I’ve got the place to myself again. For a little while. Jake’s on a joyride back to his home. Collecting a few last valuables and necessities and then he’ll be back up here for good. I’m cool with it. So far we’ve been getting along pretty well, even in the recent crisis situation with my old buddies showing up. He trusts me. That’s what’s important. And I like him. That’s important too. We haven’t had any super weird moments yet. No lengthy silences. And I’m sure once we get to know each other better, I’ll just start feeling normal around him. Hopefully we’ll have some stuff in common. Hopefully he’s not a secret neo-Nazi or KKK member. That would be . . . Beyond fucked up. I’d have to end him.
Maybe he likes to read like I do? Hopefully he’ll bring back a book or two. There’s nothing to read in this place except for lots and lots and lots of numbers. I bet when he gets back he’ll have a bunch of questions to ask me, once he’s got some distance from me and Ostium.
Oh, and I’m not bothering with the date and the “oh-six-hundred-hours” bullshit anymore. In Ostium time really doesn’t matter. Plus Jake had mentioned something about the last time he went home the time was off or he was missing time or some shit. It wasn’t really clear. But I guess if something is happening out there versus in here, he’ll have to say something about it when he gets back.
Speaking of which, I’ve got a plan for what I’m going to do with my free time here while he’s gone.
First off, Jake is never going to hear this voice recording. I’ll get it up online somewhere, like he has all of his recordings. I’ll do all of that for my recordings. It just makes sense. Backup. Covering our asses in a way. What far, who the fuck really knows. I just feel . . . Calmer doing it.
But he’s never going to hear this recording. Because my plan is dangerous.
Whoever’s listening to this, if you’ve heard all the stuff before, you’ve probably noticed that neither of us brought anything back from Mars. Yeah, we both just plain forgot. I shoulda. I shoulda known better. Anyway, I don’t think we can keep going on unless we keep turning the numbers on the map table gold. Maybe the next door’ll open for us, but that’ll be it. It’s just how Ostium works.
So I need to go back through door 4.
And I’m doing it without Jake.
I’m going to do it right now.
~ ~ ~
Okay. I’m outside door number 4. I have no idea what to expect. Will it even fucking open for me?
Only one way to find out.
I turn the handle and push. The door moves. A little. But it’s like there’s something stuck on the other side.
Yes, I do remember the blackness and the moans and the fucking creepy skull from the last time I was here. Don’t worry.
But the door is moving. So I push hard. I give a little. Push harder still. It moves in more each time I try. Then it just lets go and swings wide open. I almost fall through it, but stop myself.
The darkness is there, but it’s different. Thicker. Like it’s sorta alive. It’s moving. Tendrils. Fingers reaching out. A whiteness and that motherfucking skull face shows itself again, moaning like a banshee.
I don’t need to be told I’m not welcome.
I grab the handle and wrench it back closed.
Now it’s like there’s a weight holding it open. Some force pulling on the other side.
Fuckin let go, banshee!
I yank as hard as I can, feeling my feet beginning to slip in the dirt.
Then the door moves and slams shut.
Just fell on my ass and let out a chuckle.
Well that didn’t go so well.
He’s back and he’s moving in! The amount of stuff he’s dragging in is kinda freaky. He even asked me to give him a hand, carrying his stuff. He’s real excited. I can hear it in his voice. Like one of those guys on House Hunters and he just go the perfect place. But I gotta admit. I kinda like it here. Nah. Scratch that. I really like it here. I never ever saw my life ending up at a place like this. A place that could take you anywhere. I’m also happy to have Jake back. Surprisingly happy. Guess I don’t mind having the guy around.
He starts setting his shit up. He attaches the little pump to his brand spanking new inflatable mattress. The machine sound is kinda weird in here. In Ostium. Like it doesn’t belong. While he’s “moving in” – arranging his suitcases and duffel bags (I guess he forgot to bring a dresser); and adding his toiletries to the bathroom, he starts asking questions. This time, I don’t hold back and give him the answers.
He brings up the weird lock that was on the gate when he first arrived. I wonder what the hell he’s talking about.
