I first saw the ad in one of those "House Trader" type magazines at the supermarket. I'd been looking for a good subject for the final piece in my main photography class, and the house I saw on the cover caught my eye. The ad read: Wonderful '20's Victorian style fixer-upper on 1000 acres outside Campton, Kansas. Prime farmland, extensive livestock facilities. A real bargain at $50,000 obo.. Inquire at Campton Realty..."
From the (bad) photo on the cover, it would be just right as a subject to crown my portfolio, and it was only a few hours from where I lived in Goodland. I gave the Realtor a call to tell him I was coming. His voice seemed familiar, somehow... But oh, well.
The next day I drove the hundred miles or so to Campton in my very used '90 Geo Storm. The weatherman had predicted thunderstorms, but I don't trust them because they are almost always wrong. The town was tiny, only about two hundred fifty people. The Realtor said he'd meet me at the town's restaurant. I sat down at an empty table, (munching on a banana Power Bar, I survive on those on road trips) thinking that perhaps the guy I spoke to on the phone would recognize me. Sure enough, I was right. "You must be David Smith," said a deep baritone voice. "You called about the house."
"Yes, I..." There was something familiar about him. What I could not put my finger on.
"Before you go out there," he interrupted, "you should know some things about the place. Read these." I could not see his face, it was dark in the restaurant, and he was wearing a trench coat. The man put down a stack of photocopies about an inch high, and then went out the door before I could say a word.
Somewhat dumbfounded by the man's actions, I decided to look over the papers that he'd given me. They told and interesting story. The house was built in the 1920's by unknown persons who'd gotten the land through playing the stock market. A house was built, along with corrals and pens for a large number of livestock. They'd put in some odd heavy equipment, too bulky for any farm equipment of the time; and some trucks with heavy tarps covering them had rumbled through town. It made to front page of the then-larger town's paper.
Throughout the '20s there was much activity at the place. The owners seemed to be in the business of buying and selling livestock. Including horses, cattle, chickens, pigs, etc. Everything seemed normal. But the numbers of livestock changed rapidly, there was often a difference of hundreds from week to week.
When the stock market crashed in '29 the bank attempted to foreclose, but no repo man who went to the house had ever come back again. Because it was the Depression, the government buried the case and told the bank it could do what it wanted. The owners, who had never been seen anyway, just locked the place up. The bank simply put it up for sale, and it's been that way since about '33. Nobody had been out there since then.
So what, I thought. There must be a logical explanation. There was an old map included in the pile the man had given me, so I took it and went out to my car. Just then I noticed several ominous-looking clouds to the south. They were far away, however, so I was not immediately concerned with them. What I was concerned with though was that the afternoon was wearing on and I would lose the light if I did not hurry.
After navigating several very dusty dirt roads between rows of tall wheat, I finally came to what was obviously the land the ad had mentioned. It had been abandoned for so long it looked like natural prairie. After about a mile or so I came to the livestock corrals. The fences were falling down and there were places were I'd had to drive around debris in the road. The fences made some interesting lines, I stopped to take a few pictures. The decrepit farm buildings also made interesting subjects. These will look great!
Bones from small animals that had foolishly eaten the lead-based paint littered the sides of the house. Bare wood was showing in places and it had the dull gray look of old wood. In short, it was even better then the photo had indicated. The only thing left was to find the right angle.
That angle turned out to be facing northwest, about fifty feet away from the house. I set up my tripod, attached my camera to it's convenient quick-remove head, and unfolded a portable stool I use for set-up shots like this. After placing the house perfectly in the viewfinder, I sat down in the chair with the remote shutter release and munched on another Power Bar, a chocolate one this time. The light would be right in about ten minutes. I turned on my Walkman.
It said: "...We interrupt this program to bring you this weather warning. All residents in the Campton area are advised to seek shelter immediately. A tornado has been sighted moving northeast from the center of town at about thirty miles per hour." The announcer's voice became almost panicked. "This came up out of nowhere, folks. Repeat: A tornado has been sighted..." I took off my headphones. This is crazy, those clouds were far to the south, how could... Just then it went dark, very dark. It swept up from behind and covered the house in blackness. When I turned around there was the most compact thunderstorm I'd ever seen, and quite clearly below was a black tornado. Belatedly a siren began to sound in town. From the way it looked it was less than five miles away, and at thirty miles per hour it would be here in less than ten minutes.
Damndamndamn, I thought as I dropped my precious camera in my it's bag and ran towards the house. With the land so flat it offered the only protection from the twister coming towards me. I should never have gone to see that damn movie. There did not look to be any basement doors as I ran around the front porch, nor any on the other side. Then, under some debris, was clearly a single small basement hatch just in the foundation.
As I pulled off the debris and yanked the handle, I felt a curious feeling of detachment, I would have stopped to think about the feeling when the handle came off in my hand, along with some of the wood from the door, but there was a little matter of avoiding a tornado. Great, I thought. I carefully opened what was left of the door as the wind began to pick-up and a few large hailstones started falling. They seemed to be the source of all those broken windows, I observed as I heard glass shattering. I took out a small flashlight as I started descending the stairs into darkness.
