Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
 
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The Treaty

by Robert S. C. Cutler



Frightened for her life, Mia Alexander dug through her cavernous purse, searching for the keys to her apartment door. She found bills, tampons, gum, pepper spray, and her cell phone; but no keys! Her key chain, with its collection of trinkets and keepsakes, was the biggest thing in her purse. Where the hell did it go?

The elevator hummed to life and started its decent five stories down to the lobby. Mia turned toward the double doors -- her face awash with panic. Beside herself, she screamed out in frustration and dumped the contents of her purse onto the floor at her feet.

The elevator reached its destination. Mia held her breath staring at the illuminated "L" and prayed to God it didn't change to a one. With a bang and a chorus of squeaks and squawks, the elevator moved upward. Her hands trembling, she turned her purse inside out and found the keychain hanging from a single thread. She ripped it away from the purse and quickly opened the door.

By the time Mia had stuffed the contents back into her purse, the elevator was already at the third floor. She retreated into her dark apartment and took up refuge behind the couch, taking out her cell phone and dialing 911.

"Come on, come on; ring already!" she said, shaking the phone in her hand. The battery light flashed off and on just before the phone died. Mia stared at the blank screen and cried.

Just on the other side of the door, two deep voices, muffled and inaudible, conversed. Mia dumped out her purse again and grabbed the pepper spray -- holding the canister out in front of her -- ready if those bastards managed to break in.

An icy mist crept into the apartment from beneath the door. The temperature dropped ten degrees, twenty, thirty, forty, and then fifty. Like a snake, the mist glided around the apartment -- wrapping itself around the furniture -- depositing frost on whatever it touched. Only in a sundress, Mia shivered from the cold; her breath floated away in small clouds of vapor. She could no longer feel her fingers or toes. Her face had become numb as well. Unable to control her hands, she dropped the pepper spray onto the floor.

The temperature in the apartment plummeted eighty degrees, then one-hundred. Mia lay helpless, unable to move. Just inches from her, the mist seemed to coil back, readying to strike.

The door burst open. The bright light from the hallway filled the tiny apartment. Two dark figures rushed in and ran toward Mia. They stood over her shivering body, peering down at her with blue, iridescent eyes. With a casual wave of a hand, the mist was commanded to finish the job. In an instant, Mia's breath was forced from her lungs. She could feel her body dying; her heart waning as it was slowly frozen solid. Her last thought was of how warm the sun had been that day upon her smooth, olive skin.

####

Distant screams and loud banging, warped by the massive water filled tank, woke Mia from an unconscious state. She was weightless; comforted by the warmth of the water. Her eyes opened slowly, revealing a strange and disturbing view: People were pounding on a glass wall -- yelling at her -- pleading for her to wake up. Mia felt as if she were a fish inside of a giant aquarium.

As she regained full consciousness, she realized that she wasn't breathing. Panicked, she swam straight up but only found a ceiling. She swam around the parameter, feeling her way along the smooth walls for a hidden door or valve. The people were beckoning her toward the glass, pointing near the bottom. Her vision started to fade; dark walls closed in toward the center. Her heartbeat echoed in her head with loud, rhythmic thumps. She felt her life ebbing away for the second time.

Just as she was blacking out, a large drain opened in the floor of the tank. As the water receded, Mia was pushed forward, toward an opening in the glass. Her body poured onto a cold metal floor where she was immediately surrounded by three women, shaking her and yelling for her to wake up. Gasping for breath, Mia expelled water from her lungs. She inhaled deeply; the taste of stale air was pungent on her tongue.

"What's your name?" a tall, red headed woman said. "What's your name?" she asked again, lightly slapping Mia in the face.

A middle-aged woman with salt and pepper hair grabbed the redhead's arm. "Don't hurt her!"

"Calm down, Margaret. She's just trying to wake her up," said a skinnier and younger woman with tattoos covering a third of her body.

"Come on kid, wake up! What's your name?" the redhead said again.

Mia sat straight up and covered herself up the best she could. "What happened to my clothes?"

"The same thing that happened to all of ours -- now tell me your name."

Breathing rapidly, she responded. "Mia. My name is Mia."

"I'm Shelly, Mia," the redhead said. "And this is Margaret," she said, gesturing to the middle-aged woman. "And Karen," she said, pointing to the woman with the tattoos.

"Where am I? What's going on?"

"If there is a Hell, then you're in it," Karen said.

"You're gonna scare the poor girl!" Shelly said, turning her attention back to Mia. "I'm not sure where we are or what's going on. All that I know is that we're trapped in this room and those things on the other side of that door mean us harm. But now there are more of us, and maybe, just maybe we can find a way out of here."

"Do you really think we can find a way out, Shelly?" Margaret said.

Shelly nodded with confidence. "If we work together we can. And with our new friend, Mia, we have one more healthy body. You aren't injured are you, sweetie?"

Mia felt her arms, legs and ribs for injuries. "I think I'm okay...but why am I naked?" Mia looked around at the women crouching beside her. "You're all naked...what kind of place is this?"

"Don't worry, honey. The embarrassment will wear off soon," Karen said.

"That's easy for you to say," Shelly said. "You don't usually wear clothes to your job."

"Screw you, Red!"

"Are you a model?" Mia said.

Shelly laughed. "Mattress model!"

Karen brushed back her hair and smiled. "It's a living. I have no complaints."

"You should really reconsider your lifestyle, Karen," Margaret said. "Committing all of that sin won't help to get you into Heaven."