Huh. I flip through the files in my head on Jake and find the one on his first time seeing Ostium. Oh yeah, the weird hexagonal lock. The one I’d never seen before. I tell him, as he should recall, I saw it too when I first came to Ostium. And when I came back the second time, like he did, it was gone. It’s just as much a mystery to me. Apparently Ostium only lets certain people in. We passed whatever weird-ass test there was and were allowed in.
He asks about my military friends. They got in easy enough.
I say I don’t know again. It’s something that gets said a lot when talking about Ostium. They probably broke the lock. Maybe Ostium let them in.
Why? he asks.
I say because it knew what I was going to do. What I had planned. Ostium knew they would be more likely to go away and not come back if things went my way, instead of keeping them locked out. They would’ve tried a lot harder to get in. Now, not so much.
I ask him if he’s got any more on that missing time stuff. What day is it supposed to be now?
His says Sunday. I say okay. Then he tells me the date, and I say what the fuck?
He explains what he knows. Time moves differently in Ostium. I gotta say, I’m not surprised. But that’s just the way it’s gonna be now. Since I got no ties to the “real” world anymore, I’m not that bothered about it. Jake kinda says the same thing, though I can tell he’s not fully convinced yet. In time I’m sure he’ll come around.
I ask if he’s tried using our Ostium mind thingy on the outside. He said he did. Right outside Ostium it starts to get kinda fuzzy, little hazy. The further away he goes, the worse it gets until it just shuts off. No longer working. Huh is my response. Again, not surprised.
Then he gets this serious look in his eyes. They sharpen on me. Like he’s just looking through me. Something big is coming.
He says he thinks I haven’t told him everything I know about Ostium. That there’s more. And then he just stares. He’s angry. Kinda angry. It’s also kinda cute.
I think. Then decide.
Yes, I say. There is some more. I told him in my recordings what I experienced. How Ostium was found. What the military did about it. What I was ordered to do. How it was all handled. How I got away. How I got here. I’ve never really told him what I think about Ostium.
This is something I’m still working on. Answers are hard to come by when it comes to this place. So you have to come up with ideas. Theories. I’ve done research. On my own time. When I was with . . . them. And on my own now. I look back at him with that same hard look.
I tell him I don’t think Ostium’s one of a kind.
What? He practically yells at me.
I repeat and rephrase. I say I don’t think there’s just one Ostium. Ostium is unique, but it’s also a type of place. There are other places like it. Over time. Over history. Throughout the world. Some’ve been documented. Others talked and thought about. And some stay shrouded in mystery.
Okay, he says. Like what? Gimme some examples.
Atlantis, I say. Not saying anything else about it. The one word covers it all really.
He gives me a nod. He understands. He wants more.
Avalon. A mysterious place out of King Arthur. Stonehenge. The Bermuda Triangle. The Devil’s Sea or Dragon’s Triangle. The Bermuda Triangle equivalent near Japan. Each of these places has history. Multiple instances of people disappearing. Accidents happening. Problem spots. Places you kinda want to stay away from.
His eyes are wide now.
I also found obscure references to towns like Ostium. I know nothing about them. Just their names. And how they’re impossible to find. People who found them may have disappeared. It’s all just conjecture. Hearsay. But it’s there.
Night Vale is one.
Tanis is another.
Limetown is the last one.
It appears these three are likely located within the United States. But there’s nothing to prove that.
Jake has nothing to say. His look has softened. He also looks kinda shocked. Well, I had to tell him at some point. Better sooner than later I guess.
I continue. What this tells me is there’re more places like Ostium. Not the same. Just like. These other towns could have doors to other places, or they could be something completely different. I just don’t know. No one appears to. There may be more around the world.
So what does this mean? I ask him.
He closes his mouth finally. But he’s got nothing to offer. I didn’t really expect him to say anything.
This is the part I’m still working on, I say. Cogitating I say, smirking at him. That’s one of your words right? What I know for sure is this place is important. Really important. And at the moment we’re the only two people Ostium seems happy with. So we gotta take advantage of it. Use whatever leverage we can get. We do that by going through doors. Lots of doors. Learning more. Experiencing more. Trying to figure it out. We bring back pieces of those times and fill in the map. We try to find out what Ostium is trying to tell us. What Ostium wants.
