Surrounded

“Phin! Come on!” I heard a voice shout from the hallway. It scared me awake. I apparently had dozed off in my bedroom when my roommate, Will, decided he would shout my name out in his typical obnoxious and loud voice.

“Come on,” he said walking into my room. “Let’s go! You need to branch out and meet some interesting people.”

“I thought that’s why I was friends with you,” I managed to say through my fogginess.

We had plans to hang out tonight with some people Will had met at some vague get-together, or something like that. He wasn’t much on details. Me, I lived by them. Every little thing was important to me, whether significant or not in the grand scheme of things. At this moment, that detail happened to be the spot of drool on my sleeve from where I was resting my face. “What if I meet some cute girl or some guy who hires fresh-out-of-college kids for a multimillion dollar corporation?” I wondered, or should say, worried to myself. Okay, that last part, unlikely since it was just some party at an art exhibit. Sometimes I wonder how Will finds these things, let alone gets us into these places.

We arrived around 7:15 that evening. I was expecting to be one of the two youngest people there. In my mind, these type of events were reserved for the work-aholic, mansion dwellers who were in their mid-fifties. Surprisingly, it was mostly undergraduate and master’s level college students – twenty-somethings. Of course, the gallery had its share of the A-typical elder college professors and art buyers, but for the most part, I felt pretty comfortable, apart from wondering if what I was wearing was appropriate and if the drool spot had dried enough to be unnoticeable when shaking hands with my future wife or employer.

Will guided us through the main hall of the gallery into one of the side rooms where a number of post graduate students were loitering and chatting. “Hey Will,” one of the strangers called out. He was definitely the stockiest of the group and judging from his barely-there-facial-hair, he was more stylish in his own mind than others’.

“Hey Sonny,” Will retorted. I half expected his dark haired, skeleton-faced girlfriend who came trotting along be named Cher. “Sonny, this is my roommate, Phin.”

Sonny stretched out his hand to me, “Sonny Fields, nice to meet you.”

“Phinneas Collins, same to you,” I replied appropriately. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself about the name ‘Sonny Fields’. I changed my mind, I now expect his girlfriend’s name to be ‘Moonlit Waters’.

“And Sonny, who’s your lady,” Will inquired. Here it comes, her lips pursed to make an “M” sound.

“Melanie Drinkard,” skeleton-woman answered holding out a limp, bony hand. We exchanged our pleasantries and made our way to the rest of the group. I said hello to Anthony, a mutual friend of Will’s and mine, and I’m sure I smiled at everyone in the group and shook their hands, but honestly, I can’t remember most of them, probably because that was the least of my worries that evening.

The next hour was murder on my attention span. It seemed that this group of America’s fine youth had their younger years drained from them and had been refilled with ooze from old, boring people who drone on about why a particular painting “speaks” to them and how someone could create such a masterpiece. Granted, some of the exhibits were talent ridden, but this was a bit much even for me.

After an extended period of jabbering I recommended to Will that we take this “party” somewhere else, like the docks. That’s typically where many people would hang out from the spring up until the autumn evenings got too chilly. Will tried to rally the troops to a new battleground and there were some takers. One of which was a girl named Charlotte. She had seemed about as enthused to listen to the art clamor as I was. In fact, she was currently the only person I was worried might see a drool stain on my shirt sleeve.

“Will’s car has room for two more people,” I volunteered, looking at Charlotte. Will shot me a glance that made it seem like I spoke too soon, but I was done with this scene. Then I really pushed it. “Charlotte, would you and your friend like to ride with us.”

“Oh, as long as Will doesn’t mind,” Charlotte replied looking at Will, slightly concerned.

“No, it’s fine, we’ve got room, like Phin said.” I could tell in his voice that I would probably hear about this later.

We hashed out a plan to meet up down at the docks. Sonny and “Skeletor” needed to make a quick stop by the drug store. My guess was that Sonny’s girlfriend needed some more youth serum before she shriveled up.

Will, myself, Charlotte and her friend Rachel got into Will’s “spacious” Prius. I let Rachel sit up front since she was new in town and would have a better view of the area from the front seat. Charlotte and I sat in the back and tried to get acquainted, despite the usual first impression awkwardness.

“Phin, that’s a cool name,” Charlotte said.

