Currently viewing the tag: "Raven Rock Mountain"

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.

7: The Burial

Ancient Indians had killed the creature from the metal box once. The U.S. Army would have to do it this time. But had the Indians killed it centuries ago, or had it just been dormant for centuries? When the work crew digging under Raven Rock Mountain found the metal casket two days ago, nothing but bones had been inside. Now, those bones formed a living monster that had killed four soldiers, and that number might rise exponentially.

Exploding Molotov cocktails had hurt it, but it had recovered from the fire. Now, Maj. Henry Owens had no more bottles to use as bombs. Bullets slowed it down but didn’t stop it. If the creature reached the tunnel entrance and broke containment, there might be no stopping it.

The creature moved forward, swatting at the bullets as if they were annoying gnats. Owens could see the bullets tearing away bits of flesh, but most of the wounds glowed blue and healed themselves.

It would make it to the entrance.

He looked around, wondering if he could bring in more equipment to block the entrance further.

He saw the five-gallon cans of gasoline, but he had no bottles to fill with gasoline. He could use one as a bomb, but it would be too heavy to hurl accurately. The creature would have to come to the can. That wouldn’t happen. It had no reason to, especially if it saw a burning fuse on the can.

Owens ripped off his shirt and pulled his undershirt off. He twisted the shirt into a thick cord and laid it on the ground. He grabbed one of the gas cans and doused the twisted shirt in gasoline.

Owens ran to the nearest Jeep. He unscrewed the gas cap and pushed the shirt into the Jeep’s gas tank. Then he splashed the rest of the gas in the tank over the Jeep.

“Fall back!” he ordered his men.

The soldiers continued shooting as they moved backward. Owens crouched behind the Jeep. Then he stood up, waving his arms over his head.

“Over here! Come here!” Owens called.

The creature roared and headed toward him. Owens wanted to run, but he held his ground and fired his pistol at the creature. When the clip ran out, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his lighter. He flicked the flame to life as the creature drew closer.

He leaned forward and lit his shirt on fire. It flared up and quickly disappeared into the gas tank.

Owens turned and ran. He heard the creature hit the side of the Jeep with a loud thump.

“Come on, come on,” Owens muttered.

He looked over his shoulder. The creature reached down and lifted the side of the Jeep.

Then it exploded.

Owens threw himself face down on the ground. He felt the heat from the explosion. When it receded and he could hear again, he looked back. The burning creature thrashed around in pain, roaring loudly. It walked forward, but it did so slowly and without direction. It staggered and fell against a truck, catching the canvas covering the rear bed on fire. It roared once more and then fell to the ground.

Henry Owens stood up and stared at the bonfire of flesh and bones. It smelled like a giant barbeque. Then he remembered that some of the flesh burning was human, and his stomach turned.

He held his rifle at the ready, half expecting the creature to rise again.

The other soldiers moved closer. Some of them also had their rifles raised. Others just gazed at the burning creature. Owens thought they might be under whatever trance the creature used to catch his prey, but they moved no closer to the fire.

He let the fire burn itself, which took a couple of hours. He wanted to make sure as much of the creature burned as could. He wanted it to be only dust.

When all that remained was a smoking pile of debris, Owens walked around the pile. All the flesh had burned away as far as he could tell. He saw bones and metal from the Jeep. It surprised him to see all the bones intact. He would have thought the explosion would have shattered or at least broken some of them.

“This is not over yet.”

Owens turned and saw Jack Standing Bear standing with the Susquehannock elder, John Tamanend.

“You mean it’s not dead?” Owens asked.

“Perhaps dead as we know it, but can a god be killed?”

“It’s just bones.”

Standing Bear said something Owens didn’t understand to the elder, who replied in the same language.

“When you found it, it was just bones. Have you looked at the bones?” Standing Bear asked.

Owens walked over to the smoldering pile of remains. The bones were intact. It would be hard not to see that. They were white and stood out.

“The bones aren’t burned,” Owens said. “They should be as black as the rest of the debris.”

Standing Bear nodded.

“So, what do we do to stop it?”