What greeted me was a mass of cobwebs so thick they fouled my flashlight before I'd gone four steps, but my urgency to find shelter increased as the wind did (I could hear what sounded like shingles coming free, and hail was pelting my back). At the bottom beyond all the cobwebs was a large space with a smooth concrete floor. At the northern end was what looked like a large piece of machinery. I briefly looked underneath the tarp, and shone my flashlight. What the hell is this? I thought. But that feeling of detachment had grown until I felt that what was happening was not happening to me. That I should just let anything that was going to happen, happen. It turned out to be a kind of escalator. It went down into the floor where even greater blackness greeted me. Unfortunately just then the tornado obviously had arrived. There was a loud groan of creaking wood, and the house started collapsing around me, so I dove headfirst into the blackness, banging my head against something hard and metal. Just before I lost consciousness I felt as if I was moving.
I woke up hours later at the bottom of the escalator with a huge headache. Checking my watch confirmed it: four hours! And nobody had come looking.
There was a buzzing in my head, and it seemed to say, So what, it does not matter.
It seemed like they were my own thoughts, so I did not question the "words". My camera bag was still secure around my shoulder. However the camera was not there. But for some reason I overlooked that. I perceived that it was not completely dark around me. The escalator opened into a long hallway, with several doors along the sides.
There were places were lights had burned out, leaving a patchwork of light and dark areas. One of the dark parts was right at the top of the escalator. Looking up, it seemed that it was longer than it looked. I must have fallen fifty feet down that thing! I was amazed I had not snapped my neck. Well, better find a way out of here, wherever "here" is, I thought. The first thing I did was go up the escalator. No help there. There was a huge steel door blocking my way. I started banging on the door, "Help! Help!"
The buzzing swelled, That won't help. Aren't you hungry? A strange lassitude then came over me. There is nothing to be gained by trying to leave.
I'm hungry, I have to get some food.
For the first time I looked down the hall I'd fallen into. It was very long, maybe as long as a football field is wide. On the left side was a bank of what looked like vending machines; I had not noticed them before. Don't those look good? Just like power bars. I was feeling hungry, though I did not know why; and I'd run out of Power Bars. The machines had strange names, most of the signs had burned out so many were not distinguishable. I walked over to one that looked like it was something like DYNO BARS (half of the sign was burned out) and looked inside. The sign said FREE. Pull that one so I pulled a random toggle and a bar in a silvery package fell out of a slot. Strangely enough it felt like a modern candy wrapper. It was called RAPTOR RIPPLE, and I could clearly see the flavor was chocolate, so I dug in. Good boy. After eating the whole thing I stuffed the wrapper in my pocket and decided to explore the rest of the place. The buzz seemed satisfied.
Just beyond them was another sign that said COSTUME SHOP. Walk over there. Intrigued, I walked up to another one of those steel doors. I pushed a button in the middle, and after much hissing and banging it opened. Hermetically sealed? The lights were bright beyond. There were displays of animals. They were organized into sections (there were directional signs with arrows), birds, mammals, reptiles, birds, DINOSAURS, etc. If these were costumes, then they were the best and most realistic I'd ever seen. I idly wondered how to put one on.
I got about twenty feet inside when my stomach started to hurt. It seemed to spread out from there and to every corner of my body. What was in that thing! I pulled out the wrapper with shaking hands and legs that seemed about to collapse. Scraping the dust off the back label, it said: RAPTOR RIPPLE, a trial package for the dinosaur enthusiast. Complete transformation guaranteed! Ingredients: Nanites type, A, MC, QS, SR, PW, M/EC; chocolate flavoring, Velociraptor DNA (85% accuracy due to extensive fragmentation). Change Method: torso outward. Change time: varies. Change Duration: also varies; 1 month max. SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: DOMINANT PREDATORY INSTINCTS. © 2115 Lungen and Gutierrez & Co. Lastly there was the Jurassic Park logo.
I'm not reading what I think I'm reading. Transformation? 2115? Impossible! Just in case I decided to go back to the bathrooms I saw around the corner to try to make myself throw it up. My ears started to itch. And as I entered the Men's room, my left ear came off in my hand. I tried to put it back on, but there was no blood. In fact it looked like it had come off because it was dead tissue. Choking back panic, I could feel that what was left was merely a hole. My other ear and my hair decided to follow suit. I don't believe this, I thought. It must be some kind of hallucination. The pain in my stomach intensified, and I doubled over on the floor just in front of the bathroom mirror. I felt my pants ripping, and in the mirror I saw a long tail grow out of my butt. My thighs flattened and a space widened between them. I could see grayish scales on my stomach, and feel additional ribs growing out from my lower back. My pelvis was jostling around (a very unpleasant sensation, I might add.)
|Picture by Gryf. Used with permission.|
My chest deepened thrusting my arms forward. Things seemed to relax for a moment, long enough to reveal that my body was no longer human. In the mirror I could see (and feel) a long, naked tail. I could distinguish only three fingers on each hand, and four toes on each foot, one much larger than the others. There was a "sound" almost like laughter from the buzzing. I began to think I was hearing things.