“Thanks, it’s actually a family name. My grandfather’s name was Phinneas too.” I felt the need to try to level the playing field by saying something about her name, of course thinking of term ‘playing field’ made me snicker because I couldn’t help but think of Sonny Fields. Charlotte gave me a look, “Is something funny?”

“Sort of,” I confessed, “That friend of Will’s I met tonight, Sonny Fields. His name just struck me as funny.”

Charlotte chuckled in return. “Yeah, that is pretty good.”

I could hear Will and Rachel had struck up a conversation, but to be honest I really had not noticed until Rachel laughed out loud about something Will had said. I could see his goofy smile from his profile. That, combined with his curly head of hair, his silhouette made it look like Ronald McDonald was our chauffeur this evening.

Rachel turned as if speaking to everyone in the whole car. “So do you guys go down to this dock place, like a lot?” Rachel seemed like a nice girl, but as Foghorn Leghorn once put it, she was “about as sharp as a sack of wet mice.”

“Yeah, a couple times a week, usually,” Will answered. “They have some restaurants, a coffee shop, ice cream, a used music store. You know, the usual stuff.”

Rachel seemed a bit confused, as if that was not at all what she considered “the usual stuff.”

“Hey where are we going,” Rachel said with a concern in her voice as Will turn down a small side road.

“Will likes to take this way, because he says it’s quicker,” I replied.

“It is quicker. It puts on the other side of docks so we don’t drive through a bunch of madness,” Will said defensively.

“Well, it’s kind of creepy,” Rachel said crossing her arms close to her.

“Rach, it fine,” Charlotte comforted her, “I come this way sometimes, but usually during the day.”

In the girls’ defense, the road did seem a bit eerie that night. The sky was blocked by overbearing tree branches.

“Everyone calm down,” Will said attempting to comfort us. “We will only be on this road a couple more…”

Just then something lunged across the hood of the car with a loud banging sound. Will slammed on the breaks.

“What was that?!” Will shouted.

“A deer,” I suggested.

“It didn’t look like a deer. It looked bigger.”

Being the voice of reason I said, “Well, there’s no reason just sitting here stopped. I don’t see anything outside.” No one else did either. Will took his foot off the break and started driving again. I could feel my heart still racing inside my chest. I looked over at Charlotte, who looked a bit scared.

“You okay,” I asked her. She shook her head yes.

“That scared me,” she admitted.

“No kidding! It totally freaked me out!” Rachel said, as if we would all be surprised about that.

A few minutes later we were approaching the docks. It seemed oddly still. There were only a few people around and they seemed to not be in too much of hurry to do anything. Will parked the car and we got out and looked around.

“What’s the deal,” I asked. “Normally, there are tons of people out here carrying on.”

“There’s Sonny,” Will noted and took off at a quick pace. We all followed in suit.

“Sonny, what’s up, man. Where is everybody?”

“I don’t know, Will. We just got here. Weird things have been going on from the moment we opened the car doors. Melanie was starting to get out and some girl ran up to her and scratched her and bit her on the arm.” Considering Melanie’s boniness, I couldn’t help but think her attacker probably didn’t get much of a meal. “I got out of the car and yelled at the girl and the look in her eye was very strange. She ran off somewhere, but she was so fast, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up. Melanie went to the restroom to clean up.”

“I’m shocked you couldn’t keep up” I muttered under my breath, taking a light jab at Sonny’s heavy frame.

“What?”

“Oh, I said that’s good, she should clean up.”

“Yeah, depending on how’s she’s doing, I may want to run her by the hospital to make sure that girl didn’t have rabies or something.”

Charlotte spoke up, “Rachel, let’s go and check on her.” Rachel nodded and they headed in the direction of the bathrooms

“It’s been kind of a weird night for us too, Sonny,” Will noted.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. On the way here we took Pine Brook as a short cut and some animal ran across the hood of the car while we were driving.”

“An animal?! What was it?”

“I don’t know for sure, Phin thought maybe a deer, but I couldn’t tell for sure. We were all a little shaken up.”

“Yeah, I’m starting to think we were better off at the art gallery with the others.” Sonny shot me a glance as if all of this was my fault. I looked out at the water by the dock, then noticed something a little way out on the water.

“Talk about strange things happening.” I spoke up. “It’s Saturday, why is the lighthouse shining.” The other two turned and looked.

“All right, that’s it. I’m getting Mel and we’re heading back to the gallery.”