"After what I've seen in this place, I kind of doubt there is a Heaven...or a God," Karen said as she walked over to the wall and plopped down. "Man I could go for a cigarette just about now...and some food."

"I think we all could," Shelly said.

"Oh, not me," Margaret said, shaking her head. "I mean the smoking part. I've never had a cigarette in my life."

Shelly rolled her eyes. "Thank you Pollyanna."

Mia started to cry. "Who are you people? Are we in jail?"

"All I know is that the four of us came in the very same way that you did," Shelly said.

"Four? I thought there were only three."

Shelly pointed to a blonde girl lying motionless against the glass wall of the water tank. "She was here along with one other when I arrived."

"Is she dead?" Mia said.

"She might be which means they'll be back soon."

"Who's they?"

"Vicious monsters," Karen said. "Demons from Hell! They dragged that poor other girl away and took her God only knows where."

"It happened just before I got here," Margaret said. "I'm glad I didn't see it."

"Oh you'll see them soon enough when Blondie over there kicks it."

"She has a name, Karen. Just like you and me!" Shelly said with her fists clenched tight.

"It's Sandy, right?" Margaret said.

Shelly shook her head. "Her name is Amy, or at least it was."

"Is she sick?" Mia said.

"Starved and dehydrated. I haven't eaten anything myself in at least three days. There's no way to measure time in here, so I'm really not sure. The little water that they give us tastes stagnant and is hard to swallow."

"Where are you from, Mia?" Margaret said.

"Washington, D.C."

"My husband and I were just there a couple of weeks ago! We drove from our home in Ohio just as the autumn colors were at their peak. It was so beautiful." Margaret closed her eyes and imagined the trees ablaze in red and gold.

Mia shook her head. "Fall? We're in the middle of..."

"DC has nothing over Vegas," Karen said. "Give me the bright lights of the strip!"

"I've never been," Margaret said

"Me neither," Shelly said. "I'll take leaves and lights over snow for that matter. We had almost a foot just last week!"

"You must be having an early winter," Margaret said.

"If you call January early..."

Mia covered her ears. "Please, all of you. Just stop! All of this talking is confusing me. What is this place?"

Shelly sat next to Mia and held her in her arms. "I'm so sorry. I forgot what it was like waking up out of the blue in that water. We all had the same questions that you have, and still do. It all seems like a nightmare. I'm not even sure if I'm not having one right now. One minute I was sleeping in my own bed, and the next I'm swimming for my life."

"The last thing I remember before the water was Dave snoring next to me in our bed." Margaret said.

Karen stood up shaking her head. "Not me. I remember everything. I was walking downtown, missing my mom and my brother; feeling sorry for myself ‘cause it was Christmas and all, when all of a sudden these big guys, tall like basketball players, started to chase me down the backstreets behind the casinos. I was running as fast I could, but they were even faster. I ran into a parking lot and hid between some cars, but the two creeps found me. I thought I was gonna to be raped or killed. I swear to God they had glowing blue eyes.

"And then it got real cold -- so cold I couldn't feel my body anymore. I've never been so scared in my life. The next thing I know, I'm drowning in that damn tank."

"That almost sounds like what happened to me," Mia said. "I was walking home from work and noticed someone walking behind me, staying hidden in the shadows. I thought I was going to be mugged. They followed me all the way to my apartment and broke in. There was a strange cold mist and then glowing blue eyes...just like you saw."

"Freaky."

"I'm glad I didn't see that. I don't think my heart could take it!" Margaret said.

Mia looked all around at the rectangular shaped room. Small recessed lights in the ceiling provided the only light. The dull gray floor, walls and ceiling were all metal except for the glass wall of the water tank. A single pipe stuck out from it in the far corner and was dripping rust colored water. The blond girl was lying beside it.

"You okay, Mia?" Shelly said.

Mia shook her head "No, I'm not...it doesn't make any sense! If we're not in jail then we must have been kidnapped."

Shelly scoffed. "Kidnapped? I really doubt that."

"My father is a very important person...and very wealthy. Someone might have a ransom on my head."

"Who's your father?" Shelly said.

"Senator Alexander from Virginia."

"Wow, really?"

Margaret shook her head and frowned. "Oh, I don't like him at all. He's from that party that doesn't believe in God."

"No shit? You don't believe in God, Mia?" Karen said.

"What are you talking about? Of course I believe in God, and so does my father. I grew up in the church."

Shelly shot Margaret a dirty look. "Sometimes you need to think before you speak, Margaret."

"I really don't think anyone would pay a ransom for me," Karen said.

"Me neither," Shelly said. "I own a package supply store smack in the middle of Missouri. I've got like five-thousand dollars to my name."

"I'm just a church secretary," Margaret said.

Karen laughed out loud. "Well that explains a lot!"

"When you see those things come through that door, you'll know for sure it isn't ransom that they're after," Shelly said.

"Are they the same men that kidnapped us?" Mia said.

Shelly stared past Mia and took in a deep breath. "They aren't men."

"And no, they're not the ones that kidnapped us -- they're different," Karen said. "Their faces are hideous -- grotesque -- like a gargoyle's."

"Those goons look like they've come straight from Hell," Shelly said. "That's what we call them -- goons."

Margaret fretted and looked away from the group. "Could you please stop? You're really scaring me."

"I'm sorry, Margaret, we didn't mean..."

A loud, pulsating alarm accompanied by a row of red blinking lights lining the perimeter of the door in the corner of the room, startled Mia, Shelly, Karen and Margaret to their feet. Shelly corralled Mia and Margaret against the far wall.

