Cast From the Gods
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.
3: The Pieces
Bruce Nelson was more than happy to allow the so-called experts to crowd around the odd metal box Bruce’s work crew had found hundreds of feet under Raven Rock Mountain. The U.S. government had hired him to excavate a chamber under the mountain not deal with metal boxes that couldn’t be scratched and bones growing flesh.
Not just any flesh either. Patches of skin, fur, and organs from a variety of creatures covered the deformed skeleton he had found in the box. He didn’t know how it had happened. He just wished he was constructing an office building in Baltimore and not some top secret chamber in what seemed to be a haunted mountain.
More than one egghead poking and prodding the skeleton proclaimed it a hoax, but none of them could explain how the bones came to be under the mountain or how the flesh had attached itself to the bones.
The eggheads increased the number of guards at the entrance tunnel and left satisfied the foolishness would end. They thought locals had snuck into the tunnel and pulled a practical joke. Idiots! Whatever this box and skeleton might be, they weren’t a hoax. Not that it mattered to him. He just wanted to get back to work.
The next morning Bruce drove a truck through the tunnel to inspect the work site before the day’s work began. He didn’t want to look in the metal box, but he knew he had to confirm the skeleton was undisturbed. If it was some sort of Indian burial, the government would be in enough trouble for opening the box. They wanted to leave the skeleton alone until they knew one way or another what was going on.
Bruce looked in the box and shook his head. Even more fur and flesh covered the skeleton, which now resembled a decaying corpse rather than a skeleton. He leaned closer. The older flesh had changed. He remembered what it had looked like, but now it was gray and leathery and covered with short brown hair.
The site manager–a major from Fort Ritchie–threw a fit when he saw the skeleton. He chewed out the night guards who swore no one had entered the chamber.
* * *
That evening, in addition to the guards at the entrance to the mountain tunnel, Private Jacob Parkinson drew guard duty for the metal box his fellow soldiers called “the coffin.”
Jacob lived at Fort Ritchie on nearby South Mountain. He’d been working at Raven Rock since the excavation began. Like pretty much everyone else at Fort Ritchie, he had no idea what was going on under the mountain. The rumor mill said when the Russians detonated their own A-bomb a few years ago, it had spooked the top brass in the U.S. government. President Truman had ordered the construction of what would be a giant bomb shelter, but who was it for? It was out in the middle of nowhere.
In his five months on site, Jacob had never even been inside the mountain before tonight. He paced around the box, which is what the soldiers who had seen it called the coffin. The first thing he had done after coming on duty was to look inside at the deformed skeleton covered with pieces of other animals. How could he resist?
Sergeant Collins had told him to watch over the skeleton and make sure nothing happened to it, as if grave robbers looked for graves hundreds of feet underground. And who would want a patchwork skeleton like he was looking at?
Jacob circled the perimeter at the edge of the light the klieg lights cast. He picked up rocks and threw them at boulders protruding from the rubble pile. He sang to himself. This wasn’t like walking along the fence line outside of the mountain. This cavern was too quiet, and there were no stars. Just light and darkness. Outside, he could listen to the night noises when he walked. He heard nothing in this space. Nothing lived here.
It was after his dinner break that Jacob started hearing noises. Maybe it was because he was feeling full after eating the roast beef sandwich and pretzels he had packed. He wasn’t singing or throwing things. He was as quiet as the cavern, except the cavern wasn’t quiet.
He could hear small rocks being dislodged and the scrape of claws along the rocks. He unslung his rifle from his back and let it hang loose in his hands. He kept his back to the coffin and tried to hear from where the sounds were coming. Easier said than done. Everything echoed in the cavern.
Jacob faced in the direction of the cavern opening, which was the most likely direction anything would approach from.
A copperhead crawled across the cavern floor in his direction. Where had it come from? Copperheads needed warmth to control their body temperature. Why would it crawl half a mile underground? How long had it been crawling?
The snake moved his direction. Was it seeking the warmth of his body heat? Jacob stepped to the side, shouldered his rifle and drew his pistol. He didn’t want to shoot it, but he also didn’t want it crawling around where he might not see it before it bit him.
The snake didn’t change direction. Instead, it continued in a straight line to the coffin and crawled inside.
Jacob moved up next to the box and shined his light inside. He couldn’t see the snake. Where had it gone? Where could it have gone? Jacob hadn’t seen it crawl out. He moved his flashlight to look around the outside of the coffin, but then he shifted his light back. Something was different. He stared at the skeleton and then realized what had changed. It now had a four-inch-wide strip of snake skin around its neck. What’s more, that skin seemed to float in place as if resting on something Jacob couldn’t see.
He unslung his rifle and pressed the end of the barrel into the space between the neck bone and the snake skin. The barrel passed through air.
As Jacob stepped back, a golden retriever jumped into the coffin. Jacob yelped and stumbled backward. He hadn’t seen a dog in the tunnel. How had it gotten past the guards at the entrance?
“Get out of there, boy!” Jacob said, making a shooing motion.
The dog sat on the skeleton and whimpered. Then its skin slid off its body and onto the skeleton. The whimpers grew louder. The dog shimmered with blue light.
Jacob felt his roast beef roiling in his stomach as he looked at the skinless dog. Then pieces of the dog’s flesh slipped onto the skeleton. Before Jacob could retch, the dog disappeared.
Confusion replaced nausea. Where was the dog? What had happened to it? He shined his flashlight in the coffin, but he saw nothing of the dog except that the skeleton’s right leg was now covered in golden fur.
Jacob turned away. He grabbed for the walkie-talkie on his belt, but his hand froze before he could touch it. He turned toward the coffin and stepped into it.
No! He wanted to scream and thrash, but he couldn’t. All he could do was whimper…like the dog.
No! No! No!
He looked down at the skeleton and saw it was glowing blue so brightly that Jacob couldn’t see the bones beneath of the shape of the creature formed from the light.
His skin ripped and slipped from his body. He felt no pain. Jacob wasn’t sure what surprised him more. That or seeing his skin spread across the skeleton.
He felt tugging on his thighs and chest and saw organs and muscle fall onto the skeleton.
Jacob wanted to scream, but all he could manage was a whimper.
And then he was gone.