OBEY THE DARKNESS - AN INTRODUCTION TO FEAR
I was born on the sunny isle of Trinidad in the West Indies way back in the days when we were still a British colony and lacked independence. We would get total freedom roughly a month and a half later, but now I’m curious about something: If I became a world famous author, would I be eligible for a knighthood since, technically, I was born during the time when I would have been eligible? I’m just curious; you just never know, with the way governments change and/or adopt policies as frequently as Cher changes outfits. But I digress. This isn’t a book about international political relations. This is a book about horror; specifically, the kind that’ll keep you up at night wondering if Robin meant for you to be as sleepless a rut as he can be at times.
Trinidad & Tobago, like most countries, have their own myths and legends. As children, we were regaled with tales of devil women who led wayward men to their deaths (La Diablesse), blood thirsty, shape changing old women who shed their skins to reveal the fireball beneath (Soucouyant), and jumbies, forest-dwelling mischief makers with no faces. No doubt, similar folklore like these exist around the globe, which only goes to show one thing - mankind has a sardonic wit when it comes to keeping their children in line.
Obey the Darkness: Horror Stories was written within the context that myths, legends and folk tales were created, not to worship some evil, crop-destroying god, but to entertain people on their journey through life. In that sense, I’ve tried to add levity whenever the need for it arose. This book is one of the most delicious undertakings I’ve ever done because of the wide-ranging themes within each tale. Mindful that we’re living in a vastly shrinking world where information is always at our fingertips, I’ve brought together quite a few disparate elements into these pages, from American, Mayan and Trinidadian folklore to European fairy tales and South American myths.
There are fifteen stories in Obey the Darkness, and they range from sci-fi horror to supernatural horror. When I first started submitting some of the stories to individual speculative fiction magazines online, they went out of their way to make one salient point - the less gore, the better. I thought that was a strange request given that, by its nature, gore is a part of horror. Can you imagine a version of Stephen King’s Carrie, for instance, where the gore was kept to PG levels? Instead of a bucket of blood raining down on her in the high school auditorium, it’d be a basket of confetti. Instead of the telekinetic knives hurtling into her mother, they’d be crash landing into the walls around her instead. Similarly, a bloodless Cujo or a Misery where the writer merely gets tickled and his foot remains un-amputated would fall flat on their faces at the box office. In any case, I did give some thought to what the magazine publishers were saying, so I did go ahead and cut the violence down to the point where some stories could actually be PG, or at least PG-13. After all, this is horror. It’s designed to scare people. A little blood now and then shouldn’t be too bad, right?
“The Candlestick Kid,” more than any other story in this collection, had the most circuitous route of arriving here. Written nearly 20 years ago when I’d spent two months in NY’s Creedmoor Psych Hospital for a suicide attempt, I abandoned it when life came calling in the form of gainful employment. This fairy tale followed me from state to state as I traveled around the country, eventually landing a home at Enchanted Conversation where it was published after a rewrite in Seattle. I’m now an affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association because “Candlestick” had won an award at Enchanted Conversation which made me eligible to join HWA. Pretty cool, I’d say.
“Raven’s Hair” is also a fairy tale along the lines of what the Brothers Grimm would have collected. It involves armies, kings, pretty maidens, faithful steeds and an unjustly-imprisoned hero. Its main stories of deceit and revenge are familiar tropes in the horrorverse. Nothing like a good back stabbing to make one’s blood boil, eh?
“Crystal Mine” is one of my favorite stories, and the last written one, of the bunch. It allowed me to introduce characters and elements not found very often in modern literature - Mexican Kobe beef herders in Arkansas, subterranean quartz mines in America, and the Camazotz, the mythological Mayan beast responsible, legend says, for the dissemination of the Mayan peoples. Also, because it is technically an ensemble piece, it allowed me to have lead characters not typically seen in horror, like gay and black folks. I’d only written this story because I’d collected about 200 pages worth of fiction for Obey the Darkness and I thought I should fatten up the pot by adding one more story. Little did I know it would turn out to be one of my darlings.