Goddamn, that’s brilliant he says.
Thanks, I say.
So you know what’s next? I ask.
What? He says. We go through door number five?
Nope, I say. Not that door.
He stares at me. Frowning. Then it clears. The eyes are as big a billiard balls again.
We need to go through door four because we didn’t bring anything back.
Damn fucking right, I say.
So how do we do that? He asks. We already went through and came back. Isn’t the door locked now?
I look at him. Thinking. Weighing options. He needs to know. Even though I really didn’t wanna tell him.
I tried earlier, I say.
Stop looking at me so freaked, I yell at him. Deal with it.
I tried earlier. While you were gone. I tried the door. It opened. But there was blackness and that skull face on the other side.
Shiiiit, he says, drawing the word out like taffy.
I got the door closed before anything could come out.
So what are we going to do? He asks
He still doesn’t get it. It’s going to have to slap him in the face before he does.
I say: you and I go back there. You open the door and we see what happens. We go from there.
It’s the next day, whichever one or date that might be outside the walls of Ostium.
Inside the walls, no one gives a shit.
So what exactly did you do? He asks. We’re standing in front of the door to the outhouse.
I just turned the handle and slowly opened it, like normal, I say.
And you think it’ll be different with me? He says.
I bring up something specific I said when I first went through this door and was waiting for him. How that crunching, crackling blackness wasn’t there on the other side. I wasn’t seeing it or hearing it until he came through. That’s what started it.
Oh yeah, I forgot about that. You’re right, he says.
I say: I think you might have some control over it. Somehow. I dunno. Just give it a try.
He sucks in his chest. Puts on a brave face. I smile at him, so he can relax . Then turns the handle and opens the door as if he doesn’t really care what’s on the other side.
That gusto’s impressive.
It seems like for just one little second I hear that crackling blackness. Then there’s silence. The door is open and all is dark inside like usual. But there’s no sound. No creepy floating skull.
He looks back at me to make sure I’m watching and that I’ll be right behind him and steps through.
I quickly do the same and just like that we’re on Mars again.
It’s like the whole thing has reset. It’s all clean and shiny. A gentle humming. The windows are big and clear like before. Outside I can see the rocket ships. The red and orange sand and hills. The grayish sky. Jake starts walking. He has a direction in mind. I follow.
It definitely feels weird to kinda have our roles switched. Me following him now. But . . . He has some sort of control here. Maybe a power. There’s no blackness out there right now. And I can’t hear anything.
He’s stopped at one the terminals. I come up beside him, looking over his shoulder. The screen is turned on now. It’s different from before. Jake looks at me and mentions this. I nod. He starts to touch the keyboard then stops. Instead he taps the screen with his index finger. The screen changes. Shows a small thumb-sized square. Above it it says FINGERPRINT ID. He raises his thumb, hesitates. Takes a deep breath, then puts his thumb on the screen. There’s a series of beeps. When Jake takes his thumb away and I can see his thumbprint clearly in red.
The screen clears and two words come up: WELCOME JAKE. HOW CAN WE SERVE YOU?
Er . . . Jake says: I’d like to see the footage from when I was last here.
The screen changes immediately to playing a video, showing Jake coming through the doorway. Camera angles switch as he walks along, giving the viewer the best viewpoint to see him. Along the bottom the screen is a line with a little progress square. Intuitively, Jake puts his finger on it and drags it towards the end, but stops it just before.
We watch as I give him a wink, go through and close the door.
Sorry for doing that, I whisper in his ear, that was mean.
Then we see Jake running up to the door, clearly panicked, and then pulling it open. The blackness shows at the edge of the screen, coming for him. It’s moving incredibly fast. It’s hungry. He turns back and looks at it before diving through. From this angle it’s possible to see moving forms in the blackness.
Turn it off he says, then starts running. I chase after him, yelling What the hell?
Can’t you hear it? He says. The blackness is coming back. A lot faster this time.
I hear it now. And he’s right. It’s getting louder, real quick.
I chase after him. Where the hell is he going? He knows as much about this place as I do? He’s looking for something, but what?
We pass through rooms and then he stops at a bed and picks up the datapad.
