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“Up in the tree branches, they could make out a huge set of yellowish, reptilian eyes. The head of this animal had to be three feet wide, they guessed. At the bottom of the tree was something else. Gorman described it as huge and hairy, with massively muscled front legs and a doglike head.”

“Close Encounters, Part Two,” The Las Vegas Mercury, 12-1-02


July 26

By the time he hears the tree limbs cracking and the black lab barking, it’s too late. Dozens of menacing sasquatches roar through the cabin door like an army of incarnated demons. Poor Tater doesn’t have a chance. The first monster inside snatches him by the tail and instantly obliterates him. A moment later, a grotesque figure, a hybrid of no classification, flies through the window upright, it’s sinewy arms and spindly fingers dicing the room with such electrifying force that Buck and Sheri are decapitated as easily as slashing overripe honeydews.

Now the mutation pauses, its gator face grinning, as if the first targets were so easy. Its chest wheezes angrily as honey-thick saliva drips from its distorted snarl onto the aged hardwood floor. In the shadows behind the being, Joe thinks he sees his father. Staying perfectly still, holding his breath, he watches as the alligator-man turns its blood red eyes on him. The demon’s jaw opens so widely that it seems to be coming unhinged. His dad, straining, struggles to reach forward, to grab and stop the beast, but is too late. Gurgling up from within the monster’s warty throat, a high-pitch victory howl thunders across the room.…

“Wake up, boy, wake up!” Buck was shouting, evidently trying to disengage him from a dreadful nightmare. The terrifying sound of his blood-curdling scream must have brought the old man to his side. “You okay, boy, you okay!?” he was saying.

It took a moment for Joe to snap out of it. “Y-yeah…yeah.”

Looking uncertain, Buck said slowly, “Okay then. We need t’ get goin’. It’s a tad past three in the mornin’ and we don’t wanna be late, yeh know. Sheri ’n me been gettin’ the boat ready.”

Joe nodded and sat up on the edge of the couch. He wiped the sweat from his forehead.

His heart was racing profusely.

Man, what a freaky dream.

Outdoors, the thick dew dropped through the crooked doorway of Buck’s cabin like miniature icicles. Something intangible was in the air, invisible, monstrous, chilling him to the bone. These were lingering figments of his dream state, the stuff of scary novels…right?

He sat there, quietly listening, as an overwhelming sense of apprehension convinced him otherwise. They were not alone.

Dread lingered nearby.

Eminent danger! his instinct screamed.


It was 3:30 am when the ringing of the telephone snapped Dr. Jones from slumber. He fumbled and grabbed the wireless receiver. “H-hello?”

“Jones? This is Nathan!”

Looking at the clock, patting his mumbling wife, he whispered, “It’s okay, honey. It’s Nathan Reel; I’ll take it to the living room.”

A retired member of the Air Force’s Special Photographic Unit, Nathan was the owner of PCD Imaging, the laboratory where Joe’s image had been sent. To be calling this early was undoubtedly important.

Jones slipped from the comfortably worn mattress and strolled barefoot across the sculptured carpet, gingerly pulling shut the bedroom door behind his extra-large Garfield boxers. “Nathan,” he yawned, “how you doing? What’s up?”

“Maybe you can tell me, hmm? Your secretary delivered that artifact yesterday morning, right?” There was melodrama in his voice, a sense of impatience for idle conversation.


“Well, we started testing the darn thing right away, and I gotta tell you, we’ve made some unusual findings. You sitting?”

Jones leaned against the cold leather of his recliner, waited for it to warm to his skin, then rested on it fully. “Fire when ready.”

“My biochemist calls me at home yesterday afternoon, right? Thinks I need to see something.”


“And I go to the lab and luminescence has raised so many issues that we have to employ optical microscopy and X-ray diffraction to verify the morphology and crystal orientation…”

Maybe it was because he was sleepy, but Jones was already confused. “Nathan, wait,” he mumbled. “I’m a doctor of theology, not metallurgy; talk to me in layman’s terms.”

“The bottom line, Jones, this sample you sent me?”


“It’s Martian. You understand? Martian, and the crystallite is unknown.”

Now he was awake. “What?”

“You heard me. This thing’s not of Earth. The best comparison we have in our database is the Devil Canyon meteorite at the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in Albuquerque. But that’s only part of it. The crystalline protruding from the rear?”