“The Soucouyant,” in a sense, also had a circuitous route getting here. Introduced to this myth as a child in Trinidad, it would follow me where ever I went, sometimes showing up in little anecdotes or short stories I’ve penned over the years. It wasn’t until recently that I devoted an entire novella to it. (There are three novellas in Obey the Darkness: Horror Stories. The other two are “Crystal Mine” and “Obey the Darkness”). “The Soucouyant” actually began life in earnest as a treatment for a screenplay called From A Blessing to a Curse. When I first started writing this story, it was called just that because I thought “The Soucouyant” would’ve just been too odd of a name for a lot of people to grasp. I went ahead with its current name because, well, it’s high time that Trinidad & Tobago saw its legends represented on the world stage. Everyone knows about vampires, fairies, elves and werewolves, but how many have ever heard of soucouyants? In fact, there are two myths in this tale, the other being the obeah woman, an elderly persona trained in the dark arts. One day I’d like to convert all three novellas into screenplays. Maybe I’d start with this one.
“Obey the Darkness” is the third novella in Obey the Darkness. This one centers on madness, another familiar trope in horror. In a sense, that would make this story a psychological horror and probably rated PG-13. The bits of violence and profanity through it, however, could bump it up to an R. Still, I could even see those elements being toned down for a PG-13 release. Like the other stories in this book, darkness is a character, and definitely not one to be taken lightly. I’d like to speak a little more about what happens in this tale, but why ruin your element of surprise, dear reader? That wouldn’t be so nice of me now, would it?
“Lamp Black” was designed as a straight-down-the-middle fairy tale ala Hans Christian Andersen or Charles Perrault. The main difference here, however, is the hero is a jet black maiden, not white like her contemporaries Rose Red, Snow White, Rapunzel, etc. Another important difference is that her skin color does matter and she is forced to consult a witch-in-exile when she, herself, gets banned from the only village she knew and grew up in. A tale of revenge, “Lamp Black” can get pretty harrowing towards the end. Still, I’ve read stories from the Brothers Grimm that can raise the hairs on the back of the neck from any unsuspecting reader. Very grim, indeed.
“The Black Cumin Cure,” above all the stories in this collection, was the most difficult one to write. An apocalyptic, sci-fi/horror tale, it was originally written for a sci-fi magazine. They passed on it but were nice enough to tell me what needed to be fixed. Months and months passed where I tweaked this story over and over and presented it to others for their comments and, hopefully, approval. Being the obedient child that I am, I listened to everything they said and applied whatever I could in recreating it. I am now so confident that this novelette, one of two in Obey the Darkness, was so well-written that it should be the story which opened up the book. I hope I’m right. It begs the question: How does one make a choice between children if such a choice had to be made like Sophie did? Very difficult. Science fiction is not the easiest thing to write; the research alone can put any author’s tail between their legs and make them find some other use of their time. The visual in my head for this story came from the wastelands of the award-winning video game Fallout 3, one of my favorite games of all time. Hopefully, I did it some justice regardless of the fact the setting was Northern Bangladesh and not Washington, D.C.
“The Vented Chamber” is the other sci-fi horror story in this collection. Darkness is definitely another character in this one as it’s used ominously as a weapon. This tale speaks about a future where the robots, tired of mankind’s rule, have taken over, and the few people that do exist are subjugated to the wills and caprices of the robot elite. Not a very appetizing future to look forward to, to be sure, but it can be a cautionary tale to respect the earth and treat her like gold because, well, she’s all we’ve got at the moment.
“Red Sand” introduces yet another legend from Trinidad & Tobago, the La Diablesse. Literally “the Devil Woman,” La Diablesse is beautiful and captivating to the eyes, but it’s just a disguise she uses to lure men to their deaths in the forests, beaches or other naturally-occurring areas. Typically, she wears a white, wide-brimmed hat. This makes it difficult to see her eyes. No one knows what’s beneath her long, flowing white dress, but people are sure of one thing - one of her feet is a cloven hoof which she sometimes find very difficult to conceal when she’s stressed. She shows up in “Red Sand,” floating over a sandy beach like a will ‘o the wisp. If you see one in your travels, take my small advice: back away slowly, turn around, and haul ass. You don’t know what she has in mind.
