The Sound of A
When the text arrived, it came by simple mail carrier. In his reverie he half thought it would be orders to re-enlist and help with the British resistance against the Germans. His old friend was still trying to be some kind of spooky comic book magazine writer. He said it was because he’d written “black ledge.” And then he said it was because they were giving him drugs with tiny robots from the future. It was probably because all the horrific ways people died at the end of his stories. They’d put Speidler in another damn institution again. Probably for no more than drinking, but they had to keep making sure he knew he was crazy. Who knew what Speidler believed about their expedition, or what he was being told anymore? Officially, between them or anyone else, they were not supposed to speak of it. But what did they expect from a man who had been a war correspondent and set out to be a career journalist, not some hack genre ghoul? And there had even been not-so-subtle warnings through the years, a few of them, their secrets displayed in the popular media and on the screens for the whole world to see. Like nothing of the sort could be real, or could ever have really happened. Tarzan wasn’t really in the jungle, because he had never been there in the first place. Adam Pinkerton opened the package and saw a simple, untitled manuscript. He turned the first blank page with John Speidler’s full, real name written at the bottom and began what read like a journeyman’s fiction.
Some twenty years earlier Pinkerton had sat enraptured, unbelieving and unconvinced that he wasn’t delusional from the stim pills he had been enjoying with his coffee since arriving at base camp the week prior. Five minutes ago, the frozen brown mass in the frosted metal cup on the table by the tent flaps had been boiling and steaming. Now it had frozen solid as he stared ahead at the giant fern, that by all accounts should no longer exist, and certainly nowhere within thousands of miles from his current location.
Drawings of plants, conifers and fungi not seen since the dinosaur age clicked by on the loud rickety projector powered by the gasoline generator, they had brought with them, just one more piece of advanced top-secret technology their group and its million-dollar budget had privy to.
The Berkeleys would be in Tibet this time of year of course and there would be funerals for one or more of their party surely before the summer’s end. Pinkerton was afraid of snakes. Snakes and lizards, even the small ones. What else could possibly be down there among flora like that being described?
The tent of course was freezing and they were decked out as though they would all be taking a long trek in the alps for weeks on end. But the protocol was for their survival, not their comfort. Heat was not assured and their extremities had to be covered at a moments notice. The journalist, scribbling down notes in front of them was the only one not on par with their athleticism. No one knew why he had been picked. Stewart said it was something about the legacy and a natural fit for choosing a way for the expedition to be archived and readily accessible without posing any war time danger, like the other weapons had, while still remaining ‘top secret’ and secure. He definitely didn’t look like he would last the day.
But this is what he came for. This is what all the questions at that first strange Pentagon interview about his doctorate in molecular botany and travels to central and south America had been for. He discovered later that his entire stint in the Congo… and failure to return with any useful samples had been funded and more or less staged by them also.
Brom Stewart was an old friend of course. He imagined his name being shouted out over cigars and whiskey among frightened, confused senators who balked at such fairy stories, when those incredulous reports from the Arnold expedition had come in. Immediately there were those who insisted it was a mirage. Like a hallucination in the desert among those dying and desperate not to die from thirst, believing they had seen clear springs, date palms and citrus, an oasis. But before he was presumed dead, some of the descriptions of the shapes of the plants and animals, had been too familiar, too unique.
Could the pilot, one Jove Wilkes, have seen them in a school book illustration in a tiny country school house in Kansas? Those ancient forms of palms and conifers, he had described in detail over the radio from inside his cockpit before the signal went dark, forms and shapes from the oldest plants in that age of sharp, scaled things and giants?
The snow crunched under their heavy boots as they exited the briefing tent and returned to the more fortified sleeper. The Maori, in darker, thicker garb, were in the smaller sleeper and stayed behind to pack up the items in the briefing tent that would freeze or be damaged if left out.
The day was overcast and Speidler pointed to the low hanging clouds on the horizon in the direction of southern range, directly over their destination the next morning. Back in the dull orange sleeper tent the men bared down to thick socks and high-necked wool sweaters. Arnold Findley read Jules Verne through a large brownish red moustache and long tobacco pipe.