"When that door opens, you and Mia stay behind us and watch what Karen and I do," Shelly said. "If you don't move or make a sound, they won't bother you."

The flashing red lights gave way to green. Mechanical linkage moaned and clanged as the door slowly opened. Through the threshold, two stocky and massive creatures, what Shelly had called goons, entered the room, each holding a metal pole with a searing hot blade at the tip in one hand and a three clawed hook in the other. Each was hunched over, walking like apes and wearing a thick hooded robe of matted black feathers.

The door slammed shut sealing the room. One of the Goons rushed over to where Shelly and Karen were standing, jabbing at the women with the hot blade, while the other approached the blond girl, Amy. With the clawed hook, it turned Amy by the shoulder onto her back and kneeled down until its face was inches from hers. Amy's eyes shot wide open and she screamed, causing the Goon to jump up and stumble backward. Its hood flew off of its head, revealing a hairless, gray dome covered with pointed horns, and a hideously smashed in face with four small, black eyes. Bearing rows of razor sharp teeth, the Goon shrieked out in terror and ran for the door, frantically trying to reopen it. The Goon by Shelly and Karen retreated as well, making a wide path away from Amy who had started to convulse. The door opened and the two Goons made a quick exit.

Mia cried out. "What in the hell were those things?"

"Demons! What else could they be?" Karen said.

Margaret was curled up in the corner, crying hysterically.

Shelly ran over to Amy who was now lying still. She placed the back of her hand beneath her nose and the other over her heart. "I think she's gone."

"Like in dead, gone?" Karen said.

Shelly pressed her ear against Amy's chest, listening for a heartbeat, but heard nothing. "Pretty sure."

Mia tried to stand, but her legs wouldn't support her. "I don't think that I have ever seen anything that terrifying before."

"Well I guarantee you're going to see it again. The Goons aren't gone for good. They'll be back and probably real soon," Karen said.

Shelly agreed. "Karen's right. We've got just a matter of a few minutes before they return."

"What are we going to do?"

"Red's got an idea. I'm going to distract the two creepy guys, while she, along with you and Margaret drag Blondie's body over and block that door from shutting so we can all escape."

Mia shook her head. "That's suicide! Those things will kill us for sure!"

"I'd rather die fighting than suffer to death like she did."

"Me too," Shelly said. "And besides, I think the Goons are afraid of us. They didn't want anything to do with Amy once they discovered she was still alive."

"You with us, church lady?" Karen said. "Did you hear me, Margaret?"

Margaret wiped the tears from her eyes and tried to compose herself, but couldn't stop shaking. When Mia tried to console her, Margaret yelled at her to stay away.

"It's all right. I'm scared too," Mia said.

"No it's not. It's not all right. Nothing is anymore! One moment I was sleeping next to my husband of thirty-five-years and the next I'm stuck in this place with you people! My clothes are gone, my dignity's gone, and my sanity...all gone. I've gone to church all of my life -- prayed to God in earnest -- tithed even when we didn't have enough food to feed our own children. Why was I sent to Hell instead of Heaven? Why?"

Margaret looked past all three women, shook her head and laughed. "I guess the only blessing was that I don't have my glasses, so I could hardly see a thing. Thank you God for that single crumb," she said, looking upward.

Shelly scowled at Karen and threw up her hands.

"What did I do? It's not my fault she's religious!"

"Please stop, Karen. Just stop," Mia said.

Mia put her arm around Margaret, attempting to console her. "If we all stick together, we can make it."

"Stick together? Is that what we did for that poor girl? Is that what we did for Amy before she died? We stuck together?" Margaret said, jerking away from Mia.

"I know those things are coming back. They're coming back for each one of us. But not until we suffer -- and we will suffer -- there's nothing that will save us now. Not Shelly's plan, not praying. God doesn't hear us or care for us, because if he did, we wouldn't be left to suffer an undignified death in this dungeon, instead of being home safe with our loved ones where we belong!"

"God does care, Margaret..."

"Bullshit!"

The red lights around the door started blinking and the alarm blared to life. Margaret cried out in panic and took up refuge back into the corner. Mia made her way across the room to Shelly and to Amy's body.

"We'll drag her to the door and wait on either side," Shelly said. "Come on Margaret. We need your help."

Margaret shook her head, refusing to move.

"I can help," Karen said.

"No. We need you there. We can move her together, Mia. Are you ready for this?"

Mia nodded and Shelly counted off. The two woman drug Amy's body toward the door. Shelly hid on one side with the corpse and Mia on the other. Moments later, the door opened and the two hulking Goons walked back in. As they moved past Mia and Shelly, Karen waved her arms and yelled obscenities.

"That's right. Look over here, you demented freaks!" Mia and Shelly each took a hold of Amy's hands and pulled her halfway out the doorway, praying there would be no one on the other side.

The Goons screamed and the door closed on the body, making an opening just big enough to squeeze through. Shelly poked her head in and motioned for Karen and Margaret.

"Come on, Margaret! They're distracted!" Karen said.

Margaret was crying, still huddled in the corner. "I can't get past them!"

Karen tugged on Margaret's hand "Come on, it will be easy! They're afraid of us!"

Mia frantically motioned to the other women. "Hurry before more of those things show up!"

Margaret pulled away from Karen and curled up into the fetal position. Karen left her there and sprinted toward the door, screaming at the Goons from the top of her lungs. She squeezed through to the other side, tripping and sliding hard on the metal floor.

"Let's go, let's go!" Shelly said as she led the other two women down a long and dimly lit corridor.

