle called out, using more force in his voice than he felt he had air for. Fear had taken hold of him and he could feel his chest strangely constricted, despite his sudden desire to be somewhere other than right there. Something moved in the mist, large, powerful, yet still concealed in the mist.
"My name," the voice bubbled, churning as if coming from deep under water, "is not important to you as yet, young godling." The voice rumbled with a power that stung Kyle's flesh, like salt crystals rubbed into sunburn. Kyle thought he could perceive a difference in the fog in one direction, and he focused, guessing that perhaps that weird tentacle or the voice might be in that direction. "Just know that I am coming, that I am wakening from my dread slumber. My minions arise even now. You have only to choose. Oppose me and perish. Serve me and thrive."
"I'm not God," Kyle said, for some reason his right hand quickly went through the sign of the cross, barely remembered from his Catholic Catechism School days as a young child.
"So be it, young godling. I see your weakness, and I do not fear you." And then the voice trailed off, almost sleepily, with a resonating, low pitched ululation that sounded like "ku thu loo loo hoo ooo," rumbling off into emptiness around Kyle, backed with a very heavy, deep sound of wind moving through the fog, almost as if some great beast was exhaling slowly or snoring. Burbling.
And then the tentacle came back and smacked Kyle in the face hard enough to wake him up again.
"Kyle!" his father called out from beside the boy. "What have you done to my son?"
"Relax, sir. He's just sedated," one of the men in hunting gear said. "He'll just be napping a while. He's not hurt."
"What do you want?" Kyle's dad nearly screamed, trying to get to his feet. The man in fatigues gave Kyle's dad the boot, a few times. Hard.
"Stay down, you dumb shit!" the soldier ordered. Kyle's dad reluctantly complied, bent in the middle and gasping in pain.
"Oh my, what do we have here. Is that you Barry?" Kyle's father's eyes shot open, wide. The voice stirred memories, ghosts from the past. Kyle's father trembled a bit as he craned his head around to look at the speaker. "Barry, Barry, Barry. You are all grown up!" the voice said, the same voice that Kyle had heard ordering the men in camo to "take him."
"You? But… but you're dead!" Kyle's dad stammered. "Y-y-you were ka… killed in Jersey last sa-sa-summer!" Kyle knew his father was very flustered. As a kid, his dad had a horrible stutter, and had worked hard to control it. Only in times of intense consternation did the stutter return.
"Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. Much like when you and your friends thought you had killed me in your youth. Oh, poor Barry. I see your vocal difficulties have returned. It is good to see you again, my former apprentice."
"I wa-wa-was never y-y-your…"
"Oh, but we know differently, don't we," Stamos practically hissed with glee. "You were there with me, helping me continue my work, in the hospital. Do you remember Susan Robards? Humm? How when I was done with her, you took a turn as well? Or Arliene McCombs? Her resistance was fairly strong. It was a wonder she wasn't dead when I finished with her, but that didn't stop you from taking liberties, did it."
"St-st-stop!" Kyle's dad said, his voice rising in pitch as well as tension.
"What about Danielle, oh, what was her name. Remarkable girl. Bright blue eyes, long blonde hair. A vision of Aryan loveliness."
"Shut up!" Kyle's dad spat out, getting a swift kick in the gut from one of the soldiers for his efforts.
"She was very spirited, as I remember. Do you remember?" Stamos walked around and adjusted his wire frame glasses, grinning gleefully at the cringing man. "Oh her resistance at first was stern, but once she was in the throes, her body took over. Sweet, sweet Danielle. What was her last name?"
"Donovan," Kyle's dad said softly.
"I wonder what happened to her," Stamos said whistfully. "Oh, that's right. She died under you, didn't she?"
"Bastard!" Kyle's dad spat out. "I was a child. W-w-we were all kids! You d-dr-dr-drugged us an-an-and…"
"Oh, do take some responsibility, Barry. You were a weakling. You were pathetic and small, you had a much worse stutter and you were so willing to overlook your morality if it got your tiny penis wet." The old man walked over to where he could look at Kyle directly. His odd glasses reflected Kyle's face back at him like twin brothers looking dazed and confused.
"You reveled in the power you had over the boys and you certainly enjoyed what you did with me with the girls. It was simple dumb luck that my virus ran its course early on you. Making you my perfect lab assistant in the quarantine wards."
"Y-y-you tri-ri-ricked me. I trusted ya-ya-you."
"And now you have gifted me with a prize specimen. It is a wonder your poor pathetic balls, or should I say ball, could produce a child." The doctor's shadow retreated from Kyle's face and he could begin to make out details, despite the sun slanting at his eyes in the autumn sky. "Science finds a way!" the old man said, smiling gleefully down at Kyle. Motion in his stomach made Kyle feel like he was about to puke, but his muscles wouldn't contract to expel anything. The greasy, queasy feeling in his throat continued.
"Doctor," Johnson interrupted, looking up from his iPad. "The others have just passed the outer sensor. Four of them, confirmed heat signatures."