Standing Bear shrugged. “I don’t know, but what John Tamanend’s ancestors did thousands of years ago stopped it for many lifetimes.”

Owens had the remains doused in water to cool them. Then the soldiers gathered up the bones and placed them in the casket. Owens thought about separating the bones, but he wasn’t sure if any other material would have been strong enough to hold the creature, or whether separating the bones would stop the creature or just lead to multiple creatures being created should this happen again.

While all this was being done, Owens conferred with his superiors about what had happened and what he thought needed to be next.

Two days later, officials approved an alternative plan for the chamber. Construction began four days later. The debris from excavating that chamber was dumped on top of the casket. Every other day, trucks poured cement over the debris pile.

When the new chamber was finished, the old chamber was nearly full of debris. A tunnel wall was constructed, and more backfill was added to the gaps behind the wall, sealing the casket back inside the mountain.

***

Over time, the casket and its contents were forgotten.

A buck tread its way over brush and limbs that littered the ground. It kept its head held high. It didn’t worry about predators or the fact that it was midday. It just kept moving forward.

It paused over a small hole the size of a gopher hole and lowered its head to sniff at the opening. Its head jerked up as if it sensed something. The brown fur split along the deer’s back. It slipped off the deer and seemingly fell into the hole. Then the deer glowed blue and vanished.

James Rada, Jr.

6: The Angry God

One by one, the soldiers stopped firing their rifles. They ran toward the exit from the excavated chamber beneath Raven Rock Mountain. It led to a half-mile-long tunnel that led to the surface.

When all his men were gone, Maj. Henry Owens took a hand grenade from his belt. He pulled the pin and let the handle fly. Then he lobbed the grenade, so it landed in front of the fence and monstrous creature, and he ran.

He counted as he ran, and right before the explosion, he flattened himself on the ground to avoid any shrapnel. The explosion deafened him, and he felt a pressure wave sweep over him.

He rolled over and looked back. He couldn’t see anything through all of the dust. However, he heard an angry growl and more metal snapping.

Owens pushed himself to his feet and ran for the entrance. He could see his men parking trucks and Jeeps in front of the entrance to create a barrier. Machine guns were set up facing down the tunnel.

The men shouted and pointed. Owens glanced over his shoulder and saw a boulder flying out of the darkness.

He dove to the side as a rock the size of a footlocker hit the ground. It was heavy enough that Owens felt the ground tremble.

Owens made it to the parked vehicles as the creature appeared from the shadows. The soldiers fired at the creature. It stopped moving forward and roared. The bullets could stop its advance, but they weren’t killing the thing.

As Owens made it to the other side of the barricade, a private ran up to him and saluted. “Sir, two men are at the main gate. They insist on speaking with you. One of them said he was a worker here. He says he has information about the box.”

Anyone who knew the metal casket was in the cavern must have been down there.

“I’ll meet them. I want you to call up to Ritchie and get more ammunition sent down here. Also, have them send half a dozen men with grenade launchers,” Owens told the private. Maybe the grenade launchers would be more effective at stopping whatever was trying to get out of the cavern.

The private saluted and ran off. Owens jogged down the road to the front gate, where MPs kept all of the non-military people out. He saw two Indians standing with the MPs.

“Which one of you has information you think I need?” Owens asked.

The younger of the two men raised his hand. “I’m Jack Standing Bear. I was on the crew that unearthed the metal box. I recognized the inscription on the box and went to get this man. He is John Tamanend, an elder of the Susquehannock. They are the people who used to live in this area.”

“If you saw the box, then you know it is not Indian.”

Jack nodded. “The box is not, but the inscription was.”

“What did it say?”

“It was a warning saying the demon inside had been cast from the gods, and that the Old Ones, the people who lived in this land before the Susquehannock, managed to imprison it only at great cost. It should never be opened or the demon would be released.”

Owens could see calling the creature a demon. It fit the bill.

“Well, it’s too late for that,” Owens said.

The older man spoke, and Jack translated. “He says there is a story told among his people of a god who fell to earth in a ball of fire. The god was angry and demanded the Old Ones worship him. Most did, but some did not want to worship an angry god. They didn’t and they vanished, but their numbers increased as more people resisted the angry god.”