“You know they’re never going to know we were even here? And no one will be back, unless a bunch of penguins disappear or some sort. The maps for this terrain have already been drawn and explored a dozen times at least.” William Reginald interrupted 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
“Isn’t that the whole point? Some secret ancient Egyptian or Roman technology may be involved that defies the mapping.” Pinkerton replied.
“It, it hasn’t been exexplored. Not, not the base of the range where, where the crash site was reported and the radio transmissions came from.” Speidler tried to speak up in his broken stutter.
“We’ll find out soon enough.” The elder John Stoates affirmed, as one of the Maori set a fresh steaming pot of coffee on the makeshift camp table.
All the men turned their chins up to the elder and commander of the group, and then back down in agreeable acquiescence. Their rest that night was fitful. None of the men knew truly what to expect or exactly how dangerous their mission would be. It was not quite as bad as rushing headlong into enemy artillery and so there was that solace as snoring and grumblings in the night broke out among a few of them.
The sun was bright at dawn and the Maori had begun packing out their gear earlier. Stoates insisted they be back well before the evening temperature drop. And there were multiple scenarios for their exit, including a rescue. But none of the men, including Stoates wanted anything to happen that might remotely trigger any sort of emergency response. The nature of their expedition was as dark as operations could get and still employ well bodied and abled men of sound mind, who also had any real personal investment in the operation.
Stewart would be gambling or horse racing or whatever it was he did to stay out of real trouble during a downturn. Pinkerton would be conducting private research and writing about his experiences in the Congo. Why they didn’t want him teaching or around students during the full debrief was somewhat of a mystery, but he would have agreed to much worse. And Reginald would be returning to the whiskey bottle, in prohibited denial of course while trying to increase his family, with his brothers keeping the actual steel mill ledgers. The rest were not ‘men of means’ so to speak and so they would be processed like any veteran or conscripted infantryman with an undisclosed discharge during a war.
The horizon was blinding except for the vertical black ledge of mountains to the northwest. They marched single file. Ahead the Maori had erected a sitting tent, where they would unpack the larger cameras and recording equipment and continue to the ridge alone. Strangely Pinkerton was reminded of his evacuation from the Congo, the last in a series of setbacks that seemed doomed from the start. Almost like they had been planned that way, for some other purpose all together.
But this whole trip had been different. Their meals on the Le Grange had been fine, perhaps too fine. All of the gear was top notch and Findlay had a wrist watch that didn’t even require winding. He swore it was scheduled to return with the rest of their equipment and all the photographs and recordings, but Pinkerton knew better. That watch was going in a Findlay family vault somewhere for twenty or forty years or however long until you could find them on sale for Christmas at Macy’s.
Stewart would be the hardest keeping quiet. He could barely shut up about Shackleford the whole time they had been in Christchurch. Guzzling pint after pint and talking about how soon frostbite takes hold after your socks get wet and how these new grey beauties had some fancy tech in them that was completely water proof. Something the Scotch had come up with. But then no one believed Reginald, least of all his wife, who had sent a personal telegram all the way to New Zealand as if after an entire year she finally acknowledged he hadn’t been putting her on about the expedition. Officially Pinkerton was in Tiera Del Fuega on the tip of Argentina and who knew where the others “officially” were.
As the day wore on the snow blindness decreased and the hard pack turned to more of a wet powder. The dark military mustard green of their packs, garb and gear nearly uniform, the line glided in single file on their skis encroaching on the mist and dark shadow beneath the blackledge of the mountains ahead. Slightly before noon the final embarkment tent came into view. In the strong daylight is was like an orange balloon in the mist, but as they approached it turned to a drab yellow like all the rest in contrast with the murk of wet snow all around. Inside the Maori were already fastening this and that on the large wooden boxes that held the audio recording devices. And the multiple still and moving cameras. Crates with large holes revealed the small movements of sled dogs whose breath filled the air in front of the openings with visible steam. They were not to be used for work except in an emergency as the outside temperatures would kill them in just a few short hours.
Pinkerton’s attention focused on the sets of climbing gear, complete with picks, hammers and cables. His eyes caught the attention of Stoates as they both looked over to the ropes.