Sonny started in a brisk walk toward the bathroom. All of sudden the door came flying open and Charlotte and Rachel started running toward us screaming. My heart started racing. I was starting to wonder if I was dreaming all of this. To my realization, I wasn’t. Behind Rachel, an animal came chasing after her. Charlotte kept running toward me, but Rachel turned to look back and the animal attacked her, bringing her to the ground. I felt speechless. I turned to look at Will who’s jaw had dropped in horror. The animal looked like a large cat-like creature, like a wildcat of some sort.

“Charlotte, keep running towards me,” I yelled. “Will!”

Will started running towards Rachel and the animal. By now there was no way Rachel had survived. Suddenly Sonny came out of nowhere with a boat paddle and smashed it against the creature knocking it to the ground. He kept hitting it until it stopped moving. There wasn’t much left of the paddle after that, so he through the piece of wood down and turned to Charlotte.

“Where’s Melanie,” he yelled.

I had put my arm around Charlotte who was shaking with fear. “I…I don’t know,” she stammered.

Sonny went barreling through the ladies room door, yelling Melanie’s name. I figured if that creature had gotten her, as frail as she was, there wouldn’t be anything left of her and for that, I was concerned. I looked down at Charlotte who was starting to get herself together.

With tears in her eyes and sniffling she looked up at me, “I really don’t know what happened. Rachel and I went in there to check on her we didn’t see anybody in there. All we saw were some bloody paper towels on the sink and water was still running. The next we knew, that cat-thing came lunging out of one of the stalls growling and then came running at us.”

Will had walked over to the scene of the attack. He checked Rachel for a pulse. To be honest, I was fairly upset that Sonny hadn’t thought to do that before he went looking for his missing girlfriend.

“She’s dead,” Will called out to us.

“What is that thing,” I asked.

“Looks like a giant cat, almost like a panther.”

A panther! What in the world would a panther being doing here, I thought to myself?

“She’s not in there,” Sonny said making his way out of the woman’s bathroom. The only thing I found was her purse in one of the stalls.

“Which stall,” Charlotte inquired.

“Um, the center one, I think, why?”

“That’s the same stall that thing came out of.”

I didn’t dare bring up the conclusion I jumped to following all of this information.

“Charlotte, I feel like you should get somewhere safe,” I suggested.

“What?” She seemed confused.

“Sonny, why don’t you and I go get help and put in a missing person’s report for Melanie,” Will said. Sonny nodded. I could see the weight of all this starting to bear down on him.

I quickly scanned the area, see if anything caught my eye. I expected to see something, when in actuality, I saw, well, nothing.

“Where is everybody,” I inquired. There hadn’t been many people in the area, but now there was nobody around. Normally, when there is some kind of chaos, curious onlookers come out in droves to see the commotion. Right now, there was no one in the area but the four of us.

“Will,” I said, “give me your keys. Charlotte and I will head back to the gallery to try and see if Anthony is still there.”

I had only seen Anthony briefly that evening at the gallery. Will and I had been good friends with him in college and he typically kept a level head. Sometimes even stoic. He had been a psychology major, so he always looked at things from behavioral standpoint than just getting “emotional”.

His cousin was the head curator at the gallery. He asked Anthony to come help him at the gallery after he finished his degree, which fit in perfectly with his analytical frame of mind. I figured since the gallery was hopping earlier, that he would be there late to lock up the gallery after the party.

“That’s a good idea, Phin,” Will said. “Here,” he said as he threw his keys to me.

Charlotte and I got in Will’s car. Since Will is shorter than me, I had to put his seat back so my knees wouldn’t touch the steering column. Charlotte shot me a quick glance, as if to say, is that really that important right now. I responded as if she had really said that to me.

“It’s usually important to keep a safe distance between the driver and the steering wheel, in case the airbag deploys.” Since she had just met me, she didn’t realize my attention to seemingly meaningless detail. She said nothing, but started fumbling through her purse and pulled out a tissue. I started Will’s car and we drove off in the direction of the art gallery.

“You okay,” I said in an attempt to strike up a conversation with Charlotte.

“Well, about as okay as anyone would be after watching their roommate get mauled to death.” She sniffled a bit and wiped her nose.

“Duly noted. I’m sorry about what happened back there. Were you two close?”

