It’s dark. Really dark. Not the sort that your eyes get used to either, but the absolute kind where you can’t even see your hand in front of
your face. I don’t like it. It’s playing tricks with my mind and I’m fighting the rising urge to turn on my flashlight. I’m gripping it so
tightly that my fingers are starting to go numb. Realizing this, I force myself to control my breathing and slow my heart before it jumps out of my
With a slightly shaky hand I wipe at the sweat stinging my eyes, in spite of the cold. Unseasonably cold really, for a June night. Maybe it’s a
sign. I’ve been looking for those all day. The string of red lights while driving this afternoon, the hawk circling over me for fifteen minutes
during my lunch break or even the engine light coming on and then going off on my long drive up here. Any excuse to not be where I am right now. In
the daylight I would be enjoying the scenery on this rather popular hiking trail just outside of town. At one in the morning however, a mile into the
woods might as well be the middle of nowhere.
Picking up the large expandable file in my lap, I hold it to me like a shield against the darkness. Rather ironic since its contents are what got me
into this mess in the first place. Seemingly innocent papers to someone who doesn’t know any better. But I know better. A crackling from the
woods to my right causes me to spin towards it. Gasping in fear, I fumble with my light and drop it while trying to hold onto the file at the same
time. I hear it rolling away slowly and drop to my knees, feeling out in front of me blindly.
Sure that something with fangs is about to latch onto my neck or hands reach out to grab me, my breath comes in ragged gasps as I desperately search
the dry pine needles for what now seems like my lifeline. After an eternity, my hand finally closes over the cold barrel and breaking the
‘rules’, I quickly turn it on. Leaning back as If fending off an attack, I play the light over the woods in front of me, sure that glowing eyes
will be revealed.
When I am convinced nothing menacing is there, I turn it off and chastise myself for being such a wimp. Probably just a deer. Looking at the glowing
numbers of my watch, I figure I have been sitting here like an idiot for about twenty minutes now. I was here early, like I am for everything but
they are still going on five minutes late now. Thinking back over how I came to be here, I shake my head. It had never seemed like a good idea, but
I am really questioning if I was as smart about it as I had thought I was.
As a young nerdy boy in high school, it had always been my dream to work for NASA. Just three years out of graduate school, I achieved that goal. It
was everything I had expected, but after ten years I wanted more. Once again, my dedication and drive paid off and I made it onto a specialized team
with JPL, a subsidiary of NASA. For the past three years I’ve been working to help develop ground breaking satellite technology. With it, all
sorts of things can be measured, studied and explored from space. Only half of what we do is public. I work on the half that is not.
One year ago, after our particular field of study went live, I began to collect data that was…unexpected. So much so, that it immediately went
black. I’m talking from the inside out. It never happened, it never existed, there was no record of it except for only those with special
clearance and that was limited to a very select few. At first it was exciting, but quickly became terrifying. The world needed to know. I was
going to tell them.
An owl hoots from somewhere nearby and I am startled out of my thoughts. My conviction wavers as I wonder again about who I will see emerge from the
woods. I was so careful, only using public computers and never the same IP address. Nothing that could be traced back to me. After months of
fishing for a contact, I finally found who I am hoping is the right one. So much depends on this.
I make the decision to give it five more minutes and then I will leave. As if in answer, I see what I think is a light flash on and off in the
distance. Squinting, I stare in the direction that I think the trail is, wishing that there could have at least been a sliver of a moon tonight.
There. Closer this time; two flashes. Holding up my own flashlight, I turn it on and off three times in response and then wait.
“Stuart. So good of you to come.”
My heart kicks into overdrive and my mouth goes dry. Not out of fear that someone is there, but because I recognize the voice. I don’t
understand. I was so careful. “Yes,” is all I can think to say.
A lantern clicks on, flooding the small sitting area along the trail with light, making me squint. Apparently there is no longer a need for the cloak
and dagger. It was probably just to screw with me anyways. I’m feeling very stupid.
“The files, Stuart.” Matt has come to stand in front of me, dressed as always in his khaki pants and dress shirt. I stare at his leather boat
shoes, wondering at how they can still be so clean. Looking up, I see that he has his hand out and is waiting patiently for me to comply. He has a
neutral expression that is neither threatening nor reassuring.
Unlike my normal response would have been in the office, I instead hold the files closer to me and slowly shake my head. This simple act of defiance
creates a transformation in Matt. His hand dropping to his side, his face contorts into a mask of rage. “Do it!” he barks, looking behind me.
Before I can turn to see who he’s speaking to, I am grabbed roughly, the hands I had feared just moments before becoming a reality. Two men that I
don’t recognize wrench my arms around, causing the papers and flashlight to spill onto the dirt between us. Grunting in pain, I am easily forced to
“Now. What in the world am I supposed to do with you?” His demeanor once again calm, Matt walks closer, stepping over the information that I’m
willing to ruin my career over. Maybe more.
“You are going to let me walk away,” I say with much more confidence than I feel. “Three different people have copies, and if I don’t check
in later they will publish it on the internet. It’s over Matt. It’s time to share this. I know you think the rest of the world isn’t ready,
but I don’t think that is for us to decide!”
“You really think this is about fairness?” He asks with contempt. “It has nothing to do with what is right or wrong.” Stuffing his hands in
his pockets, he rocks carelessly back on his heels as if out for a nice afternoon stroll. “As for Chris, Allison and I believe it was Booker?
Well, tragic thing, the accident. Booker should have never gotten behind the wheel tonight after drinking so much, especially with your friends in
the car. But, he did have a couple of previous DUI convictions.”
Staring at me, Matt seems to be waiting for the implications to sink in. He’s got to be bluffing. I search his face for a sign of this lie, but am
only finding a coldness that is now reaching into my stomach and spreading through my veins. I can’t believe that my friends are dead. Confusion
and disbelief threaten to overwhelm me and I close my eyes against it and Matts sociopathic stare.
“Who else have you talked to Stuart?” Opening my eyes, I wish now for the darkness to wrap around and hide me again. I suddenly think of my cat
and wonder who will take care of him.
edit on 9-7-2013 by westcoast because: (no reason given)