“The Haunted Piano” was one of the first stories I’d gotten published. It first showed up years ago at Dark Media Online. Now that I just realized the magazine was called Dark Media, it makes me ask myself a question - am I doomed to darkness? I think it’s bad enough that my vision was so poor that it prevented me from playing with kids when I was growing up, but I wonder if the darkness actually now a part of me. Pretty foreboding, eh? It’s interesting that I don’t consider myself a “dark” person at all; if I was, I’d be spending all my days rotting in a prison somewhere, not enjoying the greenery of all these Seattle parks. One of the reasons I like “The Haunted Piano” is because of the purposefully international bent I’ve given to this book. The main character here is Vietnamese. In “The Black Cumin Cure” you’ll be introduced to folks from Bangladesh, India, United Korea (yes, it happened!), Russia, Kenya and America. Everyone gets their blood shed in my books!
“Ol Tubby” is yet another fairy tale of mine. (Notice the trend here?) This one is about an overweight overseer who, bored with life in his kingdom, enlists the aid of his serving girl to help give him a new lease on life. Thinking that if he got scared it would cure his ills, she sets off with him on adventures throughout foreign lands to recapture the essence of his brave youth. This PG-13 fairy tale introduces the reader to monsters they’ve read about, as well as new creatures waiting in the wings to add their name to folklore, myths and legends.
“The Troll in the Basement” is, perhaps, the lone PG offering in this collection. As a matter of fact, it’s so benign that I’ve submitted it to various teen magazines for their consideration. Even if they all pass, that’s okay. It still would have found some life here in Obey. The title pretty much tells what the story is about. A young male troll, lost in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, someone finds his way into the home, and the heart, of a fifth grader named Candy. Nicknamed Creepy Candy, she lives with her mother in a mysterious-looking house. With overgrown shrubs and vines all around their home, it looks like a witch’s cottage from fairy tales of yore. Lonely by nature, Candy discovers the troll, befriends him, and embraces him even more when he comes to her aid against the elementary school bullies. Sigh. I wish I had my own personal troll friend when I was growing up. Some kids have all the luck.
“Dark Lenses” is an apt admission to this book. Set in a psych hospital (where else?), it tells the story of a little girl with behavioral problems so severe that she had to be admitted to an insane asylum for observation. What the grown-ups don’t know, however, is she is possessed and has very little control on some of the things she says and does, especially those of a violent nature. This was also one of the first stories that was published online. I’ve updated and expanded it for inclusion in this book.
“Post-Concert Blues” is a horror story with supernatural elements. Relatively short in length, it concerns one man’s last night on Earth and the deal he must make if he wants to go to Heaven since Hell has already come knocking at his door. Like the rest of the stories in this collection, darkness is a character. What lurks in it? Only the Shadow knows.
“The Claw-Hands People” was inspired by a dream. As a sufferer of PTSD, my dreams tend to be vivid, extremely lifelike, and in full Technicolor, no less. Sometimes they can be so bizarre they stir me awake. Combine that with bipolar disorder and you have someone who sleep defies as much as possible. Sleep deprivation is a horrible affliction, one I wouldn’t wish on anyone because its effects can be catastrophic as it can sometimes lead to hallucinations. I once had a dream where the people of an indigenous South American tribe had claw-like hands. These “Elephant people” burned their fingers down to a stubble in a vat of acid at a ceremony and simply lived the rest of their lives that away. This image stayed with me for years, but when I started writing this story, I just couldn’t find the tribe’s usefulness for having fingerless hands. I wrote it so that the menfolk, free from having to fight enemies for centuries, adapted their hands to best suit their community. To make the story realistic, I used actual places, flora, and fauna in the Amazon basin. Only the names were changed to protect the innocent.