“Surely we won’t be doing any real jumping.” Reginald said aloud, drawing his black pipe out of the dark blue coat pocket.
“No,but we don’t exactly know what we’re coming up against do we?” Stoates replied.
“No, but surely…” Reginald retorted again, wincing as he looked over at the dogs and then to the sensitive equipment of the cameras and recording devices on top of the table beside them.
There was some commotion at the front of the base, a rush of words and walking back and forth in the crunch of wet snow and just then a large Maori with goggles in full cold gear entered the tent. In his native tongue he said something to the other men. There were cross words, an argument and before one of the usual servants said anything he had pulled on his overalls and began to lace his boots.
“We must go. We go now.” The man said, unapologetic and without explanation. The other standing, still in full gear. The tent flap shut behind.
“Bull shite! What is this nonsense? Some native superstition dooming the whole crew right before the expedition gets underway? You can save it for the debriefing if that’s what you want to tell the Colonel. Is that what you want to tell the Colonel, Nufchuk?” The American practically accused the darker skinned man.
“You tell him, what you want. Finish your foreign expedition, if you can. The rest of us don’t belong here.” The tattooed man said in nearly perfect English.
Stewart and Findlay looked confused, but there was real worry on Speidler’s face, who had become intimate with a few of the Maori since their arrival in the Pacific.
Stoates walked out of the tent, the fully geared Maori directly behind him. Kneeling in the snow, several yards in front of the tent and looking up at the sun without blinking and towards the black ledge was the Maori elder, the one responsible for much of the heavier tents and poles, who had likely first set up the climbing gear. His eyes were clouded over, pure white staring blankly into the bright, golden yellow disc.
“Is it damage from the sun… when did..?” Reginald began, putting away his pipe.
“No, it is blinding him and he will not look away. But the sun doesn’t do that. He’s in some sort of trance. It’s something about this place. He uses an old islander’s term, a bad one, evil spirits of the far islands and deep ocean, bigger than the land.” The other Maori said, helping the man with eyes wide open, and hair blowing in the mild breeze stand to his feet.
“Do you see any waves around here man? The ice pack goes on for hundreds of miles, hundreds of feet thick no matter what’s below. The ocean is ten miles east, even if there was some sort of tidal surge we’d…” Stewart began but was cut off.
“Not at the mountain.” The younger tribal man contradicted the white man. “The ice and whatever is beneath it stops at the black rock.” The younger man continued.
“Like I said. Bull Shite!” Stoates repeated while the other men gathered behind him.
“I will stay.” The man who was their cook and tea servant offered.
“You will send reinforcements when you get to the base camp?” Stewart joining the other men on the ice required, as much as an admonishment for Stoates’ sake as a dismissal of the elder Maori’s obvious brain fever.
“Your men are not fools and we will heed any sudden change in our plans as we should. Tell them to be on point for a rescue, if it comes to that and we will signal in early. Before 4pm if there is to be such an event.” Findlay commended, reassuring the young tribal man of their mutual precaution.
The rest of the men gathered the assorted equipment and strapped it to the rest of the supplies on their backs. The ledge was close now. Two Maori tribesmen remained and they went ahead with the sled dogs to scout approximately a mile. The rest of the men reached them in less than an hour and saw for the first time where the mist lead in front of them. For a a few hundred yards in either direction in front of them the snow pack sloped downwards into a bowl with mist and fog concentrated on a point at the furthest depth. Reginald used a monocular to calculate the lowest point at about forty feet below their current level, a few hundred yards ahead. The dogs and tribesmen were instructed to wait and the rest of the party would split. One camera and recorder going with Pinkerton, Speidler and Stewart. Stoates, Reginald and Findlay would also wait behind.
“It really is probably nothing men. If there’s some kind of volcanic lake with dark ice all around you’ll have to turn back anyway.” Stoates against his usual gruff, seemed to offer some kind of cold comfort.
“Wwwell then, we’ll have a lot of pppictures of gassy, bbboiling black ice and wwater.” Speidler offered in his nervous stutter.