“I’m listening.”

“It’s made of unknown material and possesses unidentifiable properties.”

“You examined it yourself?”

“Yes, and I think it’s something like a computer chip. My guess is that it’s supposed to plug into something.”

“Any idea what?”

“It’s a mystery, Jones, a mystery. But here’s why I called. The photo analysis department ran into some serious pay dirt. You’re familiar with the Viking pictures of the facelike mountainous region on Mars, aren’t you? The Cydonia image some people call ‘The Face’?”

“Sure, the face from Cydonia…favorite among conspiracy groupies.”

“Well hold on to your hat. We produced digital versions of your artifact from various angles, and it fits the Mars Face like a glove.”


Jones instinctively reached for his glasses, then remembered they were on the bedstead. “Are you sure?”

“Sure I’m sure. Our graphics people are the best in the world. They’ve looked this thing over from top to bottom. I’ll fax you a copy of their report when it’s finished, but the positions and asymmetry don’t lie. It’s objective, Jones, it’s good science. Over ninety-six orientations line up. Whoever made this little image of yours had extensive knowledge of the face on Mars.”

Suddenly Jones felt uneasy at what he was hearing and what it could mean. He looked across the living room at his library of cosmology books, listening as Nathan continued.

“Another thing. NASA’s report on Cydonia, the one that claims the face is a natural formation? A mesa?”

“Let me guess. You don’t buy it.”

“It’s unadulterated fiction.”

“Says who?”

“A friend with NSA security clearance. Says the Mars Face is an artificial structure, a true representation of a humanoid. Evidently it’s being studied by U.S. and Russian space agencies at this very moment. I hate to say it, Jones, I think you’ve taken possession of an above-top-secret piece of hardware, maybe even something crafted by…you know…sources…the ones that built the Mars Face.”


At his remote ranch outside Rio De Janeiro, Andrew Corsivino waved from his living room window at his teenage daughter, Shelly, as she rode by on the family’s blue-ribbon Arabian. She was such a lovely girl. Proper, compassionate, naïve. If she only knew about her father’s plans, she would be terrified. Operation Gadfly was moving forward. Rapid response teams from around the world were preparing to eliminate targets. Inside the family’s private airplane hanger, ten uniquely designed suitcase nuclear warheads sat neatly in a row, waiting to be used.


The wind whipping on the water’s surface was freezing Joe to the core. He rubbed his brittle face and stuttered rigidly, “Br-r-r Buck, I don’t know how you stand being out here all night. I’m so cold my ears are breaking off.”

“Well, we’ll be on the other side in a second er two,” the old man promised, pressing the throttle forward a bit. “Just hang in there…it’ll be werth yer while, uh-huh.”

Buck pulled the throttle back and scanned through the moonlight, past the beach to the trees. Joe looked too. No sign of trouble…so far. Buck nosed the tri-hull in, shut her down, and let her run ashore. As the engine quieted, he faced Joe and Sheri and said, “Okay now. Take that gaff with the rope on it, right there next to yeh, boy, and jump t’ land. Be careful and don’t ferget to help the little lady.”

Joe grabbed the equipment and stepped up from his seat around the windshield to the front of the boat. He leaned forward and leaped over the water, landing on the soft edge of the sandy beach. Sheri didn’t wait for his help, independent as she was. Tater was next, then Buck, who simply climbed off the boat and walked through the river in his waders.

“Bring that hook and foller me,” he whispered, turning and starting toward the woods. “We don’t have fur t’ go.”

Barely illuminated by the diminishing yellow moon, Joe held the gaff above his head and walked behind them into the trees. A symphony of wind sounds, like wandering groaning spirits, filtered off the Columbia and enfolded the would-be sleuths. In the distance, a coyote moaned for its pack, while further downstream, a locomotive whistled the soft lap of the surf away, both sounds gradually absorbed by the thickening grove.

It all unnerved Joe. He wasn’t sure about the wisdom of this mission anymore anyway. The fact that they were a mile east of the canyon where he’d jumped a few weeks earlier didn’t help things, yet he couldn’t back out now. The fearless foursome had entered the woods guided by the illumination of Buck’s antique lantern and Tater’s animal instinct. Plus he knew he’d never solve the mystery of what his dad had been onto—or murdered for—if he didn’t stay the course.

