James Rada, Jr.
The Catoctin Banner presents a continuation of fiction serials for your enjoyment. “Cast from the Gods” is a new, original serial set at Site R when it was under construction. Let us know what you think.
Part 4: The cage
The deformed skeleton was no longer a skeleton. As unusual as that was, it was only the second thing the soldiers noticed when they entered the excavated chamber under Raven Rock Mountain. The first thing they noticed was that Pvt. Jacob Parkinson, who had been stationed in the chamber to guard the skeleton, was missing. They called out his name and searched around the piles of rock and dirt in case falling debris inside the chamber may have injured or even killed him.
The private was nowhere to be found.
“Do we have an AWOL soldier?” Maj. Henry Owens asked.
“I doubt it, sir,” Sgt. Zachary Konrath said. He was Parkinson’s squadron commander at nearby Fort Ritchie. “Private Parkinson seemed fine when he went on duty. He was a friendly soldier who was doing fine in the military. Even if he went AWOL, where did he go?”
Major Owens scowled as he looked around the dark chamber. “If I knew that, I wouldn’t be standing here.”
“No, sir, I mean we had two men stationed on either side of the entrance to this chamber and other guards regularly patrolling the fence around this site. No one saw Parkinson last night.”
“He must have snuck by you because he certainly isn’t in here.” The major waved his hands around to show he was talking about the cavern.
Konrath shook his head. “With all due respect, sir, I don’t see how. Besides the guards, the entrance was well lit. My men would have seen someone leaving.”
“It’s happened before.”
Sergeant Konrath stiffened. “Not with my men, sir.”
Since construction of the underground complex had started, curious people had managed to get onto the property. A few made it as far as the entrance to the tunnel before they were caught. It wasn’t as if those people had made it onto the property without being detected. They had been detected and caught before they breached the sensitive area. They had only gotten that far because the fencing had not been fully erected at the time.
This cavern was supposed to be an atom bomb shelter for the government should the Soviets attack. It was nowhere near complete yet, in part, because the chamber was being hollowed out of greenstone granite. Yet, a long time ago, a group of people using primitive tools apparently buried a mysterious coffin containing a deformed skeleton hundreds of feet below the ground. So far, no one could identify what sort of creature the skeleton had been when it was alive because it certainly wasn’t human. They couldn’t even identify the metal the coffin was made from, but strange things had been happening around it ever since the work crew had opened it.
“There’s something else you need to see concerning the skeleton, sir,” Sergeant Konrath said.
“I’ve seen the skins on the bones, sergeant,” Major Owens told him.
Sergeant Konrath shook his head. “No, sir, this is something we discovered this morning when Private Parkinson’s relief came in.”
They walked over to the 12-foot-long and four-foot-wide and two-foot-tall coffin. Sergeant Konrath turned on his flashlight and shone the beam inside the coffin. The creature was nearly entirely covered with either fur, skin, or feathers of other creatures or the gray, leathery skin the other skins seemed to turn into. The face was gray with a wolf-like snout. However, instead of nostrils, the snout had a set of what appeared to gills running along its sides. The head resembled a sea urchin with spines growing from the top of it instead of hair.
Major Owens leaned over. “It looks different from yesterday. There’s more flesh. It’s barely even a skeleton now. I still couldn’t tell you what it is, though.”
“Sir, it’s breathing.”
The major leaned over the coffin, staring at the creature’s chest. As he watched, it slowly rose as the creature inhaled.
He straightened up. “Holy, Mother of God!”
“Is it alive, sir?” Konrath asked.
“How should I know? I don’t even know what it is. How long has it been doing that?”
“At least since we got here at 0700.”
Owens thought for a moment. “I’ve got to make some calls. I will send down four more men, fully armed. I want the men already here and the additional men guarding this… thing.”
The major walked back to his Jeep. He drove out of the tunnel to the site office. He ordered the additional soldiers into the tunnel and then he placed a call to Dr. Howard Buchanan, the professor who had verified the site as not being claimed as a religious site or graveyard by any Native American or pioneer group. Howard arrived two hours later, and Major Owens drove him into the tunnel.
Dr. Buchanan looked at the creature in the box and said, “Amazing.”
“Is that all you have to say?” Owens asked.
“What do you expect me to say? Somehow a skeleton is regrowing its lost organs and flesh. It’s unheard of.”
Owens sighed. He would have been a lot happier if Buchanan had been military. “I want to know: 1) What is it? 2) Is it alive? And 3) Is it dangerous? And not necessarily in that order.”
Dr. Buchanan straightened up. “I’m afraid I can’t answer any of those questions. However, one of my colleagues thought the characters etched on the coffin looked familiar. He is attempting to decipher them for me.”
“Then I need to take some precautions.” Owens looked around. “Sergeant Konrath, where are you?”
The sergeant hurried over. “Yes, sir.”
“I want you and the other men here to put that lid back on the coffin. I will send a work team down here to erect a cage around it.”
“Don’t you think that’s an overreaction?” Dr. Buchanan asked.
Owens poked the professor in the chest. “You just told me you can’t tell me what this is or even if it’s alive. Yet, I have a skeleton regrowing its body. So, no, I don’t think I’m overreacting.”
The 10 soldiers managed, with effort, to push the lid back into place. When it dropped into place on top of the coffin, the sound of metal on metal echoed back and forth in the chamber.
As the sound died off, another sound replaced it. It sounded like thunder or a deeply muffled growl.
To be continued…