“How did they kill it?” Owens asked, looking over his shoulder back toward the entrance to the tunnel.

Jack translated and listed to the Tamanend’s answer. “They didn’t kill the god. You can’t kill a god.”

“Then how did they get it sealed in the box?”

“The warriors who fought the angry god tried many things. Arrows and spears could not kill it, no matter how many times they hit it. Many warriors attacked with knives only to vanish. In desperation, they ambushed the angry god, throwing oil on him and setting him on fire. This worked. Then the warriors took the bones and placed them in the metal box, in which he fell from the sky. They buried him as a god should be. He was placed in a deep chasm, where he could rest peacefully and not be so angry.”

Owens rubbed his chin. The firing started again. He knew it was only holding the creature at bay, but if the Old Ones could defeat it, so could the U.S. Army. He walked to the nearest soldier.

“Go to the camp. I need flamethrowers and cans of gasoline, as much as you can get a hold of quickly. Then get back here.”

The soldier saluted and ran off. Owens turned to a corporal. “I need cans of gasoline and empty bottles. Meet me at the tunnel entrance.”

Owens returned to the tunnel entrance as the firing slacked off. Then a boulder came flying out of the tunnel entrance. Then men scattered. The creature hid in the darkness and roared.

As the corporal and privates brought the cans of gasoline to Owens, he assessed his resources. He had 30 gallons of gasoline and a dozen empty pop bottles. The gasoline might be enough, but he needed more bottles. It would be at least an hour before he could expect the Jeep back.      

He had the bottles filled with gasoline. Men tore strips from their undershirts, soaked them in gasoline, and stuffed the mouths of the bottles. He had six soldiers take a pair of bottles and wait.

When the creature pressed again for the entrance, the soldiers lit their Molotov cocktails, ran forward, and threw them at the creature. Half of the bottles missed. Of the six that did hit the creature, two hit too early. The creature knocked them away before they exploded. The four that hit the creature exploded and lit it on fire.

It roared in pain and thrashed around, rolling on the ground to put out the flames. When it finally lay still, one of the soldiers slowly approached it.

“Get back here, private. We don’t know if it’s dead yet,” Owens ordered.

The man didn’t stop. Owens pointed to another private.

“Go bring him back.”

The private ran out and started tugging on the other soldier’s arm, but he wouldn’t stop walking toward the creature. Then the creature glowed blue.

“Get away!” Owens yelled.

The second private started to turn back. He stopped as his skin split and vanished. Then both of the privates faded away.

On the ground, the creature stirred.

And Owens was out of firebombs.

The creature pushed itself to its hands and knees, lifted its head and roared. It looked barely affected by the fire. It hadn’t been large enough, plus the two soldiers had aided its recovery.

He had to do something. It couldn’t be allowed to escape the tunnel. No telling what damage it could do before they stopped it.

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 5: escape

Every soldier in the secret chamber beneath Raven Rock Mountain heard the roar from inside the metal coffin they had just sealed. It was a low, rumbling sound that rose to an anguished scream. Some soldiers covered their ears because, even deafened by the containment in the coffin, the roar was both loud and grating.

Almost unconsciously, they all stepped away from the coffin.

“What the hell was that?” Maj. Henry Owens asked to no one in particular.

Dr. Howard Buchanan shook his head. He was supposed to be the man who knew all the cultures of this region. He could speak at length about the settlers, Indians, and even proto-Indians who had lived in this area. He knew the flora and fauna. He had even studied the fossil evidence of the life that had once existed here.

“I don’t know,” the doctor said.

Something banged against the inside of the casket. A fist? A foot?

The truth was Howard had never heard of anything like this before. The men building this chamber had found the casket three days ago. At that time, it had contained only a skeleton, which had been unusual enough, seeing as how the casket had been found hundreds of feet underground, and the skeleton appeared deformed. Then the skeleton had started growing flesh and organs.

“I need to do research,” Dr. Buchanan said.

