TIME SPIKE – snippet 4:
Captain Blacklock took his hat off, ran his fingers through his hair, and then slid the cloth and plastic blue and black cap back on. Three of the four teams sent to walk the prison’s outer perimeter had already used their two-ways to call in a report. Lieutenant Rod Hulbert’s small band was the only one still not accounted for. That had the captain worried. Even if they hadn’t checked everything they wanted to check, Hulbert should have at least checked in.
“Okay,” Andy called. “I want everyone without an assignment inside. Get behind the walls and at your duty station. Joe, you drive into town, see what’s up.” He tossed the lieutenant his radio. “It has a six mile radius. Broadcast continually; use the maintenance channel. If you wind up having to go to the far side of town and know you’re out of range, keep talking anyway. Find out what you can and then get a report to the state boys. Let them know our communications are out. Then get back here.”
“Do I take the state truck or my car?”
“Take the state vehicle.” Andy looked at the stars, then at the red glow to the north of them, and then toward town. “If you’ve punched out, punch back in on your way to the garage. If the clock’s not working, pencil in the time and initial it. I’ll sign your card later, but this way your butt’s covered if something goes wrong.”
The radio, now clipped to Joe’s belt, awoke. The static had disappeared. “D-David-23—10-3000, 10-2000. Repeat. D-David 23—10-3000, 10-2000.”
A guard was down and a prisoner was out of his cell.
Andy caught Lieutenant Joe Schuler by the sleeve, and shook his head. The man had started toward the administration building and the entrance to the prison as soon as the call was completed. “No way, Joe. I’ll take care of this. You get the hell into town! We have to know what’s happening.” The captain then took off at a dead run. There were three double sets of iron gates, two heavy steel doors and three checkpoints between him and the downed guard.
“How bad?” Andy asked, coming through the door of D-house. It had taken him just under six minutes to arrive.
Greg looked up from the desk he was sitting at, then back down. “We found the knife we’ve been looking for all day.”
“Who caught it?”
“Brown. Elaine Brown. She’s one of the new recruits. Black woman. Good-looking as all hell and a sweet kid to boot: just barely twenty-one. They shouldn’t hire women like her. She still had her whole life ahead of her. And she shouldn’t have to deal with the scum we have in here. She was checking for quake damage and got jumped.”
Andy didn’t bother to remind Lowry that even good-looking twenty-one-year olds had to eat. And in this part of southern Illinois that meant a job at the prison, if you were lucky. “Who had the knife?”
Andy looked around. None of the prisoners or guards were to be seen. The extraction team had handled the situation, then left. They were good. Boyd would be in the hole or the infirmary by now, depending on how much resistance he gave. The guards would be back at their regular duty posts. “How bad was she hurt?”
“Brown? Pretty bad. She’s in the infirmary. Got her in the gut. Melissa Glasser found her. Luckily they both had enough sense to leave it in place till the nurses got here.”
“They taking her out to the hospital?”
Greg shook his head. “We can’t move her. We can’t raise the hospital, any of the doctors, the police, the National Guard, no one. She stays until we find out what’s happening.”
“You can’t do that, Greg. She could die. We’re not equipped for anything major. At this time of the night, all we have are nurses, not doctors. You have to load her up in a state car and just hope the hospital is experiencing nothing more than communication problems.” Andy turned toward the door.
“Andy, it’s not that simple.” Greg stood up. “Lieutenant Hulbert took six men to do a sweep of the west side of the prison. When they finished, he didn’t call in a report, didn’t want a panic. But… I don’t know… I seem to think no matter what we do, we’ll have a panic. There are just some things you can’t keep a secret, at least not for long.”
Andy ground his teeth. “What’s going on now?”
“It seems the river is missing.”
“Yeah. The mighty Missisip is gone. Right along with the coal docks.” Greg made a strange sound, a cross between a sob and choking. “The dock, the railroad tracks, and about eight million bucks worth of conveyer equipment is gone too.”
“What are you talking about?” Andy’s headache jumped from pure misery to a light-flashing, stomach churning migraine. “Did we get bombed?” He couldn’t think straight. Nothing was making any sense.
“A bomb wouldn’t dry up the river and leave us untouched.” Greg’s voice was gruff. Raspy.
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“And it wouldn’t leave two hundred year old trees standing where water used to be. And there wouldn’t be waist high grass growing in rich, black top-soil where an asphalt road was thirty minutes ago.”
