following is an excerpt from the journals of Horace Alfonse Montgomery,
a middle-aged exobiologist whose mission is to observe unknown forms of
life in the universe. Horace disappeared on December 18th, 2008. Since
he disappeared, encoded messages have been found in deep space. This is
the first of those messages.
I never intended to come to this world. After my investigation of the
elusive Monterey Penguin was complete, I decided to take a brief
vacation. I boarded my ship and set a course for Earth. A few days
passed quietly, when suddenly my computer alerted me to the presence of
a spacial distortion. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen; a great
cloud, rapidly changing shape and color, vaguely resembling humanoids
and animals. I tried to divert course around the phenomenon, but it was
too late; whatever it was, it had caused the ship's sensors to shut
down. I was flying blind as the cloud pulled me into its massive body.
I blacked out before I could send an emergency beacon.
I woke up to the sound of a great pounding. What was this? I was on
solid ground, and my ship was nowhere in sight. All I had with me was
what was in my backpack; a few packs of rations, some water, and the
recorder/transmitter that I use to chronicle my journeys. This place
was disturbing, unnatural. It hurt to
even look around; a rainbow had vomited all over this land. I pulled
myself out of my funk as best I could, and saw what seemed to be a
giant hammer pounding a nail that must have measured fifty feet in
height. Every strike of the hammer sounded like some perverse mixture
of pain and laughter. Someone sicker than I was enjoying this. I had to
get out of here.
I followed a tunnel that alternated between pitch black and a
depressing shade of neon green. Whenever the green light flashed, I
caught glimpses of terrible things skittering by, searching for their
next meal. Scavengers. As long as I was alive I could tell they would
ignore me, but I knew that if I fell down and gave up they'd be on me
in a second. I couldn't have that. Besides, I'm not kosher.
These slow mutants seemed to be corpulent, jittery, and red. They were
well fed, I have no doubt. Their bodies seemed to have some sort of
ethereal robe, or perhaps a sheet, covering them. It flowed around them
in a quite unnatural way, and they stared with large, dead eyes, eyes
that hadn't seen the light of day in quite some time, living only in
the darkness and occasionally fleeing the phosphorescent flashes.
I reached the end of the tunnel and never looked back.
On the other side of the tunnel I came upon a desert. It loomed
endlessly before me, and I felt glad that I'd eaten well before I'd
come here. I hoped my remaining rations would last.
As I crossed the wastelands, I kept my eyes fixed on what seemed to be
strange plates glistening in the sky. Eventually I drew close enough to
see that they were in fact faces, human faces without bodies and
without souls. They grinned stupidly and endlessly, letting out
occasional chuckles followed by desperate wheezing. These things
sounded as if they were on the brink of death, and they never stopped
I continued through the desert for what seemed to be days. I had no
sense of the passage of time here; there was no sun and no moon, and
the sky's color changed randomly and violently. There were times when
my vision became so distorted that I had no choice but to sit down and
ride out the storm. These were the worst times; part of me feared that
those faces might descend from their suspension, or that the mutants in
the tunnel might come back for a second shot at me.
On the last leg of my journey through the desert, I came across
different sorts of faces. These, like the others, hung suspended in
mid-air, but while the earlier faces showed dumb, guttural joy, these
showed illness, disease, suffering. Fluid oozed from the eyes and
nostrils of some. Others moaned and shivered. Still more dripped sickly
purple sweat onto the desert floor. This sweat would hit the earth and
hiss like acid; these sick faces must have been burning up. Watching
them chilled my soul, and set me steadfastly on my goal of getting out
of this world before it became my purgatory as well.
I reached a small hut on the edge of the desert after wandering for
God only knows how long. By now my body was wasting away, and I was
afraid I looked as bad as those suffering faces in the sky. I called
out, hoping the hut belonged to someone civilized, someone who could
help me survive this hell. I have worked hard to avoid interacting with
the creatures I study on my voyages, but I had no choice this time. If
I didn't get help, I would die on the edge of a shiny desert on a green
and red evening.
Fortune was with me this night. The owner of the hut was a rat, brown
furred and slightly shorter than myself. He was scrawny, but clearly
had been eating better than I had. With him was a small robotic
creature with two chicken-like legs, a large head, and a sharp beak. It
crowed out words in a language unfamiliar to myself, and occasionally
repeated phrases that the rat and myself said in perfect imitation. I
hated the sight of this bird-thing; I felt as if it were mocking me,
laughing at my suffering. I don't know what powered it. Perhaps some
sort of nuclear device? It was far more advanced than anything else I
The rat gave me food, and to my surprise it was good. I suppose
anything would have tasted good after what I'd been through, but this
food was clean and real, and that's all that mattered. I stayed with
the rat a long time, sharing stories and secretly wanting to snap his
mechanical bird in half. We played Rock Paper Scissors to pass the time
between stories and meals.