If I ever get around to scripting Obey II, it won’t happen for at least a year as this book was both physically and mentally draining. My next ventures will be in writing screenplays. I’d written five a couple of years ago, but I’d like to re-visit them and give them a new life. If not, I’ll probably just concentrate on turning the three novellas in this book into scripts. My hero in all of these endeavors is Stephen King. As of this writing, there’s been 59 movies based on his writing. 59! Can you imagine? If I even have one out, I would consider that a success. So far, the one script I have up for grabs on the internet is the horror tidbit called Tears of a Clown. I hope it will get optioned some time in 2018. I’m getting older so there’s no way I can catch up to what Stephen King has created. A little slice of that pie would be nice, though. Stephen, are you listening?
THE BLACK CUMIN CURE
Rohan, like many Bangladeshis who also went by just one name, woke up that Wednesday morning in October, 2081 in his tiny farm house feeling as refreshed as if he’d been asleep on a cloud for weeks. The 23-year-old sheepherder did appreciate his brothers’ attempt in coaxing him to move to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, where opportunities flourished, but he knew better. Noise and pollution wasn't his thing; serenity may as well had been his middle name. “The fastest path to insanity,” he once claimed, “was getting a suite down there.”
Life on his near-pristine, almost primitive, ½ acre farm in Domar, Northern Bangladesh, he insisted, was all he needed. Industrialization, exhaust, car horns, hundreds of mind-numbing faces to wade through on the busy streets every day, sky-high neck-straining structures, the infrequent but ominous blinding lights from military drones, overzealous smartphone users seemingly talking to themselves, crowded buses and trains, was simply information overload. Just one step out of his front door, with his fifteen-head herd of sheep in his foreground and the mountains in the back, he felt like a made-man in a promised land.
Slipping into the hip waders hanging just outside his front door, he walked over to the ramshackle barn next to his house, brought out a bucketful of grain, and ambled beneath the cloudless sky over to the meadow where the sheep were safely grazing.
“Hey, fellas,” he said to them as they assembled around him. “I have a riddle for you.”
Rohan paused as if half-expecting to hear from one of the herd, “Tell it to us.”
“Well, since you asked,” he continued, “riddle me this: in a white one-story house, there was a white man, a white dog, a white cat, a white computer, a white TV, a white carpet, a white refrigerator, a white sink, a white bathtub, a white wall and ceilings, and a white door. What color were the stairs?”
Just then, the sheep started backing away from the young farmer. Seconds later, they simply turned and ran off as quickly as possible.
“The hell?” Rohan asked, thoroughly perplexed by the shift. “There were no stairs,” he shouted at them, “because it was a one-story house, remember?”
His flock, paying absolutely no attention to him, kept on trotting like the devil himself was at their heels.
“Hey!” he yelled again. “What’s got you guys so spooked?”
Noting they’ll eventually get cornered by his territory’s fence, he simply groaned and turned towards the house.
The sheepherder gasped and instinctively threw up his arms to protect himself from the wolf-like creature that leaped towards him. Knocking him flat on his back, it turned to strike again. Rohan, already familiar with the wolves that lived in the hills which sometimes descended into the lowlands, rolled over on his knees, whipped out his jambiya, a short curved dagger kept in a sheath beneath his smock, and aimed it at the gnashing animal. As it lunged, he struck it below its chin, the curved blade exiting through its tongue. Howling in pain, it turned and raced off towards the mountains, the blade still lodged in its lower jaw.
“Dammit,” Rohan groaned, studying the lacerations on his forearms the creature had delivered from its initial pounce.
“That was my favorite jambiya!” he yelled after the fleeing monster.
Getting up, he gazed at his wounds again.
What kind of an animal was that? he asked himself. His brows furrowed, he wondered if it was a wolf. This thing, he noted, had a shorter snout, jet-black hair with blond streaks, large eyes, hind legs that were much larger than the foremost ones, and most importantly, no tail. Ambling towards his house, he began feeling light-headed. The farm became a swirl in his eyes. Staggering backwards, and barely able to stand on his feet, he fell to his knees and immediately vomited the paratha bread and mixed vegetable sabzi he’d eaten for breakfast. Seconds later, he passed our right there just fifteen feet from his house.