"What about Margaret?" Mia said.

"She's dead, Mia."

The corridor ended at another door. To the women's surprise the door opened automatically and led to a circular room with more corridors leading away in different directions. Placards with black and red twisted symbols hung above each corridor's entrance.

"What kind of language is that, Red?" Karen said.

"How the hell should I know?"

"Let's keep moving before we run into more of those things," Mia said.

Just as Mia finished her sentence, several of the Goons appeared at the end of the long corridor to the right and directly in front of the women. Leading the way, Shelly hugged the rounded wall, keeping in the shadows, and slipped out of sight down a corridor to the left. All three crouched down low and watched in silence as the two groups converged and headed through the same door and toward the room from which they had just escaped.

"They must have called for back-up. We're gonna get caught!" Karen said.

Mia put her finger to her lips. "Keep your voice down."

Shelly continued down the corridor. Staying low and hugging the wall, she motioned to the other women. "Come on."

"Do you smell that?" Mia said.

Karen pinched her nose. "Smells like cows."

"Smells like home," Shelly said.

The odor grew stronger the further they crept down the corridor. The moos of cattle and bleats of sheep echoed in the distance. The three women looked at one another in disbelief.

Two sets of double doors faced one another from opposite sides of the corridor. Shelly picked up her pace and headed for the ones on the left. She touched both doors with her hands, and they slid open, revealing a half dozen head of cattle enclosed in a pen in varying states of health. One was clearly dead -- its bloated body wedge against a wire fence.

Karen scurried across the corridor to the other set of doors and opened them as well. "Sheep," she whispered.

"Close it and let's get out of here," Shelly said. "Those things have to be looking for us."

Further down, they came to a set of wide doors covered with frost and condensation. The women were just about to pass them when several of the Goons approached from opposite ends. Shelly opened the doors and all three women scurried inside.

As the large doors slid shut, multiple banks of lights turned on in succession, revealing an expansive room filled with large blocks of ice. They were stacked several feet in the air in neat rows that stretched over two-hundred yards back.

Close to the doors, Karen noticed several robes similar to the ones the Goons were wearing hanging on a rack. "Check it out. Those things look warm," she said.

"Good eye, Karen," Shelly said.

The three women danced over to the robes, trying to keep their feet off of the frozen floor and put them on. They were heavy and large, but warm.

"This thing reeks!" Karen said.

Mia wrapped the robe around her body. "It's better than freezing to death."

Shelly buried her head into the soft, black feathers and inhaled deeply. "Smelly but warm. I wish we had something for our feet, too."

Mia placed the hood over her head and wandered over to the first row of ice blocks. Large and rectangular, they each sat uniformly on top and next to one another. She followed them across the room, counting nine rows and stopped. She rubbed away the frost to see if anything was inside.

"What is this place?" Karen said, looking around.

"Giant freezer for something," Shelly said.

Mia kept rubbing the ice until she could clearly make out a detail. "Cow," she said with a puzzled look.

"Did you say cow?" Shelly said.

Wondering what was in the next row, Mia kept moving down the line. The next sets of ice blocks were smaller. She rubbed away the frost again and revealed a sheep.

"A sheep?" Karen said. "I guess that explains the animals we just saw."

Curious to see what else lay frozen; Mia made her way down to the last row. The blocks of ice were smaller and almost in the shape of a cube. As she rubbed away with vigor, Shelly and Karen waited anxiously for her report. The animal looked strange to her. "Where did its hide go?" she said to herself.

Wanting to reveal more of the animal, Mia's hand moved in broader strokes. "Ah, there it is," she said as she uncovered what appeared to be stringy, long fur. The more of the animal that was revealed, the more Mia realized that it wasn't an animal at all. It was a child -- a small boy around the age of five -- frozen in mid-scream.

Mia retreated back from the block of ice in horror. "Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" she cried.

"What is it?" Shelly said.

Mia ran over to Shelly and Karen, holding her hand over her mouth.

"What did you see?"

Shelly placed her hands on Mia's shoulders, telling her to focus on her eyes and to breathe. Mia took in a deep breath and let it out slowly and then fell to her knees. She put her face in her hands and cried. "It's a child...a little boy."

Karen ran over to see for herself. Peering into the ice, her eyes met the light blue eyes of the boy. He looked so real to her, but he couldn't be. Who would freeze a child in a block of ice? It didn't make any sense. She ran over to the next block and rubbed, exposing another child -- this one a little girl. Her black, frizzy hair completely covered her face.

"I found another one!" Karen said.

Moving down the narrow row, Karen revealed a half-dozen more children all suspended in ice. Not all of them looked frightened -- most looked to be asleep as if someone had snatched them right out of their beds. "Damn boogieman is real," she said to herself.

Shelly left Mia kneeling on the floor and joined Karen. "Did you look at these bigger ones?"

Both women started rubbing a window into a single block of ice. Before long, a middle aged man was revealed still wearing his wedding ring. The next block contained a young woman; the next a teenage boy.

Karen moved down the line and revealed one more: a man covered with tattoos. The brightly colored artwork stood out from his pale, blue skin. Karen compared her own tattoos with that of the man and swallowed hard. "I'm getting a real bad feeling that we're never going to get out of here."

"Wherever here is," Shelly said.

The doors leading into the freezer opened with a whoosh> and two of the Goons walked in, followed by a large machine resembling a forklift with four spiked prongs jutting out in front of it. Shelly and Karen ducked down low between the blocks of ice while Mia curled up into a ball, submerging herself inside of the feathered robe.