Looking at my face in the mirror, my eyes had slit pupils, and my neck was now connected to the back of my head. For some reason I wanted to smile There must have been LSD or something in that bar!. When I tried to stop smiling I found that I could not. The ends of my mouth were pulled back into a reptilian grin. There was a brief moment of discomfort as my jaw joint changed. Feet and hands gained claws; toes, feet, and fingers lengthened. In the mirror I saw the lower part of my face push forward. I could see my forehead flatten as my eyes moved apart. I could now smell the dust in the air. Sharp teeth replaced the old ones. My insides quivered one last time and then it was over. And as anyone would, I lost consciousness. The "noise" in my head seemed to be doubled over in laughter, but it still seemed as if it was a part of me that was cracking up.
When I woke up, panting, I feverishly wished it was only a dream, but a check of body parts told me differently. The tail was still there, extending an incredible distance behind me. As was the lack of about four fingers. I opened my eyes, and I found that one faced the floor and the other the ceiling. I groaned, and it came out a kind of low growl. That scared me. I felt no different in my brain, mentally that is.
Groggily I lifted my head. Since I did not immediately throw it in awkward direction, I assumed that whatever-it-was in that bar had programmed the how to make each movement into my brain so I would not kill myself when I stood up. Acting on that assumption, getting up involved putting my feet underneath my body and then simply pushing up. I was a little apprehensive because so much of me was forward of my legs, but a couple of tests proved my tail exactly balanced my forepart.
Standing up was a very fluid motion. I looked myself over both in the mirror and with my new eyes, eyes that for some reason looked vacant of anything resembling brains. My back was almost parallel to the ground, my neck was very flexible, and I found I could twist it almost 180 degrees. I could still see color, though it was muted slightly. It seemed much brighter, so I must have much better low light vision. Because of this I could tell that I was black with tan highlights along individual scale edges, and a lighter gray on my belly and jaw. Overall I rather liked the effect.
Curiously, panic was the furthest thing from my mind, it was as if my mind was wrapped in a blanket. I'd spent years with my father studying dinosaurs, now I was one. So even if this was only a hallucination I wanted to satisfy my curiosity, and maybe tell him about it later. If we were still on speaking terms, that is...
My "hands" had three fingers, each with a long claw at the end. Only two toes on each foot touched the ground, while the inner one had a huge claw. A thought occurred to me, what happened to my... I looked down, there was nothing there. What?! Am I female or something?. Then I remembered a book I'd read once. Dinosaurs were supposed to have been related to birds. Birds have no external "equipment". Then it must all be internal. I hope.
I decided to try walking. Carefully, I turned toward the door, banging my tail against the mirror. "Aawwrr!!" I screamed. I almost forgot I had that. Well, if I was going to fall and trip when I tried to walk, then that's what would happen. One step, I thought as I made a step. <> , two step, <>. One, two, one, two... <>. What was that clicking sound? I stopped and looked around. Nothing. I took another step, <>. My head darted around, looking for whoever was in the same room. Then I looked at my feet and took another step: <>. It was those long claws clicking against the tile floor. D'oh! I should have known that! I let a sigh of relief. Not much relief, mind you. The package said this could last up to a month. And then there was the food and water problem.
As I continued to explore the hall, I began to doubt that these... feelings I was getting from my body were unreal. They felt too real, and did not conflict with each other. I could not panic for some reason. It began to settle on my mind that I might be stuck this way. Then I thought about the word "nanite". Wasn't that a machine small enough to manipulate atoms? Nanotechnology was supposed to be able to do stuff like change one's body shape. I'd read books and stories that used technology in such a way, add to that that I believe time travel is possible... I came back into the main Hall, finding no way out. I'd gotten thirsty, and at one point had to lap some water out of the toilet. Yuck.
Just then something occurred to me: this whole place seems almost like some kind of private amusement park. The only problem with that was that this kind of technology did not exist in the '20's. It did not even exist today, for that matter. Here came that time travel theory... Another mystery to solve. Later.
Later? Now! Every time I try to investigate the place I get smoothly diverted! I feel like I've been herded here. Now where should I start? The best place to start, I decided, was with that wrapper. I'd dropped it back in the Costume Shop along with my camera-less bag. While walking there I noticed incidentally my head bobbed with each step. More birdlike behavior. Dad would be pleased. He always thought birds and dinos were connected.
I walked through the door of the shop, the "voice" seemed to suddenly regain it's composure. Then it seemed to remember something. Hey, it said, aren't you still hungry? I heard a scraping sound. On the other side of the hall near another metal door was a big, black rat. Hunger suddenly stabbed at my stomach. Then I felt an odd mental sensation, as if I was being pushed aside by something stronger than reason. I realized I was stalking the rat. The last thing I felt was jumping an amazing distance and my jaws closing over something furry, the "voice" that had seemed to be my own was once again laughing, or something like that, then once more, everything went black.