“Sort of, but she had only moved in a couple of weeks ago.” She wiped her nose again. Honestly, I didn’t know how much more that tissue could take. “It’s just, you know, she didn’t have any other family or friends in the area. She moved here to make a clean start, so she said.”

“I can kind of understand that.” I looked over at her. “I didn’t have anybody here when started school. After I graduated, Will and I…”

“Look out!”

I stared forward and slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. The front end of Will’s car smashed in the rear end of a sedan that was sitting in the middle of the road. I blacked out for a moment. When I regained consciousness, I was leaning on the airbag. I could hear Charlotte stirring.

“Are you okay,” I heard her ask.

“I think so, are you” I replied, but my head was still spinning.

“Yeah, I think I am too.”

“See I told you it was important to keep a safe distance from the airbag.” Charlotte said nothing.

I grunted as I readjusted to reach the door handle. Charlotte and I both got out of the car at the same time. We were only a couple hundred yards from the art gallery. I approached the car in front of me. I hadn’t seen anyone inside, but I needed to get a closer look. Charlotte walked behind me.

“That’s odd, the engine’s still running, but there’s no one behind the wheel.” Oddly enough, I had thought the same of some people I had met that night.

“Is that blood,” Charlotte asked pointing at the dashboard.

“It looks like it, but there’s no one near the car. Plus, it doesn’t look like they were in wreck before we hit them.” This night was growing weirder by the minute. “Wait here.”

I ran back to Will’s car and grabbed his keys from the ignition. A thought struck me and I reached under the driver’s seat. Will was a bit of a paranoid fellow. He had grown up in a somewhat rough area when he was younger, so he always kept a knife in his car under his seat. The blade was only about four inches, but it was better than nothing. I went back over to Charlotte and we headed for the gallery.

There were still a number of cars parked outside. We made our way up the stairs to the main entrance and walked in. There were only slight murmurings of conversations going on throughout the gallery. We checked a couple of the side exhibit rooms, but didn’t see Anthony. I reached for my cell phone, but it wasn’t there. It must have fallen out of my pocket during the accident. A moment later Anthony walked into the room we were in.

“Anthony, thank God,” I said. “Hey, we rear-ended someone outside. There was a car just stopped in the middle of the road, no lights on or anything, but it was still running.”

With a calm look on his face, he responded, “Are you two okay? Did you get hurt?”

“No we’re fine, but we should probably find whoever owns it so we can fill out a report or something.”

“Hmm, probably so.”

“There have been a myriad of strange things happening tonight. The wreck was probably the most normal.” I was starting to sound excited and had gradually grown louder during the conversation. Anthony put a hand on my shoulder and suggested we go into a side office discuss things.

We entered a small room with a little wooden desk and two chairs. Anthony offered one to Charlotte, which she gladly took, and thanked him and he offered the other to me, while he leaned against the desk. Anthony had a ruddy, Italian look about him, and tonight was no different. He crossed his arms over his vested chest and told us to proceed. We explained to him what happened on the way to the docks, at the docks, outside the gallery, the whole ordeal. After hearing it all, he didn’t bat an eyelash about it. Come to think of it, he almost looked half-pleased.

All of sudden, there came a loud noise from out in the gallery. After all that had happened, both Charlotte and I nearly jumped out of our seats. The three of us quickly left the room to investigate the commotion. We entered the main room of the gallery and looked around. Everyone was minding their own business as if nothing had happened. Anthony’s cousin entered the room and spoke up.

“Is everyone all right?”

He made a quick scan of the room, unsure himself of what the noise had been. Everyone concurred they were fine. He walked back out of the room. An unsettled feeling started rising up inside of me. I looked over to one of the side rooms and noticed a small group of people seemed to be standing nonchalantly, but huddled very close to each other. I stared for a moment and caught a glimpse of what look like a person laying on the floor amongst the group. They group was standing so close together that it made it hard to tell for sure, though. Looking at their faces, I saw them chatting and sipping on drinks like nothing was out of the ordinary. Then, one of them looked directly at me. There was a look in his eye that almost made me shiver. Maybe it was just the light, but his eyes almost seem to glow, almost like an animal’s eyes when the light hits it just right.

“We need to go,” I said.

“Wait, I thought we were going to figure this out,” Anthony replied. “Everything is fine.”