41-year-old Hazari, a farmer passing on the road nearby, quickly parked his fruit-laden 4x4 and ran over towards the stricken young man.
“Rohan!” he called him. “Rohan! Are you okay?”
“Ugh,” the young sheepherder said, stirring. “I was attacked.”
“Not by whom. By what. It looked like a wolf.”
“Damn things,” Hazari cursed. “That’s why you need a pistol.”
“They’ve never attacked people before.”
“So, they’re getting bolder.”
“Hazari,” Rohan uttered, staring into his eyes, “this was no wolf.”
“What do you mean? Like, a fox?”
“No. It was…like a man.”
“I think you’re delusional.”
“No, Hazari. I’ve seen wolves before. This thing had a face like man’s except it was squished out like a wolf’s. Plus, the hind legs were much bigger and it had no tail.”
“Maybe it got into a fight with another wolf and had it bitten off.”
“Could be. Still…”
Before the sheepherder could finish his sentence, he dry-heaved and passed out.
Hazari, removing some of the fruit from the cart in the back of his 4x4, placed Rohan on a tarp there and drove him to his house just up the road where his wife, 35-year-old Nazia, a nurse’s aide at the local clinic, could watch him. Within minutes, he was feverish and incoherent. Whenever he woke, he was delusional, and the rest of the time he seemed to be in a coma-like state. The farmer phoned the local doctor, but she had already been called away to a nearby village to help a victim of a drowning accident. The closest multi-use hospital, Baliadanji General some 60 miles away, couldn’t send an ambulance for him because a recent influx of refugees from West Bengal in India flooded their already fragile system.
After a few days, the young man awoke, began to scream incoherently and claw at his skin with his fingers. The farmer tied down the young man’s hands to prevent him from harming himself. Within hours, his body entered a state of metamorphosis, like a caterpillar getting ready to greet the world as a sawfly. After the metamorphosis was complete, the creature that exited the cocoon was no longer the young shepherd. It attacked the farmer, who fought it off, locked it in one of his chicken coops, and narrowly escaped with his wife and kids. Leaving his farm behind, he knew he had to tell people of what he had seen, to warn them.
The townsfolk thought the shepherd was joking or insane, until they too started losing their livestock one by one. Within days, the infestation—as it was then called—spread to neighboring villages, the ravenous creatures killing and eating livestock as well as wild animals like turtles, tigers, dholes, langurs, snakes, fish and low-flying birds. Eventually, they started attacking people as well. Within months, entire districts needed to be evacuated. Those who could drive did so hurriedly. Those who couldn’t were bussed out or flown to cities in neighboring India. Some went as far as Bhutan or Myanmar, crossing treacherous, alligator-infested rivers to get to safety. The international community started calling them Changelings because of their uncanny resemblance to the person they’d derived from. However, because they were so dangerous, none were ever caught or kept in captivity for long.
Eventually, entire districts of Northern Bangladesh started losing huge swaths of people and animal life. Many foot soldiers sent to eradicate the threat were massacred by the beasts. Some even morphed into them. The government, feeling their hands were tied, became more aggressive and started dropping petrol bombs in the most infested areas. The neighboring countries pitched in as they sought to prevent such a catastrophe in their own fragile states. Millions of Bangladeshis, including those from the central and southern areas, fled for their lives as their homeland was laid to waste. Neither the fowl of the land and air nor the fish in the rivers and lakes were spared.
The government, in a desperate attempt to contain the epidemic, launched a war against the vicious creatures. They were easy to kill, a shot to the chest or head doing the trick, but their numbers seemed endless. Some soldiers swore that the same “wolf” they’d killed a week before came around to be killed again. Then, after three months of military bombardment, and with most of the country in ruins, the brief war stopped. Heat radars indicated the infestation was finally eradicated, but because the last bomb dropped in central Bangladesh by the overzealous powers that be was thermonuclear, they had to wait at least a year before sending anyone in to assess the damage.