Pinkerton lead the group slowly down the frozen slope, the camera now strapped to his front and ready for basic utility. Theoretically this camera would take still photographs with just the press of a single button. And there was a rather heavy battery in his side pocket that could power an instant flash as well. Within minutes the mist had enveloped them completely.
“Shhsould we tie a lllline to each other?” John Speidler asked.
“No, we’re not in any real danger I don’t think, but don’t drop anything. We’ll surely lose it.” Stewart replied carrying the heaviest load of the emergency climbing equipment on his back.
They had just heard Reginald’s whistle behind them alerting to their having reached the forty-foot mark when Pinkerton realized the ice had thinned and they were now walking on a sandy black gravel. As they continued slowly the sound of running water began to increase until they were apparently amidst running streams. It was then that Adam Pinkerton could swear he saw a feint glowing in the mist ahead, but before he could say anything Speidler interrupted.
“Dddo, you hear wwater waterfalls?” John Speidler asked incredulous at the idea.
“No man! For sure, it’s just the breeze taking wind in the heavy mist.” Brom Stewart insisted, simultaneously silencing Pinkerton as well.
But where the mist looked like it might be clearing ahead there were no mountains, just a murky grey wall.
“What is it?” Stewart said aloud gazing off into the massive glowing white and grey area ahead of them. “Where’s the ledge?” He continued.
As they advanced slowly, their questions were answered with no lack of amazement. Not far to their right, several more dozen feet below were fast moving rapids and ahead, just one source of mist was emanating from the churning brim of what appeared to be a massive drop off and waterfall. As they came closer and the roaring grew they saw several hundred yards to their left another massive waterfall digging into the gorge and dropping below.
“So there’s a huge ice cave in the mist at the foot of the black ledge. Big hoot.” Stewart dismissed the oddity of the entire area more than just a mile or so in circumference evading the map makers, as the glow from the caverns began bouncing off their gear and faces, lighting up the fog and casting an eery bright glow on their surroundings.
But what next appeared to them over the bluff was unmistakable and unbelievable. Below, inside a huge wall of grey ice with countless waterfalls in the background was the clear form of a giant, bright, silver grey pyramid as large as any of those in Giza, but made of some type of metal alloy and shining reflectively like a mirror in the mist. There were strange glyphs and markings along its side, older than any Pinkerton recognized. And then another pyramid some distance away as they continued to slowly walk forward. And then another, spread out in a huge succession on the floor of the chasm several hundred yards beneath them. As fully awake as he had been at their briefing, Pinkerton was even less prepared for what they saw next.
Among toppled dark grey buildings, and monuments made of strange materials and the full measure of any New York skyscraper with more giant glyphs on them were the lush verdant green of massive vines, ferns, conifers, palms and trees of impossibly ancient origin. Some that were definitely extinct. Huge horn mushrooms and other bright irridescent fungi as tall as a house circled the giant, ancient shapes of fern fronds and logs of the swampier portions of the forest below. Thick giant pines with black scaled bark sprouted blade like appendages instead of leaves, where inner cores with lush, beach ball sized, neon green, yellow and orange fruits beckoned for creatures armored well enough to brave their poison needle tips. Fist sized pink globules of what Pinkerton guessed was sap, blossomed on massive white flowers from a dense thicketed dark green bush that had grown as high and large as a few dozen feet below the ledge where they stood. Pinkerton clicked the button on the box housing the camera as quickly as he could, each few seconds it took the device to ready for another shot seeming like a lifetime.
Adam Pinkerton began to feel a looseness in the layers of his gear and noticed that he was sweating profusely. The temperature had risen sharply from the icy slope above.
“Are those.. Eeeggypt?” Speidler started.
“No, not even close. Almost more like Sanskrit, but not really.” Brom Stewart replied in reference to the glyphs on the pyramids and elsewhere he claimed not to recognize. But the rapid blinking and trembling of his jaw may have told another story.
Stewart had taken off his jacket in the heat and placed it on a dry spot in the gravel. John Speidler had removed his as well but hung onto it momentarily. Pinkerton was about to ask what the symbols resembled in Sanskrit, but then the men heard something unexpectedly familiar, the whistling call of a bird, though perhaps of a deeper and richer tone. They all paused from their moment of reverie and looked at one another, the liquid metal of the otherworldly pyramids brightly shimmering below and reflecting off the ice and mist all around.