“You researched this area before we started building,” Major Owens said. “How much more can you find out? Don’t you think the world would have heard about something like that?” He stabbed a finger in the direction of the casket. “We need to know what we’re dealing with now!”

“I can’t tell you anything right now.”

Another bang from inside the casket. Whatever it was, it didn’t seem strong enough to lift the lid off. Not surprising, seeing as how it took nearly a dozen men to put it back on the casket.

“Sergeant Konrath!” Owens called. The young sergeant ran over and saluted. “I want additional security in case that… thing gets out.”

Konrath looked at the casket. “All we have is fencing.”

“Surround it with fencing and close off the top. Then surround that with razor wire. It probably won’t stop it if that thing gets out, but it will at least give us time to shoot it to hell.”

The sergeant sent three soldiers in the Jeep to the surface for supplies.

He returned and said, “My men will be back in a few minutes. Do you really think it will be needed, sir?”

As if to answer the question, the lid of the casket scraped a bit, and the soldiers brought their rifles to their shoulders.

The men returned with the chain-link fencing and razor wire. They set it up around the casket, brought the top ends together so that it resembled a see-through teepee when it was finished. They also hammered spikes into the ground to anchor the fencing. However, if the creature managed to lift the lid of the casket, the fencing wouldn’t hold it for long.

Owens left to call his commander and update him on the situation. Dr. Buchanan left with him to return to Washington to try to figure out what this creature was.

When Major Owens returned, he brought two more soldiers with Browning Automatic Rifles. The soldiers set up along one side of the casket and settled down to watch and wait.

The creature continued to growl and scream from time to time. Occasionally, it smashed at the sides, causing the soldiers to jump each time.

Additional men and equipment were placed at the entrance to the tunnel into the mountain. Major Owens wasn’t sure what would happen, but he knew whatever was in that chamber had to be contained. He had ordered a steel cage to be brought in. He would feel a lot safer once that casket was behind bars.

Around quarter after seven, the creature screamed, and the lid rattled. The soldiers tensed. The lid slid to the side until it tipped over the edge.

“It’s opened the casket!” Owens shouted.

The creature rose up from the casket. Owens knew at a glance that Dr. Buchanan wouldn’t find anything about it because no creature like this could have existed on earth without someone writing about it. It looked more like one of the monsters from the movies than a living beast.

It was at least seven feet tall with gray skin and black spots at random locations. Its head would have been too large for its body if it had been a recognizable creature. Spiky growths covered its head. It looked like a pufferfish, except it had a long snout with gills along the sides. When it opened its mouth to roar, Owens thought the teeth resembled the flat, hooked appearance of shark’s teeth.

The roar was deafening without the casket muffling the sound. It echoed off the walls of the chamber, making it sound as if the soldiers were facing an army of creatures, and one was more than enough.             

It grabbed the fence with stubby fingers tipped with long claws. The fencing rattled and moved, but stakes in the ground held… for the moment.

Owens backed away from the fencing.

“Shoot it!” Owens ordered.

Bullets ripped through the air, and the noise grew even worse, if that was possible. It was so loud that everything seemed to vibrate inside the chamber. The creature flinched as the bullets hit it, and pieces of its new flesh ripped away. But it remained standing and screaming.

Owens held up his hand, and the shooting stopped.

The creature grabbed the fence with its clawed hands. It didn’t shake it; it stood staring at the soldiers. Then it closed its eyes, breathed in deeply, and began glowing blue.

“What the…” Owens said.

He waved for the soldiers to step back. He had no idea what was happening, but he doubted he wanted to be close to it. All the soldiers moved back except for Private Bucknell, who stood staring at the creature. Then he took a step towards it.

“Private Bucknell, back away. Now!” Owens shouted.

The young man didn’t. He took a step closer.

The creature opened its eyes and focused on Bucknell.

The soldier’s back arched, and his head tilted back as if he was in pain. His body seemed to ripple beneath his uniform. Either that, or Bucknell was shaking in fear. He turned, and Owens gagged. The soldier’s face was gone. All the skin on his face had vanished, and it was raw flesh staring at him, and it all faded out of sight.