"From which direction?" Stamos asked.
"North, from the river. They're following the trail up, with all the boulders along both sides."
"Ah, splendid. Wundubar!"
"Doctor, your Nazi is showing," Johnson chided, adjusting the dark sunglasses that hid his eyes from view.
"Pah! What do I care about such pretenses any more. We will be victorious today, and we will have the children, just as we have young Kyle here.
"It's too soon to try using the Hounds. We barely know what they're capable of. My guys can line up in sniper positions along both sides of the trail and have the boys tranquilized and bundled up for transport in a matter of minutes."
"We will use the hounds. I know what they can do, Agent Johnson. They will perform flawlessly."
"And if these children defeat them?"
"The Hounds are already considered dead by their families. The technology that animates them is basic compared to the other parts of my work with them. They have no consciousness other than their programming. If they do not work, they are eminently disposable and we move on to other tasks."
"If your Hounds fail, we will be outnumbered," Johnson insisted.
"By children," the doctor countered. "Inexperienced, uncoordinated, soft American youths."
"Yes, kids with powers. Powers we don't know about yet. The one boy we encountered so far was…"
"I read the report, Herr Johnson. I know about his telekinetic abilities. I know about the satellite. Believe me, I still have plans for him, once we capture this lot. Canterbury has borne rich fruit for my experiments. I look forward to tasting each unique one in time."
"Sometimes you seriously creep me out," Johnson said, checking his watch.
"String him up, between those two trees," Stamos commanded. "So he can be easily seen."
"I don't like this," Johnson said. "We should attack the children on the trail, where we have the advantage. We can take them down as they pass between the boulders, one at a time."
"No," Stamos said, gesturing gently towards Johnson. "If we do that, we don't see what they can do. We wont know what preparations to take against their powers in the laboratory. We need them to display at least a little of what they can do."
"You play around too much," Johnson snapped back, annoyed.
"And you do not have the value of patience. We need to let the situation develop."
"That's exactly what I'm trained to prevent, Doctor. I'm here to keep fires from starting, not put them out once you encourage these freaks to strike a match."
"You will do as you are told," the doctor continued, watching the direction of the trail. "This is a field test for the Hounds as well. Two birds, one stone." He turned back to the government agent, grinning. "Efficiency breeds results!"
"It is still a tactical mistake," Johnson said, nodding to the two other camo-wearing agents who moved to lift Kyle up. "You're faith in your little science experiments may be misplaced."
"Oh, I believe we will all be quite nicely surprised at what my boys can do." His grin turned into a strange, twisted thing. "Oh yes, quite surprised indeed."
With little preamble, the camo men used ropes to tie Kyle up, having to loop a segment of rope around his chest, under his arms to support his weight as well as using extra ropes to extend Kyle's arms out to each side. An ancient elm and a few clustered white birch trees served as anchor points for the ropes, splaying Kyle out in the open, spread eagle style. He sagged against the ropes, but little by little, he felt tingles returning to his extremities.
Once he was strung up, the guards in camo went to a large delivery van and opened the back door. Using gesture commands the two agents ushered out four youths, appearing to Kyle to be at least driving age. They had no expression to their faces and their eyes were flat, cold. Each was wearing some sort of matte painted metal or plastic on their arms, shins and chests. Kyle recognized it as armor, but not from any sport he'd ever seen.
"Hide them in the trees to either side of this clearing," the doctor said. "When they boys see Kyle, they will move to help him. Then we will strike from both sides. Capture is preferable to killing, but," the old man shrugged, "we were sent to recover samples and analyze, not coddle."
Kyle felt the fog clear from his head a little more. He felt the weird terror from the dream slip away. Like before a hockey game, his mind focused and he let other things, other thoughts and feelings drift away, compartmentalize. He didn't know who was coming to help him. He didn't know what the crazy looking old guy and the soldiers and the strange boys with the armor plates on had in store. What he did know was that they intended to hurt whoever came up that trail. And that they had hurt people before, and were apparently good at it. And that they were using Kyle as bait.
And that, plus being shot with darts, and being ridiculed, and hearing of his father's past sins, it all stirred up inside Kyle, gave him a focus. Gave him anger. The adrenaline started flowing and his body didn't feel so heavy anymore. He tried to remain still, though. Best to wait until his body felt right again to try anything crazy.
Because Kyle had had enough of being used. Used by his dad. Used by the team that resented him yet relied on him. Used by coaches. Used by this weird creep with the accent. And he had no intention at all of being anyone's laboratory toy.
Kyle slowly twitched his muscles without calling attention to himself, consciously loosening up for whatever action may come. He watched as the soldiers and the weird boys moved into hiding positions, how the doctor leaned casually on the hood of his father's car. He noted their positions and just like on the ice, he imagined how they would move, how things would flow.
He was almost ready when he heard a younger boy's voice ask "Are we there yet?"
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