Oh, that! He knew exactly what he wanted all along. Knew it probably before he went through the door. And why is that, exactly? Because Jake knows more than he’s been telling. Someone’s been a naughty boy. Now it’s my turn to get some answers.
But not right now. When I have fucking time.
The light’s starting to fade. Whatever the hell that blackness is it’s not just blocking out the sunlight, but sucking the energy from this place. The lights are starting to dim.
While I’m woolgathering, Jake is long gone. Good thing I know the way. I’m after him in a flash.
He’s at the door and now he’s through. I’m not far behind.
The blackness is passing through the windows and walls now, like they’re whispery spiderwebs. There are screams along with the loud crackling. It – I t sounds like a raging fire. The screams and wails are horrors I’d like to never hear again. But I’m sure Ostium has a different plan for us.
My guts have turned to jelly. It’s been a while since I was this fucking scared.
I hate it.
Fortunately, I’m at the door now.
As I pass through I hear my name called amongst all the screaming and crackling.
It’s Steve’s voice.
Back in Ostium, Jake is ready. He’s grabbing the door handle as I come through and slamming it shut.
The grassy ground of this familiar town never felt so good.
Ohh, I just need a moment to catch my breath. Jake is watching me, concerned. How sweet. I sit-up and tell him the one word I heard before I came through.
His eyebrows rise up and I wonder if they’re going to slide off his forehead.
Then I tell him who’s voice it was.
He gasps, choking on something. Emotional spit?
I tell him he was right, the blackness got him.
I have nothing more to say now. I get up and head back to the place we call home these days. Jake quietly follows.
We’re rested. Had some nosh. Collected our senses a little.
Jake hasn’t let go of the tablet. He hasn’t done shit with it yet, but he’s keeping it close. Like a good luck charm. I think of that little fat figurine from Roanoke. Yeah, it meant a lot to me. I get it.
He sees me staring at him. He holds it up, showing me the white back. It looks a lot like an iPad mini. So that would make it what, the iPad mini 200? 2000? He flips it over and I see the blank screen. At the very top above the screen, on the material of whatever it’s made of is a little number four.
Huh. I ask him how the hell he knew that that was what he needed?
He says it’s a feeling he has inside him now. A drive. He probably had it in Roanoke, but didn’t know what it was. There was too much going on. He could sort of feel it on the Mary Celeste. A strange pulling. That’s how he knew the dining table was important. And on Mars he recognized it, but then he heard the noise and got distracted.
How comes it wasn’t in any of your audio broadcasts? I ask.
He says he didn’t really know what the feeling was until Mars. He didn’t understand.
Jake, I say. I’m going to take some time with what I have to say to him next. They’re going to pack a wallop. Jake, have you noticed you’ve had a strong connection so far with what’s behind the doors?
He’s silent. Looking at me like I just grew another head. He’s never looked at me like this before. And I can’t say I like it. I prefer when he’s smiling, or questioning, or looking at me in that confused, adorable way.
But now he’s looking at me with a mixture of emotions. Shock, but not exactly scared, more like me telling him something he already knows. And there’s a dose of anger there too. I get it. But he needs to know. He deserves to know.
And if we’re going to keep getting along and start actually liking each other, we need to be honest.
Look, I say, we don’t have to talk about it now. You just go ahead. Think about it. So you wanna go stick that thing on the map table and see what happens?
There’s the cutie look. I actually missed the goddamn thing.
First, he says, I want to see if it works and what it can tell me.
No shit, I say.
He searches around the edge for a button. Finds nothing. So he presses his thumb on the screen. It lights up, showing the familiar small square and FINGERPRINT ID.
Here goes nothing he says and touches it with his thumb.
Two words flash up on the screen for a second and then disappear: WELCOME JAKE.
I’m watching, just as hooked to the screen as he is.
Two icons are showing. There’s nothing else on the screen. I can’t see any buttons, anything that looks like it would make something happen. The two icons are images. Jake presses the first one. A video starts and we see Jake coming through the door and do his walking around on Mars routine we were watching just a little while ago. I almost tell Jake to try and stop it, since this is nothing new to us, but don’t. He watches, not moving. Just in case there’s anything new.
The screen clears and we’re staring at the two icons again.