Hiking away from the river, moving in a zigzag pattern, east, then west, a dozen yards at a time, he followed the old man into what soon became an abandoned State Park’s trail. A little sign with Department of Forestry logos and some partially colored lettering were barely visible along the decaying fence line. Buck pointed to it and whispered, “See. That’s the halfway point, uh-huh. We’ll be there in no time.”

In less than a quarter-mile they reached the second marker. Except for moonlight peeping through the treetops here and there, it was considerably dark outside. Images from Joe’s nightmare lingered in his imagination, vivid and sometimes-monstrous interpretations made alive by every shadow and sound. Even the smallest scampering forest creature seemed potentially mutated.

Suddenly Tater growled and Buck stopped in his tracks. Blankets of shadows, a pirouetting cascade of blackness, resisted the probing lantern as Sheri bumped into the old man, stammering, “W-what’s happening?”

“Tater, leave th’ possum alone,” Buck hissed, then stepped off the trail. He took a moment to explain that they would need to be careful from here on out, as the rest of the way was a bit rocky and “cluttered with moss-covered rocks and other slippery stuff.”

The path was also getting steep, and Joe could hear Buck puffing, struggling to use his bad leg. Since neither Sheri nor he suffered similar afflictions, he suggested that they rest for a while, but Buck declined, saying he was determined to reach the destination before sunrise.

Not long after, they arrived at a plateau where Buck leaned over, set the lantern on the ground, and pointed to a pile of branches near the foot of a rock wall. “Here, boy. See these? We gotta move ’em away. Take this one…and this one…now this one…and those there.…”

Joe did as Buck directed, and soon an opening in the clay began to materialize.

“I think it’s a natural fermation. Prob’bly made by a quake…er maybe a thousand years of erosion,” Buck said.

Either way, Joe found the pit oddly inviting. He pulled the last of the debris off and belly-slid to the fracture. Near the surface and along the sides, gray stones formed a polished border that phased into arrant darkness as it descended into the void.

“I can’t see a thing,” he said anxiously. “Somebody hand me the light.”

Buck had different plans. “Hold on, boy,” he countered excitedly. “I’m gonna show yeh something yeh ain’t never seen b’fore.”

Buck sat on a nearby log and scooted sideways until he paralleled the ravine. Leaning forward, careful not to slip, he began lowering the antique lantern over the mossy edge by a line tied to its wiry handle. The crevice was surprisingly deep and after six feet opened into a cavern of fifteen feet in width. The nylon rope slid smoothly while Buck’s hand controlled the rate of descent with a back and forth, grip and release motion. The lantern fell a foot, then stopped with a jerk, another foot, then jerked to a stop. Shaking with what looked like uncertainty, Buck whispered, “Yeh know…I’ve been gonna fish this thing outa’ here fer some time now, uh-huh…jest been waitin’ fer the right moment…needed a little help, that’s all.”

As the light settled onto the cavern’s floor, Sheri crawled to Joe and peered into the shaft. Joe heard her gulp as she saw it…whatever it was.



“How long’s that thing been down there, Buck?” Joe said after a moment.

“Several months, near as I can tell. Tater was the one what found it, yeh know. I think he smelled the blood. Prob’ly hadn’t been dead a day er two when Tater ran up here all frisky like, jumping ’round and barkin’. I was at the beach, and Tater wouldn’t come when I called. So I decided t’ get up here and have a look-see. When I did, I knew it was one of them apes. I covered it real good and Tater ’n me got outa’ here quick. We didn’t come back fer a month, and I wasn’t sure if the Trainers’d retrieve it in the meantime, but it was here alrighty, and it’s been here ever’ since.”

“How big do you think it is?”

“Nine ’r ten feet, I’d guess.”

Joe took the rope and carefully lifted the lantern. He swung it gently back and forth to illuminate the creature’s striking features: a jaw lined with razor-sharp teeth, a skull as big as a lion’s head, and biceps four times the size of an average human. Its dilapidated face still bore the imposing, devilish snarl of its lifetime. If Dr. Jones was correct, and Joe wasn’t sure that he was, a similar brute had once stood before Old Testament Israelites and defied “the armies of the living God!” This one wouldn’t be defying anything anymore, except maybe science, yet the big question was: How was it killed? Who put it here, or did it choose to die in this place?