In 2084, an international contingent of scientific, medical and engineering personnel was sent to the city of Nilphamari, Bangladesh after the end of the War Against the Changelings. Coordinated by the UN Council for the Restoration of Northern Bangladesh, the goal of the 200-member team of doctors, students and engineers from universities around the world was to prepare the northern frontier to return to its former glory as a thriving metropolis where stately terracotta mosques and red brick administrative buildings stood side by side with Bengali bungalows and Hindu temples. This included testing and purifying the soil and water supply, landscape planning, planting crops, clearing out some of the rubble, setting up recycling and composting units, and helping with the general agronomic development of the war-torn wastelands. Because the team had no gas-powered vehicles with them, the actual heavy lifting for building the infrastructure would commence at a later date once the groundwork had been completed.
The Nilphamari contingent, led by medical geneticist Dr. Oleg Faustus from the University of Cambridge, lived and worked in a 1.4 acre compound nicknamed “M.A.S.H. Village” because of the plethora of green military tents there. Impressively assembled, the team included doctors and students of agricultural engineering and sustainable agricultural sciences from the Industrial University of Ho Chi Minh City. The specialists in landscape horticulture and plant physiology were from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. The professor and students from the Water Science Institute at the University of Nairobi were in charge of water purification, water systems, and delivery. The Dutch University of Groningen in the Netherlands sent personnel who worked in geology. Roads, building planning and communications was the domain of engineers from Lomonsov Moscow State University. Boston University sent botanists, chemists and biologists. Culinary and commissary staff, and various experts who specialized in sustainable living, were gifts courtesy of the Seoul-Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, one of the leading colleges from United Korea. While the professional staff was paid handsomely, all students received a stipend and had their tuition paid by the UN Council upon successful completion of their assignment.
In all, there were seven large canvas-encased tents for the various disciplines, one security and sanitation tent, a supply depot where the solar-powered generators and electric bikes were maintained, a mess tent/commissary, twelve sleeping barracks, a compost and recycling area, and a shower stall next to the latrines. For the most part, the crew didn’t mind M.A.S.H. Village because a variety of food was available, the medical tent was well-stocked with emergency supplies, and for fun, the students played soccer and volleyball using the hollow plastic float balls the water crew utilized for covering open tanks that were prone to evaporation. Some students and faculty members liked to jog through the ruins of the city while others occupied themselves by singing in drum circles, the percussionists using buckets for hand drums. Since there were no cars and trucks, everyone went around on foot or rode one of the twenty bicycles in the compound. There were six electric scooters, four electric bicycles, and three electric utility vehicles available, but because they took a while to recharge, were primarily used for official business only.
About a week after the erection of the village, the Russian engineers, led by Dr. Yuri Ivchenko, began their setup of the communications tower in the northeast section of the village. Ivchenko, a burly man who, at sixty years, had known his share of misfortunes, came to Nilphamari to, as he put it to his superiors back in Moscow, “redeem himself.” “Over there!” he’d yell to one of his underlings, or, “That’s not how it’s done!” to another. It didn’t take long for the members of his party to begin likening him to Nikita Kruschev, even calling him Little Nikita behind his back.
As the Russian team worked, their soldering and engineering techniques took a backseat to their new thoughts of trying to return home as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, in their haste, their cellular network malfunctioned when Artyom, one of the younger, less-experienced engineers, had accidentally connected their small satellite antennae to the wrong power output port of one of the newer solar-powered generators and fried its innards.
“You fool!” Ivchenko yelled, raising his fist in the air as smoke poured of the unit. “Go get an extinguisher.”
Racing to the supply depot some 150 feet away, Artyom quickly procured one of the few units there. By the time he returned to the fire, the use of his canister would’ve been in vain as the entire twenty foot tower was already engulfed in flames.
“Idiot!” his boss shouted. “Now look what you’ve done. How will we communicate with the outside world if we have no telephone or internet?”
