A horror novel by R.W. Van Sant presented one chapter per week.
“One, two, three, four…”
Jerry Lujan sat cross-legged, in the center of his dormitory bunk, his eyes squeezed tight against the coming twilight. Focus on the numbers, he told himself. Counting had always calmed his nerves, but this time, it wasn’t helping. It was impossible to shut out the visions that plagued his consciousness and threatened to devour what remained of his sanity. He hummed the songs of childhood, desperately trying to create a barrier of innocence, a shield against the dark thoughts. To no avail; the memories seeped through, insidiously driving, tormenting him inexorably toward his own destruction.
Since returning to campus, he‘d fought to ignore each memory; hiding from them behind the protective wall of an alcoholic stupor. One bottle blurred into the next, morning became night as he avoided the full force of reality. On the altar of alcoholic forgetfulness, he sacrificed money, friends, even his reputation. All that remained was avoidance. The sight of the full moon rising so innocently over the Sandia Mountains, however, shattered his carefully tended barriers and terrified him back to full sobriety.
Soon they would come, the horrors that haunted his dreams. Their hunger was as tangible as the dampness in the winds that carried them. A thousand miles wasn’t far enough to escape vengeance, and they would come. He was the only one that stood in the way, the only person on the planet who truly understood the danger. Controlling him through dreams had failed. They gave away too much, and he refused to remain an unwitting puppet. It made him a threat: one who couldn’t afford to be ignored, or allowed to live.
The last beams of the setting sun glinted over the ornate marking of the golden box that sat so innocently on his dresser. The box was the key, but its strange markings continued to mock him, promising salvation if he could somehow unlock their secrets. The etchings were still as much a mystery as they were when he first scraped away the years of salty muck concealing them. Weeks of constant study and research had not brought even a hint of understanding as to their meaning or purpose.
Upon his return to campus, he consulted the learned experts of academia; anthropologists, historians, linguists, mathematicians, and even theologians, leaving no stone unturned. Archeologists told him that the markings were unprecedented. Historians were at a loss, lacking historical references. Outside of the fading sketches in a disintegrating logbook, no recorded language or artwork bore even remote similarities to those engraved on the golden box. They were simply, disturbingly, alien. He allowed a professor in the linguistics department to make copies of Carlow’s journal. She showed it to her more liberal-minded colleagues, but even they were stumped. The chair of the anthropology department refused to speculate on the possibility that it could have been the product of another, more ancient, perhaps a long-forgotten branch of humanity. In the end, the consensus opinion was that the markings were gibberish, most likely a century old elaborate hoax to which Jerry had fallen victim.
As to the nature of the aberration that had killed his brother, he was reluctant to talk about it to any but his closest friends. He only dared ask if such a creature could, in theoretical terms, exist. His descriptions were the subject of considerable amusement to his friends in biology. Such an animal, they agreed, was an evolutionary impossibility. Genetic engineering might create such a monstrosity, but why would anyone go to such extremes and expense.
Local churches were of little help. What Jerry had experienced didn’t equate to their philosophy. He lugged the box along with the journal from church to church but steadfastly refused to allow anyone to open it for a look inside. To the Catholics and Baptists, everything was Satan. Those few that he could convince only advised him to pray and seek shelter in a house of God. The others urged him to seek psychiatric aid or to speak to a priest who had the ‘proper’ training to understand the will of God. It became apparent to Jerry that their idea of God had nothing to do with it. If God was out there, he had given up on humanity. This was a fight they had to win on their own or vanish from the planet, like the dinosaurs.
Desperation drove him to the fringes of the spiritual and religious communities. Among new age spiritualists and Wiccan priestesses, he found some degree of acceptance. At least they listened and didn’t suggest psychiatric help. Days of incense and crystals, however, produced neither wisdom nor peace of mind. Among the religious outcasts, though, the impossible seemed reasonable. They were used to people treating their beliefs as fantasy and psychologically questionable. At least they were willing to consider the existence of the unacceptable and unsupportable.
To them alone, he told the whole story, feeling it was important that someone know the truth. The chance was slim, but maybe if enough of them united, they could hinder humankind’s extermination. Somebody would understand what was truly happening when the killing started.
The only hope he found came from a private discussion with a Pueblo medicine man. The wise elder could offer little except a sympathetic ear and a place to dispose of the cursed box. He spoke of a secret place, a bottomless hole, deep in the caves of Diablo Canyon, just north of Santa Fe. An object dropped into it, he said, would be lost forever.
Jerry’s ancestor had reprieved humanity for a century by deliberately misplacing the cursed object at the bottom of the ocean. Maybe he could save it forever by losing it in the earth. That was if he could shield it from the greed of man. Greed had caused it all. Without greediness, the box would still be lost, hidden forever from the light. Maybe then, his brother and the others might still be with him. However, the desire for more might have been part of the sleepers’ plan, implanted in humanity’s ancestors before they left the trees. It drove his brother and led him to his death. It destroyed lives in its wake, like Elli’s.
It was this despair and failure that drove him to the bottle and mental oblivion. He wanted to forget everything that had happened since Ted’s phone call before spring break, everything except Elli.