In that instant, I realized it wasn’t. Will used to tell me how Anthony would drone on about how the mind works and how you often tell a person wasn’t being completely honest when they made generalized statements like “everything is fine” and “nothing’s wrong.” It was in those moments in a person’s life, that the chances were everything was in fact, not fine.

“Charlotte,” I said looking directly into her green eyes, “we need to go. Now.”

She seemed confused, but complied. We started making our way to the door. I tried not to make eye contact with anyone. I took a quick glance at the guy who spotted me a minute ago and his whole group was now looking right at us. All of them had that same look in their eye.

“I’m afraid I can’t let you leave,” Anthony spoke up.

We had created some distance between him and us. The whole room was looking at Charlotte and myself now.

“It seems I’ve already lost some of the containment,” he commented.

“Containment,” I said, with questioning concern.

“Clearly there have already been some issues outside these walls. You said yourself strange occurrences keep happening.”

I looked back over that initial group who had been staring at me a moment ago. The person who they had been trying to hide was now getting up from the floor. He had that same look in his eyes as he stared at me.

“You see, Phin,” Anthony went on, “most of these people didn’t choose this. But now that it’s happened, they are willing to abide. Well, most of them. As I said, containment has been a slight issue.”

I didn’t have a clue what he was going on about, but I was bound and determined that Charlotte and I weren’t going to be a part of it. I looked down at her. I could tell she was scared, but we had to move.

“Charlotte,” I said calmly.

“Yes,” she responded just a calmly, but with a slight waver in her voice.

“Run!”

We turned and made a beeline for the front doors. As we drew closer, a couple of the men in the gallery stood in our way, that same hazy glow in their eyes. Now, I’m not much of hero, but sometimes, you have to do what you have to do. The guy directly in front of me started growling and revealed sharp teeth. A shiver of fear ran through my body, I knew I couldn’t let anything happen to Charlotte.

“Get behind me,” I insisted to Charlotte. She did.

I pulled out the knife I had taken from Will’s car. I ran full force into the half-human creature blocking the door, plunging the blade into his chest. He let out a shriek, but that was quickly drowned out as we smashed through the front door together. Charlotte came rushing behind me and quickly helped me to my feet. I didn’t dare leave the knife behind. Judging from the way this night was going, I would probably need it again.

Since the front end of our car was fairly smashed, I knew we would need to find some new transportation. I thought back to the abandoned car we rear-ended. It was still running with no one in sight when we got to it. I sensed Charlotte was going to start seriously panicking, judging from the giant gulps of air she was taking.

“Get in,” I urged her.

She hesitated, “But whose car is this?”

“Looking at all that’s happening, whoever it is will probably understand.”

I looked over at Charlotte who was clutching to her small purse and her cell phone.

“Try calling the police,” I said. “Tell them we are coming to the station and let them know about the art gallery.”

She punched 911 on her phone, but it only rang incessantly. A true look of worry washed over her face.

“What’s wrong?” I replied.

“No…um, there’s no answer,” she said taking a large swallow.

I drove in the direction of the police station wondering how things had spiraled out of control so quickly.

I tried to comfort Charlotte. “Maybe they’re all out fighting these things.” She wasn’t buying it. I knew better too. Someone would at least be there answering the phones.

A thought struck me hard. The lighthouse! Normally they don’t turn it on during the weekends. They say it’s part of the town’s attempt to conserve energy. That being the case, they’ve urged boat owners to make it back to the dock before sunset. Whether it’s tied to this or not, it would give some high ground to hopefully ride out this bizarre events.

“Let’s head to the lighthouse,” I suggested. “We can try and hole up there while all of this madness happens.”

“Good idea,” Charlotte retorted. “Maybe they’ve summoned help and that’s why it’s running on a Saturday.”

I drove as fast as I could through the streets to get to the harbor. We passed by places normally filled with people strolling the streets, laughing, eating hot dogs and waving at cars that drove past. Not tonight though. There were a few people on the sidewalks, but they were walking almost methodical, like robots, until we passed by them. Then they tore into the streets as if they were chasing after us. I envisioned them being like dogs chasing cars down a country lane. Except, the animals didn’t want the tires. They wanted the occupants. I sped almost dangerously.