The Goons led the machine to the very row Shelly and Karen were hidden behind. With its massive jaws, the machine took hold of and lifted up a block of ice exposing the two women. Upon seeing them, one of the Goons let out a deafening scream and ran out of the freezer making a high pitch holler. Shelly and Karen ran straight for the second one, causing it to scurry away and scream out as well.

"Come on, Mia. Let's get the hell out of here!" Shelly said, grabbing her by the hand.

"I don't know if I can..."

"We'll end up like all of them if we don't!"

The three women ran out of the freezer and right past the hollering creatures, tripping on and struggling to move quickly in the oversized garments. Up ahead, the corridor ended at a large, slated rolling metal door; in the other direction, several of the Goons were running toward them.

"Now what, Red?" Karen said.

"Through the door!"

As the door rolled upward, the woman ran through the opening and fell ten feet below into a slick, metal shoot. Unable to stop their momentum, the trio flew through the tube and was deposited into a large bin, one on top of the other.

"Now where are we?" Karen said.

Standing up, Mia tried to peer over the side of the bin. "I can't see. I'm too short."

Six inches taller than Mia, Shelly got to her feet and could barely see over the top herself. Standing on her tiptoes, she grabbed hold of the edge trying to keep steady. "What are we standing on? It's all uneven."

"Oh, my God, Shelly, look down!" Karen said

"What in the hell are those things?"

Filling half of the large metal bin were the bodies of both humans and sheep, twisted and clumped together. The putrid odor of decay wafted up with each footstep, causing all three women to gag. Mia clawed at the wall, trying to climb her way out.

"Come on, I'll lift you out of here!" Shelly said, grabbing hold of Mia.

Karen helped to push her over the edge of the bin and then used Shelly's hands as a foot hold and climbed out herself as well. Once she was over, she extended her arms and pulled with all of her strength, lifting Shelly out of the bin.

Mia placed a stern hand on both Shelly and Karen. "Don't move or say a word," she said. "We're not alone."

The women had climbed out of the bin into a small enclave connected to a larger room the size of a high school gymnasium. Just beyond the entryway, several tall, imposing figures pushed and shoved one another, jockeying for position around a long rectangle shaped table.

"That's them! Those are the creeps that chased me!" Karen said.

Mia placed her hand over Karen's mouth and whispered. "Keep your voice down."

"I remember them now..." Shelly said, unable to take her eyes off of the creatures and their wrinkled, pink heads that narrowed down into a razor sharp beak.

"I woke up freezing, thinking that Mike had taken all of the covers. I heard low voices -- not whispers, but mumbling. I heard my husband cry out for help and then nothing. My body had become numb from the cold. My heart beat slower and slower. All I could think about were my kids and who was going to take care of them...and then I woke up in that tank of water."

Mia and Karen led Shelly away from the bin and out of the tall creature's line of sight.

"How old are your kids?" Mia said, attempting to get Shelly to refocus.

Shelly squinted. "For some reason I'm having a hard time remembering. It seems like it been years..."

"It's okay. Just take your time."

"Michael was born in ninety-two, so he'll be fourteen this year and Jenna was in ninety-three...no, ninety-four, and just turned twelve on New Year's."

"Did you say Michael was born in ninety-two? That would make him twenty and your daughter eighteen," Mia said.

"I think I know my own children's ages."

"But it's twenty twelve, not..."

"Are you high or something? It's two-thousand-nine," Karen said.

"Guys, I know how old my kids are, and..."

Mia placed her hand over her mouth and gasped. "Think about what we are all saying. We all think it's a different year. What if we're all right?"

"You sound as nutty as Margaret," Karen said.

"You remember it being Christmas, Karen, and Shelly remembers it being winter. One of the last things Margaret remembered where the beautiful fall colors. It was summer time when those creeps chased me down."

Shelly shook her head. "It can't be true."

"The numbing cold we all felt and then waking up in a tank full of water. All of those frozen bodies we found -- rows and rows of them -- stored like they were..."

"Food," Karen said.

"What the hell are you saying? We're those goddamn creatures' food?" Shelly said.

"Look in the bin we just crawled out of. There are dead bodies in there. People just like us," Mia said.

"And sheep too," Karen said.

"They were keeping us in that room, just like the livestock we saw; probably starving us to death. You yourself said you hadn't eaten in days, Shelly."

"We need to get the hell out of here now!" Karen said.

"There's a door just on the other side of the room...see?" Mia said. "Those creeps seem pretty distracted. We might be able to sneak right past them."

Shelly shook her head. "I don't think I can do it."

"We have to try. It's only a matter of time before they find us," Mia said. "Think of your kids. They're all alone, Shelly."

Shelly turned away and shuddered. "You don't understand. It's like a long forgotten nightmare come to life."

Mia wrapped her arms around Shelly and whispered into her ear. "I do understand. Karen understands. Those horrid things out there stole all of our lives away as well as countless others. I want my life back, too. You've gotten us this far, Shelly. Don't give up on us now."

Shelly wiped the tears from her eyes and took a deep breath. "Okay...okay. Let's get the hell out of here."

The three women covered their heads with the large robes and quietly made their way along a far wall. As they entered the main room, more of the tall creatures came into view, fighting and tussling with one another -- slipping on black, oily fluid covering the floor -- their bird like feet fighting for traction. Lying on the tables were the dismembered bodies of cattle, sheep, and humans; their internal organs strewn about. The nastier of the fights were over the livers.

The three women stopped and stared in disbelief, scanning the enormous room filled with not only the bird like creatures gorging themselves, but also the Goons who were consuming the scraps, bones and all.