And last but let’s hope not least, Jake says, and presses the second one.
Another video loads up. It’s Steve leaning against the map table.
I try, but I can’t stop myself from whispering his name.
Jake looks up at me for a split second, then back down at the video.
Looks like he’s using some sort of handheld camera or maybe a phone.
He’s smiling. He looks good. Hale and healthy. Damn, I miss him.
Hi Monica, he says to the camera. To me. I feel tears form in my eyes. If I know you at all, Steve continues, I know somehow you’re watching this video. I’ve been inside this strange town for a few days. It’s pretty wack. Fucking weirdness at every turn. I found a place to camp out. It was like walking into a new house. Clean floors, empty cabinets, a bed ready for sheets. There was hot and cold running water, the damn toilet even flushed. Whoever installed the plumbing here did a kickass job. There’s a number one on the door here. And I’m leaning against a mindfuck of a map that’s carved into the wood. The detail is shit-crazy. I got my bigass order of supplies this morning. I didn’t expect anyone in command to approve it, so I’m gobsmacked. I don’t how long I’m spending here, but I got supplies for a long time. In a little while I’m going to go check out the door with a number two on it. See if it opens for me. After that I’ll come back and do a report for HQ. And if that door opens, it’ll be cool to talk about what’s on the other side. Well, I think that’s it for now. You know, Monica. Since I’ve been here. Off base and away from you. I’ve . . . I’ve kinda missed you. A lot. I didn’t think I would really, but. Shit. I don’t know. When I get back, maybe we can’t talk about it. Okay. See you soon, babe.
The screen goes black, and then clears to show the two icons again.
It’s all blurry.
Nope, that’s just me crying.
I turn away, trying to keep it together. I wipe my eyes, but somehow touching my face with my hands triggers something. I start sobbing and cover my face. My shoulders shake and I do the whole song and dance routine, sobbing all over I’ve been keeping a lot together, a lot inside. This video just cracked it open. I need some release.
I feel something touching my shoulder. It’s kinda heavy, really warm. It’s Jake. His hand.
I need this too.
I turn and lean into him. His arms coming around me and holding me tight are the best things I’ve felt in a while. I can smell him, his scent and deodorant. So clean and welcoming. I’m sure there’s something oedipal, reminding me of my dad. But it’s really helping.
Less than a minute later I’ve got myself together. I pull away and his arms immediately let go.
I take a few steps back, wipe my face and start to feel a whole lot better. I look up at Jake with thankfullness and see his eyes are teary too. The waterworks almost start again. I’m just fucking brimming with feels. This guy wasn’t just copping one, not that I’d ever think Jake would be capable of that. But he’s a guy after all. Nope, the damn son of a bitch gives a damn.
Okay, we got this together now.
Jake offers to make me some tea. I mention something about him being a life-saver.
When he comes back with two steaming mugs I’m standing by the map table. In my had is the datapad.
I trade Jake the datapad for my tea. I take a sip of the scalding liquid and it helps a lot.
I ask Jake if he’s ready to put the datapad on the four. He watches me for a while. Just before it starts to get awkward, he says: You know you won’t be able to watch the video again.
I take a breath. I know this. It’s what I’ve been thinking about while waiting for Jake to come back.
Yes, I say. If he’s gone . . . Permanently gone, I need a way to put him to rest. This is a way.
He nods, not offering any empty words. There’s nothing that can be said here. I wonder if he wonders if I’m still thinking that Steve isn’t gone. Because I’m not sure. We know nothing about the blackness. Other than Jake has some sort of control over it. And I heard Steve’s voice in it.
Jake picks up the datapad and puts it on the four. A few seconds pass and the light I’ve seen a couple times envelops the tablet and then it’s gone. Underneath is a golden four.
That’s when I feel the exhaustion. Like a cartoon character who just got hit on the head by a grand piano. I tell Jake I’m heading to bed. I’m beyond beat. He just nods again. I’m thankful for that. I walk away, go into the room and close the door. I don’t know what time it is, but sunset can’t be too far away. I curl up in my sleeping bag, feeling the tears coming again, starting to leak from my closed eyelids. I wonder if I’m going to be able to sleep and them I drift off into slumber land.
[End Credit Music]