I drove all the way up to the beginning of the large pier that led to the lighthouse. Charlotte and I jumped out of the car and made a break for the lighthouse. As we ran down the pier, I could hear a growing number of running footsteps behind us hitting the wooden planks. We quickly burst through the lighthouse door and shut it behind us. The lock had been broken, so there was no locking it behind us. We turned to make our way up the stairs and there stood Will and Sonny…and Rachel. Her complexion was made her look almost ghost like, which seemed appropriate, since the last time I saw she was, well, dead. The eerie feeling seemed intensified with the thick air smelling salty and musty.

It seemed as though I should have been relieved, but I wasn’t.

“Will?” I said with concern furrowing my brow.

“Hey Phin,” he replied calmly.

“What’s going on here,” I said, motioning to Rachel.

“What does it look like, Phin?”

“It looks like we were running from a mob of who-knows-what to be confronted by a dead person.”

“Oh, Rachel’s not dead.”

“Really? Because last I remember, you checked her body and clearly stated otherwise.”

“Well, she was dead. Or at least nearly.”

I couldn’t even being to wrap my head around this enigma. Then, the door to the lighthouse came crashing open with a mob of creepy-eyed people rushing in around us. I looked at Charlotte as if to say, “I’m sorry, I tried to protect you,” but I couldn’t manage the words.

“Just relax, Phin,” Will said calmly. “I told you that you needed to meet some interesting people.”

“Interesting, yes, not dead!” I replied abruptly.

“Nearly dead,” he corrected me.

Will had always been a bit mischievous, getting himself, or me, into minor jams every now and then. However, he’d never been involved in something as crazy as a mob, who were willing to, quite literally, fight tooth and nail.

The people encroached the space around us, one of them being Anthony and my heart sank with hopeless fear as his eyes glowed eerily. Then we heard a strange voice echo through the stairwell.

“What the devil is going on,” a gruff, elder voice boomed.

A portly man, probably in his late sixties came into view down the stairs. His beard was thick and gray and looking at the size of his glasses, I’m surprised they didn’t have their own windshield wipers. However, the crowd around us seem to cower at his voice.

“These two are resisting,” Anthony spoke up, in what seemed to be a verbal defense.

“Resisting? Resisting what,” the elder man questioned.

“Well, resisting being one of us.”

“Anthony, you have blatantly disobeyed me. I warned you not to force our research on people.”

“But they could be complete. The logic of mankind and the instinct and strength of beast.”

“You’re forcing a change on people. This was never my intent.”

“But it was necessary. Otherwise, mankind would resist and never know any different. They must be convinced, and if necessary, by force.”

“They have free will, and that is no one’s right to take away. We must return to the lab to try and reverse this process.”

“We can’t do that, professor.”

An angered tone entered the professor’s voice, “And why not?”

“After I finished what I needed to, I left a couple of our kind behind, instructing them to burn it to the ground. I knew you would want to try and change things back, I need a sure fire way to convince you how wonderful this way of life would be among people. We’ve reached the point of no return.”

I chimed in, ” Will someone please tell us what is going on?”

Will shot me a glance, as if I had asked a stupid question.

The old man, who was now furious, but not at me, responded. “I must apologize. My assistant, Anthony, was helping me with some research regarding the nature of mankind and animal instinct. He pressed me to try it on human subjects, and in due time I did, but when Anthony saw the outcome, he apparently tried to take things further.” Anthony stared blankly.

“I only instructed him to find a few volunteers, people willing to take part. The outcome, however, appears to be something of an epidemic in the area.”

“And the lighthouse,” I inquired. “Why are you here, why is it on?”

“The plan was for Anthony to return with the subjects to the lighthouse. I knew it would be empty and sturdy, should something go wrong.”

“And here we are. Listen, professor,” I spoke up heatedly. “Just because your assistant took on his own plan doesn’t give you the free and clear to play God with people’s lives to begin with!”

After I spoke, I got a little concerned, remembering that this man has been the only thing these man-creatures have halted to. I probably shouldn’t have yelled at him.

“May I speak to you two upstairs,” the old man asked me, grabbing my arm.

“Of course,” I said, a bit concerned. I looked over at Charlotte, who had a worried look in her own eyes.

We followed the stout, elder fellow up the slender stairs to the top of the lighthouse. To try and calm my nerves some, I envisioned the old man getting stuck between the gray stone wall and railing, because of his girth, and almost chuckled out loud. We entered the service room that sat just below the rotating beam above us. The air in here seemed somewhat thinner and less salty. More of woodsy smell due to the large beams that loomed overhead. After shutting and locking the door, the bearded man stared at us through his huge glasses.