Before they could make their move for the door, several of the Goons rushed in, hollering and pointing at the women. The entire room erupted into frenzy. The bird like creatures screeched and charged threateningly and then retreated.

Seeing there was no other way to escape but to charge the door, Shelly led Karen and Mia through the gauntlet of loud and screeching creatures. All of them scattered, pushing and climbing over one another to get away from the three humans.

As they exited the large room, the women came face to face with three of the Goons bearing searing hot blades and hooks. Before they could make a break in the opposite direction, the Goons parted and backed away, revealing a fourth one squatting behind a large, cylindrical object sitting on a tripod.

"Is that a gun, Red?" Karen said.

"Sure the hell looks like one!"

Shelly and Mia took off running and were twenty feet away by the time Karen had realized they were gone. As she turned to run, an immense pressure pushed all three women forward. Their ears popped and the air was forced from their lungs.

Mia fell to the floor and spun around facing back toward the Goons. A wave of heated air headed directly toward Karen. Mia tried to warn her, but was unable to yell. Karen's head exploded first -- then her torso -- leaving just her legs intact.

The air pressure returned back to normal allowing Mia and Shelly to get back up and run. As Mia tuned around, she saw the Goon aim its gun once more.

"They're getting ready to fire again!" she said, trying to warn Shelly.

Shelly dropped the heavy robe and stretched out her long legs, sprinting down the corridor. Mia heard a distinctive click; the same click she had heard just before Karen was killed. She dove and flattened herself out, yelling for Shelly to do the same; but Shelly didn't hear Mia's warning and kept running straight ahead.

An immense pressure pushed away the surrounding air once again. A wave of heat passed over Mia; she could feel her skin burn, even through the thick garment. The shockwave caught up to Shelly, forcing her forward and snapping her head back. The intense heat bubble then enveloped her entire body -- blowing it apart -- turning it into a fine red mist.

The air pressure returned back to normal, allowing Mia to cry out. "Shelly!"

She got up off of the floor, tears running down her face, and ran toward a door with a lighted panel next it. It opened on contact, spilling her inside just as she heard another click. As the door closed, an explosion on the opposite side forced Mia hard against a wall and buckled the door inward.

Alarms blared and lights flashed on and off all around her. The narrow corridor she found herself in shuttered violently. Another explosion sent Mia flying into and though an inner door. The room she landed in pitched up and down. A large window above her head showed the blackness of space. Earth was clearly visible from a window in the floor.

"Oh, my God," Mia said at the realization of where she was.

All around her, the bird like creatures were manning the controls of the small craft as it ripped away from the mother ship. It rolled from side to side forcing Mia into an I-beam. She held on to it with all of her strength, praying for God to wake her from this nightmare.

The craft pitched down and Mia and the others became weightless, sending those who weren't strapped down straight into the ceiling. Mia drifted up the beam, eventually losing her grip and ending up against the ceiling with the others. Through the lower window, she could see the Earth grow in size and the bright blueness of day turn into the lighted up world of night.

The buckling hull groaned and the small craft shook as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere. An ear piercing whine was followed by a loud pop as the ship lost pressure. The weightlessness of space had been replaced by intense gravitational pull, dropping Mia and the others, forcing her hard against the doors which opened automatically on contact, tossing her back into the outer corridor.

The ship made a sharp, upward pitch and its descent slowed considerably. Mia was weightless once more and then slammed back down onto the hard floor. A voice cried out of a speaker hanging directly over her head. Even though Mia couldn't understand the strange language being spoken, she recognized the sound of fear.

The smooth walls and floor of the corridor offered nothing to hold on to. Mia covered herself in the thick, well-padded garment and curled herself up into a tight ball, waiting for the inevitable jolt when they finally crashed.

The ship pitched upward once more and then nosed down sharply. Loud blats, like those of a foghorn, sounded off in rapid succession. The ship in turn jerked back and forth, seeming to slow down even further. It pitched up once more and then slammed down hard as it made contact with the ground. The impact caused the outer wall Mia was leaning against to fail, spilling her head over heels through sagebrush and sand. White hot embers and debris fell all around her as the small ship exploded.

Mia lay where she had landed, still curled up into a ball. A chorus of alien voices belonging to the bird like creatures rang out from behind her. She remained still; frightened of what they might do to her if found.

Several Black Hawk helicopters flew overhead, searching the wreckage and debris field with their bright spotlights. One landed directly in front of her and a small army poured out of its fuselage. This time the chorus of voices belonged to humans and they were speaking English.

Excited about the prospect of being rescued, Mia leaped to her feet and ran toward the helicopter. She was instantly illuminated with spotlights and told to freeze and then lay face down on the ground.

"Please don't shoot me!"

"Don't move. We're coming to you," a voice over a megaphone said.

Several people approached. The command "not to move" was repeated.

"Lift the hood slowly away from your head," a man said.

With trembling hands, Mia did as directed. "Please don't shoot me."

"It's human," the man said. "What are you doing wearing their clothes?"

Mia tried to answer, but could only cry. The man knelt down to Mia and examined the abrasions on her face. He spoke so only she could hear him. "Were you on that ship?"

Mia shook her head.

"Jesus..." he said, placing a hand over his mouth. "Are you badly hurt?"

"No, not really."

Tears flowed freely down Mia's cheeks. The man brushed her dark hair away from her face. She looked into his kind eyes and found comfort there.

"What's your name? I'm Special Agent Keller. But you can call me Steven, if you would like."