The creature inhaled deeply, and Owens saw the pits and gaps of missing flesh fill in. The blue glow faded.

The creature growled. It grabbed the fence and pulled. A link snapped and then another.

“Fire!” Owens yelled.

The rifle fire opened up again. The creature flinched under the bullets, but it continued pulling at the fence. More links snapped.

If they could put enough lead into the creature, it would have to stop again to rest and regenerate. Then what would happen? Would another soldier die? They had to get it to the point where it couldn’t regenerate.

It had grown from a skeleton, though! How much more could they do to it?

“I want a slow retreat one at a time toward the entrance. We need to shore up the barricade.”

One by one, the men stopped firing and ran toward the entrance to the tunnel, which was more than 100 yards away.

When all his men were gone, Owens took a hand grenade from his belt. He pulled the pin and let the handle fly. Then he lobbed it, so it landed in front of the fence and creature, and he ran.

He counted as he ran, and right before the explosion, he flattened himself on the ground to avoid any shrapnel.

He rolled over and looked back. He couldn’t see anything through all the dust. However, he heard an angry growl and more metal snapping.

Owens pushed himself to his feet and ran for the entrance.

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.”

“What!”

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…

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.

He waited.

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.

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.

1: The Box

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.

1: The Box

Nearly every morning in 1951, the sound of thunder—but no storm—woke anyone who tried to sleep late near Raven Rock Mountain. At first, the phenomena created curiosity until people realized that their newest neighbor—the federal government—was building under the mountain, something top secret.
    No one was quite sure what it was, but the government had taken over four properties in Adams County, Pennsylvania, along the Mason-Dixon Line that amounted to 280 acres, including Raven Rock Mountain. Blasting into the mountain had started in January.
    Occasionally, a few people gathered near the gate on Harbaugh Valley Road to watch the empty dump trucks enter the newly created hole in the side of the mountain and then leave heaping with debris.
    “I tell you they’re mining,” Rob Fairbanks said, as he watched a truck roll through the gate and onto the road.
    “Mining what?” Don Parker asked. “There’s no metals or minerals worth mining in there. Rock, yep, but they could get rock from a quarry. They’re building something in there.”
    So, the debate went with one side saying the government found something to mine, and the other side saying the government was building a secret installation. Occasionally, someone threw out an odd theory. The government was searching for something buried in the mountain. They were building a back way into Shangri-La, the President’s hideaway a few miles away on Catoctin Mountain.
    Whatever was happening, the trucks kept entering empty and leaving full.
    A siren sounded, and a few minutes later, the debaters heard the thunder without rain. The mountain seemed to shake, but it could have just been the ground beneath their feet, trembling. No tell-tale dust cloud rose into the air to tell you where the explosion occurred, and the mountain muffled much of the explosive sounds.
    Bruce Nelson waited along with the rest of his work crew outside of the entrance into the mountain. Powerful fans vented the cavern slowly forming beneath the mountain of dust-sized debris.
    He waited 10 minutes and walked into the cavern with his flashlight to check if the air was clear. It was hard enough keeping the area properly ventilated. He didn’t need his men inhaling dirt floating in the air. He was the foreman on this project, so it was his call whether it was safe to re-enter the cavern.
    No dirt and debris danced in the air reflected by his flashlight beam. He waved his crew in. Backhoes, bulldozers, and dump trucks disappeared into the ground. The backhoes were a new technology that certainly improved the speed of the job. The metal arms could reach into the debris and lift out large boulders that just a few years ago would have needed to be broken up.
    What had been a solid mountain only a few months ago was slowly being hollowed out by the federal government. Each day, the cavern grew larger, as different work crews excavated toward the center of the mountain and hundreds of feet belowground.
    Bruce wasn’t entirely sure why he was being tasked to build this cavern, but the pay was good.