In an instant John Speidler let out a startled yell as he lost his footing, the entire piling of rock and gravel where he had been standing rolled and began to fall over the precipice. Pinkerton nearly ripped the camera box off his chest struggling to unstrap it before leaping forward and grabbing the other man by the arm. Too late, his torso and legs dangled over the edge, rock and gravel landing on the giant white blossoms and dark foliage just a few feet below.
The creature called out again in a sharp whirred whistle, closer this time.
“Dddon’t let me ggo!! Please dddon’t lllet me go!!” John Speidler pleaded with the other man, grasping around him with his other hand.
“I’m not. But you have to get a foothold onto something quick!” Adam Pinkerton shouted at him.
The other man yelled as the sweat on his arm and hand almost immediately caused their connection to slip and then break altogether. He tumbled downward into the bush, the thicket of dense branches just breaking his fall below the top foliage. Pinkerton marveled at how huge the leaves and blossoms were compared to the large man about their same size, as some relief that the other was likely not badly injured washed over him.
Brom Stewart looked down at the giant tree and briefly thought he saw a flash gold feathers or scales, but didn’t want to frighten the men any further. Time was of essence regardless, so he quickly began to unstrap the climbing equipment from his pack.
“It’s like, llike an oversssize magnolia… with ssspikes on the branches.” Speidler remarked, also surprised to be unhurt by his brief fall.
“Yeah, don’t touch those! And stay away from that pink stuff also.” Pinkerton admonished, then doing a double take as he thought he saw something like glimmering gold far down below in the trees branches.
When he backed up the slope Stewart was already standing there with rope and grappling in hand, the climbing gear disassembled at their feet. He handed the man the grapple and clips and hammered the first lead stake as far down in the gravel as it would go.
“You can’t drop this, or fall any further, either of you. It’s the only one we’ve got.” The other man said lowly and sternly, so the man below hopefully could not discern the seriousness of their predicament.
“Stay here Brom. He’ll be out in a cinch.” Adam Pinkerton promised winking one eye with slight condescension at the other’s fright before he turned back and inched towards the precipice, sure of his own footing.
“Ok, let’s make this quick, so we can get out of here. The recordings finished if you got any and the camera is pretty much done also.” Pinkerton said to empty space beneath him.
Suddenly there was a commotion of wild, dulcet chirping sounds below and he heard what sounded like John Speidler in animated conversation with some sort of companion.
“John!” Pinkerton shouted down into the tree.
And then there was a loud squawk, followed by the strangest whistling bird song, and almost human like singing. It was immediately below them.
“Do you hear that?” Brom Stewart asked in a weak, vaguely broken voice from several feet behind.
A rush of strange warmth and comfort swam through Pinkertons ears and brain, reaching down into his chest. Stewart somehow felt as if a woman was suddenly present among them, a very good woman, like the ladies he met in the fancier secret speakeasy bars that were often too good for him, or the church women from his childhood that would smile as they walked past him and his mother.
John Speidler peered back from the giant magnolia bush, having climbed back up, his eyes glazed over and gone completely white, like the elder Maori’s.
“It needs our help Adam, all of us. And it wants to show me something. The branches are high for it to reach though, too high. But it even offered to try and catch me if I want to jump. It’s the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen Adam. And its eyes, you have to see them for yourself. We should jump down now, right away, all of us!” Speidler raved passionately as if testifying with pure conviction in front of a court audience.
“No! No, don’t do that John! Listen to me. Listen to my ugly voice and only my voice. That creature is poisoning us and hypnotizing us. Ignore it or it will rip our throats out and eat us alive!” Adam Pinkerton threatened uncertainly, but with nearly equal conviction.
Speidler’s vision and normal blue eyes returned from their opaque state as he looked up at his friend trembling with what seemed like a newfound cagey and terrorized sobriety.
“Get me out of here Adam.” John Speidler whimpered with hands and face visibly shaking.