"Mia Alexander."

"Why are you wearing this, Mia?" Agent Keller said, tugging at the thick, matted sleeve hanging off of Mia's arm.

"It was all I could find to stay warm."

"We thought you were one of them. You were almost shot."

Mia started to cry once more. She wrapped her arms tightly around her body and buried her head into the sleeves of the robe.

"This thing really stinks," she said. "It smells just like them."

"They do have a bad odor," Agent Keller said.

"What are they? Where are they from?"

"Some call them death angels or demon buzzards. I think they look like vultures. They're official names are the Oni. Where they're from, I can't say. I don't think anyone knows for sure."

"The other ones didn't look like vultures. They were more ape-like than anything. Their faces were horrible."

"That's what we thought you were; the ape-like ones. We have almost zero information on them. They started showing up with the Oni last year. They're not authorized on the planet, so we have clearance to shoot them on sight."

"Authorized? Those buzzard looking things are authorized to be here? By whom?"

"I'm not at liberty to say. They're not hostile, if that's what you're worried about."

Mia grabbed Agent Keller's arm. "The hell they're not! They abducted me, didn't they?"

"I don't believe that their intentions were sinister..."

"They were going to eat me! You can't be any more sinister than that!"

"Are you sure?"

"I saw those things dismantle human bodies -- ripping them open like wild animals -- fighting over their livers and intestines!" Mia looked away. "Cattle and sheep, too. There were vast rooms filled with the bodies of animals and people -- small children -- all frozen and stacked like cords of firewood."

"I'm sorry...I didn't know. Were there anymore like you?"

Mia nodded. "Three of us managed to escape, but I was the only one that made it. The other two were killed."

"Agent Keller!" a voice boomed out of the darkness.

Agent Keller put a reassuring hand on Mia's shoulder, and walked over to the two other men, one in army camouflage and the other in a dark business suit. The three men seemed to be having a heated discussion while taking turns looking over at Mia.

Agent Keller adamantly addressed the man in the camouflage. "With all due respect, Captain, I don't believe that would be the right decision."

"What you believe, Agent Keller, has no bearing on the matter. We are following protocol, and you are going to follow my orders!"

"Protocol or not, we'd be making a big mistake. I've seen that girl before...I just know it."

"I believe Agent Keller has a point. I recognize the girl myself," the man in the dark suit said. "Let's go have a word with her, Captain. We'll take it from here, Keller."

The man in the dark suit walked over to Mia. His short, well maintained hair was parted neatly to one side. An imperious grin revealed straight white teeth, bleached beyond their natural color. Mia knew the man well. He had been a guest at several of the social gatherings her parent's had hosted. He was deep in Washington's underworld and no one to trust.

"Mia Alexander! What a pleasant surprise. What are you doing so far from home?"

Mia wasn't sure how to respond to the over the top cheese he was dishing out.

"My name is Riley, and this gentleman is Captain Wallace."

"I know who you are. You've been to my parent's house on several occasions," Mia said in a cool tone.

"Aw, yes. The distinguished Senator Alexander and his lovely wife, Rita. Such a devoted couple and so devastated when you came up missing. You were front page news for three weeks running." Riley said with a mock frown. "Did you know you've been missing nearly a year?"

"It's been actually fourteen months, sir," Captain Wallace said.

Riley shook his head. "My, how time does fly."

"Fourteen months? That can't be..."

"You seem as surprised to hear that news as we are to see you," Riley said. He took out his phone and turned the screen toward Mia. "Look at the date, Mia. It's September eighteenth. You went missing in July, over a year ago. Captain Wallace can show you his phone, too, if you'd like."

"Do my parents know that you found me?"

Captain Wallace looked away and Riley shook his head and frowned mockingly again.

"Can you call them? Maybe I could borrow your phone?"

"I'm afraid that calling your parents won't be possible," Riley said.

A feeling of dread washed over Mia. She searched for Agent Keller in the crowd. She found him sitting down, leaning against the tire of a Humvee, staring over at her and shaking his head.

Riley smiled and leaned in close to Mia. "Those things that abducted you -- what we affectionately refer to as death angels -- have quite a unique method of capturing their prey. Do you remember feeling exceptionally cold on the night you disappeared? They freeze their captives; immobilizing them for transport and storage for future use." Riley's eyes lit up as he imagined the process.

"I know exactly what those monsters are capable of. I've seen it for myself," Mia said.

Riley's grin vanished at the realization that he couldn't frighten Mia.

"You see, Mia. We have an unfortunate situation here. You are an eye witness to a very top secret program, one that only the president and a handful of congressman know about; your father being one of them, of course. We just can't let you go and hope that you won't talk. It would be too risky."

"What do you mean you can't let me go? I don't know anything about a top secret program!"

"You were on their ship, Ma'am. You've seen their technology," Captain Wallace said.

"What if a foreign government kidnapped you and made you talk? All would be lost," Riley said. "You probably know more about treaties than I do, with your upbringing and all. You understand how critical it is for the United States not to break ours with the Oni. It could be disastrous -- cause millions of deaths -- destroy our country as we know it."

"What kind of treaty could you have with vile creatures like those?"

"The exchange of mind blowing technology, new fuel sources, and of course weapons. And the beautiful part of it all is we only have to supply them with an unlimited supply of food in return."

"People..."

"Cattle, sheep, pigs...and of course people, but not anyone anybody would really miss. The derelicts of society like the homeless, drug users, prostitutes. Our inner cities are already showing signs of improving," Riley said.

