The Forever Machine
(a fiction for Young Adults)
by Graydon and Adeline Goss
A Typical Day
Brat Fisher screamed like a wounded Banshee as he failed to negotiate the turn into his driveway and instead, rollerbladed smack into his mailbox and flipped headlong into a deep pile of moldy, rotting leaves. He emerged a few moments later looking like a zombie, dripping head to foot with black, decomposing vegetable matter and grunting, doubled over with what probably represented embarrassment or disgust --- possibly both.
My best friend Tabitha and I fell over laughing as he lurched his way out of the stinking heap. His skates oozed slime.
"OOOF!," was all he managed to say. He sat down heavily and struggled to catch his breath.
"Smooth maneuver, Brat," I observed. "I wish Id caught that on video. Its not everyday you get to see your brother make a complete idiot of himself. Unless, of course, youre the brother."
Brad, "Brat" Fisher, brother from hell, had spent the previous hour parading around the yard, showing off his new blades and boasting how hed now make captain of the fifth grade street hockey team. After a good thirty-minute show of getting into his high-tech gear hed skated up the street about a half a block, come to a wobbly stop, then careened down Valleyview Boulevard at great speed, completely out of control.
"PHLUFFFPH!" he spat, attempting to clear his mouth of the slimy stuff while wiping the gunk from his face. "I think I lost my glasses," he added.
Tabby and I were used to such lunacy. Wed been best friends since first grade and had witnessed countless similar disasters in the years since. Tabby was serious, smart and almost always right; the perfect friend to me --- never serious and usually in trouble. But we agreed on one thing. Now in high school, wed grown accustomed to the fact that anything Brat tried seemed doomed to fail. Usually with spectacular results. Frequently jeopardizing human life.
Brat was an accident in progress.
At least he provided entertainment.
Sierra Heights, the town we live in, tends to get pretty boring otherwise. Its a sleepy kind of suburb of Los Angeles, up in the hills where nothing much ever happens.
Or it least it was until recently, that is.
My name is Carrie Lynn Fisher and Im a Freshman at Sierra High. Im tall for my age --- maybe a little on the thin side, with a blondish ponytail and braces that are almost ( finally! ) ready to come off. In addition to Brat Ive got an older brother, Randy who just started college in Idaho and a computer genius younger brother I call Chip even though his real name is Gary. Chip is only in fourth grade but he already makes money helping neighborhood adults solve their computer problems. Most people are a little afraid of him. For good reason. I can tolerate the little guy --- mainly because hes usually holed up in his bedroom, surfing the Web. When we do see him he speaks some strange language nobody comprehends. Except other computer freaks, that is.
We live with our dad, whos a pediatrician at Mountaingate Hospital here in town and spend summers and most holidays with our mom, who moved to Denver when she re-married three years ago. Just a typical American family --- or at least we were.
"Ewww YUCK!" exclaimed Tabby, as she noticed the fat red earthworm dangling from Brats left ear. It fell to the ground with a wet plop and wriggled back into the mulch. She wouldnt have been grossed out if shed been acquainted with its scientific name. Brat stared at it with a look of dazed bewilderment, then renewed his walking-dead act as he struggled to his feet and shuffled off toward the house, leaving behind an impressive trail of compost.
"Come on," I said to Tabby. "Lets get out of here and take a hike up Turner Peak. Ive got to collect deciduous leaves for my bio project." It was a simply gorgeous October afternoon and I needed to find samples of "cytochrome pigments in a variety of oxidative states"--- at least thats what Mr. Armstrong, my biology teacher had said.
"OK," Tabby responded. "We might as well. The oxidative process is most stable at this time of day; besides, itll be at least an hour before Brat can entertain us with another disaster."
We took our bikes up Valleyview to Mountaingate Road, which led, after several miles of hard peddling, up to the hospital where my dad works. The road dead-ends at the parking lot, since the hospital property borders on the Sierra Crest Forest. We locked our bikes together and began hiking up the narrow trail that winds in a series of switchbacks up into the pinelands. The summit was about two miles ahead.
The trail up Turner Peak was a hodgepodge of terrain, beginning at high desert and ending in full upper pine forest. A half-hour later we were nearly to the peak and I had a decent, albeit somewhat gross, collection of crumbled up foliage in my jacket pocket. The sun was getting low on the horizon to the west and Tabby pulled on my elbow. I glanced over at her, noticing at once that her thin, bespectacled face, framed by wavy, dark brown hair pulled back in a pony-tail, was a study in consternation.
"Lets head back," she pleaded. "Im getting cold."
"Okay with me," I responded, patting the lump in my pocket. "Im sure Ive got enough to please Armstrong."
We turned and headed back down, single file. The trail there was narrow and bordered on both sides by thick stands of pine and enormous boulders. The sun set and it started getting dark --- fast. I found myself shivering, partly from the cold and maybe a little from apprehension about getting stuck on this trail without any light. The moon hadnt risen yet and Id heard stories of people getting disoriented on Turner Peak in the dark. The prospect was less than reassuring.
Tabby and I doubled our pace without a word passing between us. I knew she was sharing my anxiety. I shivered.
Suddenly, off to the left I heard a shout! It sounded like the voice of a child but I couldnt be sure, being muffled by the dense woods. I heard it again.
"What was that?" Tabby queried, her voice tremulous. "A coyote?"
"Not unless it has a flashlight," I responded. I had now spotted a soft glow flickering on and off, as though wandering among the trees in the distance. If it was a flashlight it couldnt have been more than a few hundred feet away. I started off the trail to investigate, crashing through the thick underbrush. A sharp tug on my jacket brought me to an abrupt halt.
"What do you think youre doing?" hissed Tabby. Are you NUTS?"
"I think someones in trouble," I whispered back. "Maybe a hiker took a fall and needs help. Whoever it is could have..."
The cry came again, louder now. No words, just a sad, painful moan. The light in the distance continued to flicker. Here, thirty feet off the trail and deep into the forest shadows it was really getting dark.
"Maybe youre right," whispered Tabby in my ear. "Wed better check --- but for gosh sakes lets go together." I hissed my approval and, hand in hand we stumbled deeper into the woods. Ahead, the flickering light grew noticeably brighter, but less distinct ---- as if blurred by ground fog. Sure enough, another 10 yards and we were completely surrounded by a dense, chilly mist that did nothing for my confidence. The cries grew more insistent, more wailing. There was no light now, except for the wavering glow ahead.
"I dont like this," whispered Tabby. I didnt have to respond.
The light went out! Tabby screamed.
My heart leapt into my throat and I was immediately disoriented. I couldnt see the hand in front of my face and had lost my grip on Tabby. There was a shuffling noise in the underbrush.
"Tabby?" I hissed.
Nothing --- just the horrible shuffling. Something being dragged? Someone? More muted scratching sounds. From all around now.
"TABBY?" Something was slithering around my ankle I kicked out and felt only the scratchy underbrush...but then...something soft and bog-like engulfed me up to the shin. Suddenly my foot was pulled out from under me. I staggered back and fell heavily. The dreadful softness oozed over my other leg. I felt myself being pulled at, dragged over the wet earth beneath me. I grabbed out, reaching for anything that might offer resistance to the force pulling me. Nothing. My hands clutched only the mist as I was dragged even more roughly into the blackness by the moist tenacious ooze that now engulfed me up to my knees.
Scratched and bruised as I was, dragged helpless over the rough ground, I continued to fight, digging my fingernails into the rocks and earth at my sides. My heart pounded in my ears.
Shuffling. A shrill moan.
Something struck my head. Silence. Then nothing....
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