A horrific shriek broke out on the forest floor beneath them. It caused John Speidler to shudder with his eyes shut tight, but he managed to capture the rope and tie it about his waist. As the shrieking continued Speidler climbed upwards with the tension in the rope from the other men pulling him up and over the ledge.
But before Speidler or Pinkerton could stand the entire ground began to rattle and vibrate. More gravel fell towards the precipice as it shook all around them. And then a sound like a large dropping whistle, or bell in a hollow rang out from the center of the chasm. It rang out again, and then again, in two and three second successions. And then just as suddenly a red light emanated from the center pyramid below and swept up and over the entire forest, landing just inches below the cliff’s edge.
“What’s happening? What is that noise?” Stewart asked, the red light seeming to cut a divide in the mist and then Stewart realized that was exactly what the light was doing. Slowly a thin layer of moisture began to cloud over the forest on top of the red light.
“Ahh! The ground. It’s freezing!” Speidler yelled out, quickly regaining his stance.
But Pinkerton was newly befuddled. How was the ground freezing and so fast? He looked back across the chasm and could no longer see the forest floor, the pyramids were also starting to lose their definition beneath a quickly growing red tinted ice sheet. The droning noise blared out again and again in the same dull pitch.
“It’s an alarm!” Pinkerton shouted his revelation aloud.
The group could now actively see the waterfalls around them flash freezing in real time. Far below the squawking and shrieks of the monstrous creature diminished, but continued.
“I’ve heard something like that before, the test sites in Bavaria.” Brom Stewart said wanting to forget the maddening sounds, voices and thoughts in their heads from the creature below, but just as concerned at another unknown potential danger.
They all looked up at the sky, what was visible of it from where they stood deep underground.
“From where?” asked Speidler as the sky darkened and the frost and ice building at his boots began to crystalize upwards as they stood there.
“I don’t know, but we have to get out of here, right now and fast.” Pinkerton acknowledged, buttoning his coat, breaking the camera box free from the ice formed around it on the gravel and strapping what was left of it to his pack.
The tone continued at an even three second interval. The red beam moved slowly up and down as if surveying the length of the chasm now all but covered by a fine layer of ice hardening over some invisible field created by the mist and red light. The men could see the rushing water that wasn’t freezing over in its streams was emptying out and slowly filling in the chasm as it pulsed with the red light.
“Come on. Let’s go. No one’s going to believe us anyway.” Brom Stewart said, throwing a piece of rock gravel over the ledge and watching as it landed seemingly in mid air on some invisible ground as water pooled and froze around it.
The men scrambled back up the slope as quickly as they could. Half-way out they saw the water had pooled in a bright, glowing crimson lake behind them. High above, dark clouds were forming and creating a massive storm front. It would get colder after sunset, much colder. When the three reached the other men they were shivering, gear and clothes soaked through and exhausted.
Speidler was placed on the sled with the camera and audio boxes. The columnal storm clouds above rapidly grew upon themselves and darkened deeply in just minutes. Strange sounds came from the shrouded cavern down the slope they had come from. The confusion and terror in the other mens’ faces at the otherworldly whistling sound of the alarm was ignored as Stewart and Pinkerton informed them of the emergency and their immediate race back to base camp. Abandoning the rest of their equipment and gear, the Maori guides were instructed that they were now officially in an emergency rescue status until they reached base camp at the sea, which had to be before the greatest temperature drop at night if they were to survive.
Three of the huskies were dead and the other two carrying Speidler and Stoates were a full mile ahead of the rest of the crew when they reached the embarkment camp. Stoates radioed in the rescue preparations and was satisfied to learn the Maori had already initiated them against protocol and on threat of severe consequences if the expedition ending rescue wasn’t fully merited. Stoates confirmation and lack of explanation for the enormous and unseasonable swell of dark clouds in the east and the oncoming blizzard expected before nightfall was proof enough of their circumstances.
Stewart and Findlay placed the broken pieces of the camera and the rolls of film it contained along with the audio tape in new boxes to be securely carried out. Grim looks of sublimated awe and terror passed between the men who had returned from the chasm and those who had waited behind assuring the very queerest of nightmares had in fact been realized. Will Reginald avoided handling the equipment altogether. No small amount of tears were lost by Speidler and the younger Maori who agreed the rest of the injured dogs had to be put down.