He was a good host, but he clearly didn't know anything that would help
me get home. He knew nothing about how his robot worked, only that
there were more of them in a dead city east of his hut. At least, he
once knew it as east; the sun hadn't risen for ages by now, and all
sense of direction had grown uncertain. I thanked him for his
hospitality, shot one last hateful look at his robot, and set off in
the direction he believed the city lay. Even if it were full of these
repugnant machines, it seemed like my best option. There may be some
sort of vehicle I could use there.
The city was a long walk from the rat's hut, but nowhere near as long
as my walk across the desert. By now the desert had turned to plain,
and the grass felt good to walk in. Soon trees began to appear, and I
was able to rest comfortably in their shade. Their fruit was oddly
discolored, and I only ate tiny bits at a time. Just enough to keep me
going, but not enough to fall under the spell of anything sinister that
might live within.
I arrived in a city that was as dead as the rat had described. Tall
buildings stood everywhere, in a massive, claustrophobic grid, but I
saw no life. There were no lights in any windows, though I could hear
what sounded like a faint heartbeat from behind a couple of doors. I
didn't investigate them closer. How could I?
I followed the road into what seemed to be an old train station. There
were no trains left, but there were rails that looked as if they hadn't
been used in years. There was something strangely sad about this place.
Deeper inside the station, I finally found something alive, or, at
least, as alive as a robot can be. It was a small, spherical machine
with short, piston legs and a simple face. I couldn't tell if the face
was there by design, or if it was graffiti drawn by another passing
vagrant. I turned this machine over a few times, and found the words
COMRADE BOMB - TGC 2007 AP stamped on it. I had no idea what they could
have meant, but the word "bomb" was enough to make me put it down and
It was when I placed this robot down that it came to life. Its square,
blue eyes lit up and it slowly approached me. I feared it at first, but
as I continued to look in its eyes I felt a sense of calmness. They
were the most pure, untainted color I'd seen since I entered that
tunnel with the mutants so long ago. Unlike the robot that lived with
the rat, this one seemed unable to speak. Still, it followed me as I
continued to explore the station, and there was something reassuring
about that. We were both lost souls, but at least we weren't alone.
We continued to explore the station, but weren't able to find anything
useful.The whole trip felt like a dead end. I'd just about given up
when the sound of clicking began to fill the air, getting louder
and closer by the second. Robots like the one in the rat's hut were
beginning to shuffle out of the darkness, and those faces from the
desert were melting through the station's walls. We were surrounded.
I made a run for the entrance, with the Comrade Bomb close behind. He
seemed uninterested in the monsters surrounding us. My mad dash for
freedom was in vain; every inch of the entrance was filled with those
horrible faces. Soon, the ground began to shake, and nails erupted from
underground, massive nails that pierced the station from floor to
ceiling. I was in a full panic.
One of the bird-like robots leapt at me, biting into my wrist. I
screamed; the pain was excruciating. I shook him off violently while
the Comrade Bomb's blue eyes changed to a harsh red tone. I felt as if
he wanted to protect me. I called out to him, begging for any kind of
help he could offer, as I continued to flee from the hungry robots.
Suddenly, my friend emitted a high pitched, electric whine, and all the
robots around me froze. They turned in his direction, and slowly,
curiously, approached him. The faces in the walls looked on contently,
and I backed further away from the murderous machines. There was a
bright flash, and an explosion.
He was a bomb after all. My comrade had detonated himself, destroying
the central floor of the station, and annihilating the hungry robots in
the process. I was lucky that I was far enough away to be safe from the
explosion. The nails began to recede, and the faces began to fade.
Whatever evil was in this place had decided that it had had enough. I
felt relieved, though at the same time disturbed. The brave robot I had
befriended only moments before was now gone.
Unfortunately, the explosion had caused the entrance to collapse, and
there was no way for me to dig my way out. I sat on one of the few
benches that was still in one piece and was thinking about what to do
next when I heard a faint chuckle from the depths of a tunnel. I had
avoided exploring the tunnels in this station out of fear of stumbling
across more mutants, but this chuckle seemed too human. I had to follow
For a brief second, I saw a human in the
tunnel, or at least something resembling one. He had gray skin, a short
white beard, a long robe, and a gentleman's hat. I caught a glimpse of
him as he turned around and entered a door, behind which shone a
bright, fluorescent glow. He closed the door behind him before I could
call out to him. Still, he couldn't get too far before I reached the
door myself. Could he? When I reached it, I realized that the door was
standing freely in space, connected to no wall and having no frame. Its
knob was hot to the touch. There was writing on the door; it read, "The
Shuffling Madness." I didn't know what it meant, but I felt compelled
to enter. Any place would have to be better than this dead world. I'm
sending this transmission now, before I enter this strange door. In
case I don't survive whatever it is that lies on the other side, I want
my readers to know what it is that I saw here, and any other travelers
to beware of the sinister cloud that brought me to this place. If I
survive, I will continue my chronicle on the other side.