Andy looked around the cellblock’s entry area. It looked solid enough. Not like a dream. The second hand on the wall clock was circling the numbers at a steady rate of sixty seconds per minute. The lights were dim, on generator power, but no more so than was expected. His flashlight, gripped in his right hand till his knuckles showed white, was the appropriate weight. This was not a nightmare.
“At the infirmary.” Greg Lowry looked every minute of his sixty-plus years. His eyes seemed glazed, and his hands shook. “I feel like I’m walking around in the Twilight Zone. This isn’t right.”
Andy shook his head. “I prefer romantic comedies and action flicks.”
“I don’t think what you like counts for too much, Andy. At least not right now. We’re just going to have to get a handle on whatever this is, and do it pretty quick, too. See ‘em watching us?” He nodded up, toward the tier upon tier of cells—metal cages stacked five stories high.
Andy turned his head and looked. Here and there prisoners stood at the bars, arms extended through the iron. Andy saw black skin, brown skin and white. He saw tattoos. He saw fists.
“I think we’re in deep shit,” Greg said. “And I think it’s going to get deeper.” Half-heartedly, he waved a hand at the prisoners. “As different as those men are, they all have one thing in common: they’re on the inside of the cages. For now.” He seemed to shrink a little inside his uniform. “I just pray like hell no aliens pop out of the walls.”
Andy didn’t laugh. Greg Lowry was serious. And scared. “I’m going to check on Brown and talk to Rod Hulbert. I want you to get someone down here to relieve you then meet me in the conference room. I’ll join you in about a half hour. Try to get all the department heads there. The afternoon and night shift.”
Greg nodded but didn’t move toward the door. He just stood behind the metal desk, his face slack. “I think that’s probably a good idea. But you better send someone else. I can’t go.”
The man half-collapsed in the padded swivel chair. He fumbled in his shirt pocket and pulled out a small bottle of pills. “Nitro. I’ve been using them for a couple of months now. And this has been… too much.”
Andy took the radio sitting on the desk and fingered the send button.
“Don’t,” Lowry muttered. “It’s not an emergency. At least not right now. I just need to rest a little.” He pulled a kerchief from his pocket and mopped at the perspiration on his forehead. “I just need to rest, and get whatever is happening straight in my head. If I could get things straight, I’d feel better. I know I would.”
Andy didn’t put the two-way back on the desk. Instead, he keyed the send button and radioed for Hulbert to send a relief guard to D-block. He also told him to send a cart for Greg. “You’re going, Lowry. I’m not giving you a choice in the matter. A dead man is a useless man, and right now I need you to stay alive. When this is over, if you want to commit suicide by pushing too hard, that’s your business. But that’s not happening tonight.”
Greg Lowry nodded and nodded. He couldn’t stop the slow, up and down movement of his head. He knew Andy was right. He had already taken more of the nitro than he was supposed to take. And he was still in pain. He needed to see someone medical, and he needed to do it soon. “Andy, I’m not arguing. I just don’t know what to do. I don’t know what’s going on.”
“No one does, Greg.” Blacklock kept one hand on Lowry’s shoulder and both eyes on the clock hanging on the wall opposite the desk. He watched the second hand crawl around its face. “Just hang in there, friend, and take it easy. There is going to be a logical explanation for all of this; you’ll see. Something weird—damn weird—but logical.”
Greg closed his eyes and tried to relax. The pain was back. His heart felt like it was caught in a vice and was being squeezed tighter and tighter. His left arm was numb, and his fingers tingled. His neck hurt, and his jaw ached. He tried to breathe slowly and easily, but his chest felt like someone had set a hundred pound weight dead center on it. He tried to get his mind off the pain. He thought of his dog, alone in his two-bedroom trailer. By this time he knew the food and water bowls would be empty. And he thought of his grandson. He had promised to help the boy with his science project this weekend. They were going to build a two-way radio just like the one Greg had built with his own grandfather a half century before. And he thought of his wife, dead now for almost three years. He had bought a bunch of carnations from the gas station three blocks from the prison. They were for her grave. Pink carnations, because pink had been her favorite color. He was going to stop by the cemetery on his way home from work. He hadn’t been out to see her in over a week, and that made him miss her even more than usual. He thought about the half-dozen pink flowers wrapped in green paper, the two spring topped Eveready, 6-volt, classic lantern batteries he had bought for Richard’s project, the phone bill that needed paying and the utility bill on the nightstand next to his bed; and of Barky sitting on the back of the couch looking out the window, waiting for him to come home.
Pain bloomed in his chest like a dark flower, and then he stopped thinking at all.