“The medical tent has a two-way radio,” the guilt-ridden engineer answered. “It’s tuned into the UN Council’s satellite office in Haldibari, just thirty-five miles to the north across the border in India.”
“That’s it?” Ivchenko belched. “Just the one solitary connection? This God-forsaken place was a mistake!”
“You weren’t forced.”
“Son, if I were you, I’d keep my lips glued right about now.”
Turning and strutting off, the bushy-eyebrowed, stiff-backed Russian leader completely missed the middle finger the young engineer was giving him.
46-year-old Spencer Wollman was part of the group that set up shop in Nilphamari, some 200 miles north of the nuclear blast zone near Dhaka in the center of the country, to begin the tedious but rewarding job of restoration. A botanist from Boston University, he was tasked, along with his team and members of the Nairobi group, to help get the water supply flowing again by injecting the local rivers with bacteria-cleansing tablets and clearing the river beds of nuclear wastes. He also helped with planting fruit trees native to the area like mango, jackfruit and coconut, and vegetables like cassava, kohlrabi, cabbage, cauliflower, brinjal, peppers, tomatoes, peas, cumin, coriander, soy, corn and flax. Other members of the Nilphamari contingent helped clean up the pockmarked roads and salvage whatever they could find, some of the crew keeping bottle caps from Shezan soda and Bangla Brew as souvenirs. Security personnel, sent in to protect the rebuilding team from possible foreign looters, also helped with the cleanup. And then it happened again.
One of Spencer’s Boston University colleagues had been the first to discover the remains. On his usual morning walk, a glint of light from the nearby field being set up as a possible gardening site caught his eye. As he got closer, he saw that it was a flash of sunlight reflecting off a ½-gallon Mason jar partly filled with soil. Beside it were the blood-stained boots and white boiler suit used by the Dutch geology team.
All scientific progress in Nilphamari came to a standstill at this grotesque discovery. The identity of the geologist, Dr. Frederik de Groot, was quickly determined. Did he have an enemy amongst them that could’ve perpetrated such a crime? As far as everyone knew, he was well-liked and bore no ill will against anyone. No one initially suspected Changelings—the idea was too ludicrous. Nothing could have survived the nuclear bomb.
During the investigation, several unusual partial footprints discovered in the area by the security personnel suggested the killer or killers may have stood on tiptoe, but from their experience working in forensic-related fields, they concluded that the evidence presented was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that anyone in the contingent was suspect. Team leader Dr. Faustus, deeply steeped in the killing methods of Changelings, suggested that one of those beasts may have survived the war and was to blame.
“If you’ll notice,” he explained, pointing to a video presentation hastily set up on his laptop during a question and answer session in his medical tent, “the Changelings are primitive in their kills. Unlike trained hunters like wolves or big cats, they don’t aim directly for the jugular. As long as their teeth meets flesh, that’s all that matters, this is why their victims are so maimed, so unevenly decimated. Quite characteristic of their behavior.”
“Dr. Faustus,” security officer Sergei Orlov asked, “if they really didn’t die off from the bombings, did they somehow mutate and get stronger?”
“Good question,” the doctor answered. “I’d considered that myself. I suspect they can be killed in the usual way. Since security is limited, I suggest that, from now on, we work out in the field in groups. These things are vicious.”
“In that case,” Dr. Ritabrata Banerjee from Jawaharlal Nehru University said, “we’d better start planting black cumin at once.”
“Oh, yes, Dr. Banerjee,” Dr. Faustus stated, “I’ve read your papers on the Changelings. You made an important discovery during the war, is that right?”
“Yes,” he nodded, then turned to the group of twenty department heads assembled for the session. “As you all know, the Changelings were opportunists. If something had a heartbeat, it was lunch. Interestingly, only man changed into them if they were wounded, severely or not. All injured animals, mainly the birds that got away, eventually died. Many of them flew across the border to India for safety. All the wounded ones died except for a grey-necked crow. Barely able to walk, it had scratch marks that were consistent with an attack, so it was quarantined for observation.”