    He watched a backhoe remove a ton of newly created debris and drop it into the back of a dump truck. When the truck was full, Bruce waved at the driver to head out and dump his load. He walked over to look at the pile of rock and dirt to see whether anything still needed to be broken down to smaller rocks. The next truck backed into the spot vacated by the first truck.
    Klieg lights shone on the pile so that the backhoe operators could see what they were doing. The pile of rock was at least 15 feet high inside a cavern that was 40 feet tall and growing.
    Bruce tread carefully. He didn’t want to twist an ankle or start a rock slide. A boulder caught his attention, and he knelt down beside it. It looked like the point of a three-sided pyramid. The edges were sharp and the sides smooth, unlike any other piece of rock in this cavern.
    He grabbed it in his gloved hand and tried to tug it loose. It didn’t give. He brushed away some of the surrounding debris and saw that the sides continued to grow wider. The smoothness also continued. How could a rock shear so cleanly on three sides?
    Bruce leaned closer to the rock. Something about it was odd. He took his canteen from his belt and splashed some water on one side. The dust washed away, and the boulder gleamed. It was metal. Then it dawned on Bruce what he was seeing.
    He stood up. “I need the rock breakers over here!” he called.
    Half a dozen men walked over, carrying shovels and picks. Bruce pointed to the exposed metal.
    “I need you to free this metal box,” Bruce said.
    “How did a metal box get in here?” Harv Worthington asked.
    “What’s in it?” Joe Jeffries added.
    No one asked the question bothering Bruce. What sort of metal could withstand having all that debris fall on it and still appear smooth and unflawed? It had no pitting or scratches.
    Bruce stepped back and let his crew get to work. It took them about an hour to uncover the box. Even uncovered, it was too heavy for 10 men to lift. It was roughly 12 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 2 feet tall. The measurements were the only thing rough about it. It was smooth all over, except for some odd characters on the side of the box.
    He had men bring in buckets of water to rinse off the box. With the dirt gone, Bruce could see a thin seam that ran around all four sides, a few inches from the top, although he couldn’t see hinges or a lock.
    Bruce pointed to the markings on the top. They were a series of straight lines, wavy lines, and dots. If not for the wavy lines, he would have thought it was Morse Code, which he had learned in the Army during the war.
    “Anybody know what these are?” he asked.
    “Hieroglyphics?” Joe suggested.
    “They use pictures,” Bruce said.
    “They aren’t letters,” Patrick O’Hearn said.
    “I know that.”
    Patrick shook his head. “No, I mean letters like the Chinese use.”
    Jack Standing Bear bent over and ran his fingers across the characters. His brow furrowed, and he jumped back.
    “Recognize them?” Bruce asked.
    The Cherokee shook his head. Then he turned and walked away.
    Bruce didn’t believe him, but he couldn’t do anything about it. He turned back to the box. “It looks like it has a lid. Help me pry it off,” he said to no one in particular.
    He took a pick from Harv and used the blade as a lever. He tried to wedge it into the seam, but he couldn’t get it to hold. After the third try, Bruce threw the pick down in frustration.
    “What do you think’s inside?” Harv asked.
    “What else? Treasure,” Peter Montgomery replied.
    “We’re not going to know until we get that lid off,” Bruce told them.
    He walked over to the backhoe operator, talked to him for a minute, and walked back to the waiting crew.
    “Step back,” Bruce said. “I’m going to have the backhoe open it.”
    The backhoe arm first tried breaking through the top of the box, but nothing happened. The arm didn’t even scratch the surface. Then it lifted the edge of the box and dropped it, hoping to jar the lid loose. Again, nothing happened. Finally, the backhoe turned the box on its side and hit the lid repeatedly.
    The seam widened.
    The backhoe tipped the box back. Then it scraped along the side of the box, trying to catch the seam. Bruce had his men wedge their picks and shovels into the seam, trying to widen it.
    With a whoosh, a hard wind blew out from the box, carrying with it a foul smell. The men staggered back under the force of the wind.
    “What was that?” someone shouted.
    Bruce approached the box slowly. The lid had come loose and lay slightly askew. He tried to push it aside, but it was too heavy.
    “Help me with this,” he called.
    The crew of men grabbed the edges of the box, and together they managed to open the box enough so they could see inside.
    Bruce pulled a flashlight from his belt and turned it on so that he could clearly see what was in the box.
    He wished he hadn’t.