Interrupting the silence, Buck said, “Grab that rope and hook son…we need t’ hurry now…it’ll be daylight soon and we gotta get movin’.”

Joe felt near his leg and found the gaff.

“Toss it in there and see if yeh can snag it…if yeh do, we’ll pull it up together.”

Wrapping the rope’s free end around his wrist, he threw the tool into the hole and heard it thud against the monster’s hip bone. He immediately pulled but didn’t catch anything. He dropped it again, this time onto the giant’s chest, maneuvering it until the point dangled against the beast’s arm; then he tugged and caught a solid connection. He looked at Sheri and grimaced. Unsure about all this, he crawled backward, careful to keep the rope tight, and by the time he stood up, Buck and Sheri were beside him.

“Okay now, let’s see if we can haul that thing outa’ there,” Buck said.

Clasping the line and moving together, Joe found the dead beast lighter than he had expected. Evidently rats and maggots had done their job. Mostly bones and fur remained. But two hundred pounds of decaying animal was still enough to test their footing, so he dug his heels in to illustrate how strong he was.

After ten paces the rope tightened to a confining stop. Motioning with his head toward the hole, Joe said, “You guys hold on while I see what’s going on.”

Joe ambled across the soggy rubble to the place where he’d been moments before, peeked into the abyss, and flinched. Two decomposing eyes the sizes of baseballs were glaring up at him through sinister sockets. Having reached the mouth of the crevice, the creature was too big at this angle to pull through. And what was that? Wire? A small tubular object connected to wire? It looked like a thermocouple…the kind hardware stores keep in stock for propane heaters.

“Buck! This thing’s got something in its head!” he nearly shouted.

“Shhh! Be quiet!” Sheri blurted, as if she was thinking that if she got out of here alive, she’d never do anything so stupid again.

He lowered his voice and repeated, “But there’s wire in its head! Wire! And it’s connected to something!”

“Can yeh reach it?”

He tried. “No.”

“Take hold of the cable and move it ’round. See if yeh can get it t’ come outta there. Sheri ’n me’ll keep the rope tight.”

He struggled with the line, pulling left, then right, until finally a substance squeezed from the pulpy, rotten flesh that smelled so horrific he thought he would vomit. He turned his head, took a deep breath, and tugged again.

Something gave.

“I think it’s coming,” he said from the corner of his mouth. “Let me get a better angle.”

He slid back, placed his legs in front of him, rolled the rope around his right arm, and grabbed on with both hands. Pushing with his feet, he felt it move again.

“I think we’re gonna get it,” he said. He instructed Buck and Sheri to lean back as well. “On my count, pull with all of your might. One…two…three…pull!”

When they lurched, stretching the line to its limits, something snapped and the hominoid’s arm broke off. The raggedy appendage flew through the fissure’s opening as Joe flailed backward, tumbling wildly, abruptly falling onto the ground.

Buck and Sheri lost their balance too and landed on their backsides.

The remainder of the corpse, dislodged from its restriction, dropped back to the bottom of the cavern and crushed Buck’s rusty lantern with a reverberating clang!

Jumping to his feet, Joe whispered instinctively, “Everybody okay?”

Above and all around, daylight was breaking. The lantern had been destroyed, but now it didn’t matter. The early dawn illuminated the only thing Joe needed. A log-sized arm with a fist the size of a soccer ball near his feet.

For a moment the hairy extremity mesmerized him. Then a lonely barge on the Columbia tooted, awakening him to the odd sense of the moment.

“That’d be Captain Majors making his weekly run,” Buck said. “That means it’s gettin’ late, boy. We better get outta here while the gettin’s good.”

“Fine with me. I’ve got everything I need right here. What do you think, Sheri? You able to go?”

She stared at the mammoth arm, undeniable fear in her eyes. “Are you kidding? The sooner I get out of here, the better. No offense, Buck.”

“None taken, little missy, but like I said, we’d better get goin’ while the gettin’s good.” He helped her to stand, then hobbled over and spit into the crevice. He shook his head, as if disappointed. “I do wish I could-a seen the wire in that ape though, uh-huh.”


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