“Well, it appears we have found ourselves in quite a predicament, haven’t we?” he asked rhetorically.

Confused at all that seemed to be happening I simply responded, “Uh, yeah, we have.”

“Young man, you must understand, I never meant for any of this to happen.”

“So what now? You want us to volunteer for your research, so you don’t feel so bad about us changing into whatever those things are out there?”

“No, of course not. I aim to finish this, to whatever extent I can. Anthony has ruined our chances of reversing the process.”

All of sudden there were loud noises in the stairwell outside the door. A fist pounded on the door.

“Professor, is everything all right,” inquired a muffled voice from the other side of the heavy door.

“Yes, everything is fine. Leave us be for the moment, please.” The old man turned to us and said, “It’s Anthony. He won’t quit until he gets what he wants, which is to see everyone in this town “made complete” as he calls it.”

I opened the hatch above my head which led to the guiding light of the lantern room and ascended. Looking out the windows of the lighthouse I could see the pier to the lighthouse filled with the mob. Some stood as men, and some had turned to animals. I returned to the service room with the old man and Charlotte.

The pounding fist continued. “Professor, open the door. Let us have them. They mustn’t be allowed to be different!” Anthony’s voice was getting louder and angrier. “We’ll tear this door down and take them, if we have to!”

The professor turned to us. Sweat had started running down his forehead.

“You must get out of here,” he urged.

“How?” I questioned. “The pier is covered with them.”

“Go back to the top and take the emergency exit. There is a ladder that runs down the seaside of the lighthouse to some short planks at the bottom. I have a small motor boat down there. It’s how I was able to get into the lighthouse without being noticed.”

I scowled in my mind at the authorities of this small water town. People can just break into the lighthouse because no expects it will actually happen.

He continued to give us instruction while the banging outside the door increased.

“Take the boat to get help. You should have plenty of gasoline to get away.”

“What about my friend Will and her friend Rachel,” I inquired.

“Without my current research, I am helpless.”

I grabbed the professor by the lapels of his shirt and got in his face.

“Listen here!” I shouted. “You fix this, now!”

His voice went into a stern tone. “Young man,” he replied. “At this juncture, I’m afraid there is nothing I can do.”

A fist hammered the other side of the door.

“You two must go, before it’s too late,” the professor warned.

“What about you?”

“This is my mess, I must deal with it. Now get out of here!”

I could hear Anthony getting increasingly angrier as we ascended into the glass plated lantern room. I found the the hinged glass door that led out to the balcony. Charlotte following close behind me.

“The hatch,” Charlotte reminded me. “It’s still open!”

I ran back to the hatch and pulled it closed. As I did, I looked down into the room and saw the professor turn into what looked like a grizzly bear just as the door to the service room was being smashed apart. I quickly closed the hatch the rest of the way and slid the lock bar into place. I could hear roaring and screaming below it. I went back to Charlotte and we went out to the balcony that ran around the top of the lighthouse. The wind gusts were much stronger up here. I started down the ladder first so I could stay below Charlotte, should she slip. We made our way down to the bottom and found the professor’s boat. I could hear the commotion of the mob on the other side of the lighthouse. They sounded ravenous.

I pushed away from the pier and paddled for a few minutes to put some distance between us and the creature infested lighthouse. I didn’t want to fire the motor up, figuring that if I could hear them, they would certainly be able to hear a boat motor revving up.

Once we were about a quarter of a mile from the lighthouse, I started the motor. The professor had a light mounted to the side of the boat that beamed out a good distance. There was also a small GPS unit in the boat. I looked around the boat and noticed that it was actually a rental from the our town’s dock. A small label was stuck in the corner of the boat with emergency numbers. Charlotte still had her phone, so I told her to call the coast guard number listed on the label.

Before calling, she looked at me, then back at the lighthouse and asked, “Will we ever be able to go back?”

It almost seemed like a ridiculous question to which I was about to give a sarcastic response to, but then I thought again. I thought about Will and all the people I knew there. “I suspect so, but it will probably never be the same.”

I know it wasn’t encouraging, but it was the truth. Charlotte started to dial the Coast Guard and I sat and stared out into the darkness thinking about the people I would never see again. I found a little bit of hope, though, when I looked at Charlotte, and she mustered a slight smile.

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