"I'm not like any of those people! Why take me?"

"You were just an unfortunate mistake; a rarity," Captain Wallace said.

"What about the children we found? All of those people frozen and dead. The other women I was being held captive with? They weren't derelicts either! One was a business owner, a church secretary, and..."

Riley saw the realization in Mia's eyes that he was correct.

"It wasn't Karen's fault. She couldn't help who she was. But that was just one. The others weren't like her. I'm not like her!"

"Acceptable losses in a time of war. I'm sure their families will get along fine without them...just like yours will," Riley said.

"What do you mean, like mine will? "

"Unfortunately for you, Mia, the beautiful New Mexico desert is as close to home as you'll ever get again," Riley said in a condescending tone.

"You're going to kill me?"

"Oh, no. Far too messy. I was going to have Captain Wallace take care of you, but then what would we do with the body? We're giving you back to the Oni. Far much easier that way."

"God, no...please, you can't! What have I done? I don't understand!"

"Think of it as dying for your country. What more noble cause could there be? I hear that they keep a percentage of their food frozen in reserve for up to fifty years. You could outlive us all, Mia Alexander, and never even know it."

"Oh, my God, you're insane. You're nothing but a monster! How could you be so callous?"

Riley got up in Mia's face. "I'm not a monster! I'm a goddamn American hero!"

Mia spat in his eyes causing him to jump back in revulsion.

"Get that thing off of her body and burn it with the rest!"

Captain Wallace ripped the alien robes away from Mia. Humiliated, she covered herself up the best she could.

Riley looked upon her with leering eyes. "Such a waste of a beautiful body." He turned and walked back toward the helicopter. "Give Agent Keller to them as well. I don't want any loose ends."

Captain Wallace ordered two of his soldiers to bind Agent Keller and drag him over to where Mia lay. He then summoned one of the Oni over and offered up the two captives.

"For your troubles," Captain Wallace said.

The Oni nodded its head in approval. With a simple wave of a hand, Mia and Agent Keller were surrounded by four of the Goons bearing searing hot blades in one hand and a three clawed hooks in the other. Out of the darkness, a ribbon of mist snaked its way around the rocks and sage brush, leaving a layer of frost in its wake. The air temperature dropped below freezing; the cold stung Mia's bare skin. She tried in vain to warm herself by wrapping her arms tighter around her body. Fog expelled from Agent Keller's mouth as he screamed obscenities at the Goons.

Mia jumped up and charged at the Goons in a desperate attempt to escape, but this time they didn't scatter in fear. She was pierced in the side and knocked unconscious. The serpent like mist wrapped itself around her body, freezing it solid on contact, and then made its way toward Agent Keller.

Riley heard Agent Keller's screams of terror over the deafening noise of the helicopter's rotor blades and smiled. Out of the darkness, Captain Wallace appeared.

"The subjects have been contained and transferred," Captain Wallace said.

"Good. And the clean-up?"

"We should be completed within the hour."

"Let us hope for your sake that you are correct, Captain. You have only an hour at most before sunrise. I wouldn't want you to meet the same fate as Agent Keller and Miss Alexander."

Captain Wallace swallowed hard. "No sir."

"Report back to me by zero-nine-hundred. In the meantime, the crew and I are off to breakfast. There's a wonderful hole in the wall Mexican restaurant in Albuquerque that serves a fantastic breakfast burrito."

Not waiting for a response, Riley closed the helicopter's door and ordered the pilot to take off. Captain Wallace turned toward the wreckage, which had been virtually erased from the landscape, and let out a sigh of relief. To his left, the alien ship silently lifted off. Invisible in the pre-dawn darkness, Captain Wallace couldn't fully make out its smooth, cylindrical shape until it was silhouetted against the matting of the star filled sky. Within seconds, it was out of view.

He watched with great apprehension as the last of the trucks disappeared over the horizon, knowing in his heart that the worst was yet to come. The Oni had become bolder with their abductions -- what Mia had told them about what she saw on their ship confirmed his suspicions. Captain Wallace believed that the Oni had stopped taking the so called derelicts of the world and had begun targeting a broader cross section of society. He thought about Mia and Agent Keller, and how gut wrenching it had been to hand the two vibrant individuals over to those monsters, knowing full well what was going to happen to them. He thought about his own daughter, just two years younger than Mia, attending Kansas State and how devastated he would be if she were taken.

The government had made a pact with the devil himself when they signed that treaty. The Oni had superior technology and deadlier weapons. They could easily over run the United States in a matter of days if they so wished. The rumor mill had been spreading reports of them operating in South East Asia as well as central Europe. UFO sightings and abductions had increased significantly in over a dozen countries. Riley and his cohorts were in denial of the growing threat. They had convinced themselves and the President that they were in complete control of the situation and that the exchange of technology was on schedule. The truth was that very little technology had been received and a single weapon had yet to be delivered. Sources in the Gobi Desert had reported unusually strong explosions coming from China's weapons test base and sightings of aircraft that made no sound. Could China with their superior amount of food resources have made a treaty with the Oni as well? Captain Wallace shuddered at the thought.

THE END


© 2012 Robert S. C. Cutler

Bio: Robert S. C. Cutler is a published writer with two finished novels ready for submission: "Resurrection", a horror set in present day New Jersey, and "A Whisper in the Shadows," a paranormal set in present day Kansas. He enjoys writing in the genres of suspense, paranormal, horror, and science fiction. His story The Adoration appeared in the December 2011 / January 2012 edition of Aphelion.

E-mail: Robert S. C. Cutler

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