A large contingent of men and sled pack waited for them in the single remaining sleeper tent left standing among the other midway camp tents when the expedition arrived that afternoon. Their circumstances couldn’t be more dire and even as the sky seriously darkened in the one or two hours after noon and a much thicker snow began to fall. The makeshift, shielded compartments resembled a train placed on the sleds and would enable the men to stay warm and alive if the temperature fell too rapidly before their arrival at base camp.
Pinkerton reminisced with Speidler over the newly installed telephone how the two-hour journey took over three and it was indeed dark and some many digits below freezing when they arrived at base camp on foot without a single sled and only the camera film and audio boxes in the dogs’ packs. The picture of the men that December in Christchurch outside the pub with Speidler’s funny midwestern, toothy crooked smile held in one of Pinkerton’s hands and rubbing the nerve endings where there used to be fingers on the wooden frame with the other, Speidler would always claim ‘they’ had told him to call and write down another manuscript. Findlay swore the metal nose piece made him even more of a lady’s man, but Reginald who claimed to have once been the real thing and now shy of explaining his missing fingers and toes wasn’t having any of it. John Speidler said he hadn’t heard from any of them in years, only Stewart and that had been the first time he had stayed in the looney bin drying out for any real length of time.
“Dddid they eever ttell you why tthere was nno official debriefing?” Speidler questioned the other man, his nervous stutter returning.
“You know we’re not supposed to mention those things.” Adam Pinkerton spoke lowly.
“Tthey ssaid nnone of the auddddio or ffilm had pproofed.” Speidler replied.
“But sometimes ttthe cchhurch lladies ttell mme when to ssend in aannother sstory and tthey rremmind me ttoo ccall you. Unofficial, off course, inn their own, indirect wway off courssse. And I nnnever kkknow their ffirst nnames or ssee tthem again. Annd dddid yyyou kknow Addam, tthey never will look me in the eye, or sssmmile. They nnever ssmile at me Adam, when I mmost expect and wwant them ttoo.” The other man sounded truly wounded, perplexed.
“Don’t think too much on it man.” Pinkerton advised and then strangely reconsidered.
“John.” He began.
“Yes.” The other man said, attentive.
“Did Stewart ever tell you what they said before he died… the, the symbols?” Adam Pinkerton asked a question finally that he never thought he would.
“Oh yyeah, they don’t wwwant me writing tttthat one down. Even in other ffforms really.” Speidler said matter of factly as if such an odd thing were completely old news.
“Could you tell me now though?” Pinkerton pressed.
“Ssstewart didn’t like to talk about it. Hhhe said it was something lllike, ‘the ape isss now among your fffood’ on one of ttthem. And on tttthe other ttthe big one, sssomething unintelligible and jjjust really long and strange like, ‘the wwalking ape is bbanished and is ggiven the devil’s ttongue as punishment fffor its greed and treachery.’” Speidler said coldly and bluntly as if its significance had been burnt from his mind.
Pinkerton remained deeply silent for a moment.
“And that sound, the alarm, do you ever hear it, anywhere?” He asked the other man.
“No, Adam. Not rrreally. I mmean I gguess it’s ffailry common, bbut jjust on the rradio occasionally. Do you?” John Speidler replied.
“I hear it everywhere John. On the radio, in the department store, in the subway, in the voices of other men rambling warnings off to the children in the neighborhood. I hear it in the bathtub, in the walls and behind them when I turn on the water. I hear it outside when the landlady hums as she hangs out her laundry. I hear that sound before I go to bed at night when I dream there are planes coming with bombs and I hear it when I wake up and the neighbor’s tea or coffee whistle has already gone off.” Adam Pinkerton confessed, a surge of shame and long suppressed terror threatening the surface of his usual calm demeanor.
“I’m sure it will pass, Mr. Pinkerton, sir. All things do.” The other man reassured, suddenly without his characteristic stutter.
“I know. I know. I suppose you’re right Speidler.” The other man replied, wiping away the sweat on his brow with a cream colored handkerchief, held up to his forehead with the remaining fingers on his left hand.