What Happened on B--- Island

Okay, here's another story I wrote during my internet-blackout period. It's a bit of an experiment, and I don't expect it'll please everybody, but it was fun to write. Bonus points if you can guess which classic fiction writer I was reading at the time.

I was friends with Frank ever since he was still flying supplies out to the islands in that old chopper of his, seven years ago. I remember the day he quit, just after coming back from B--- Island for his latest supply drop. He didn’t say much about it, only that he wasn’t planning on flying anywhere any time soon. He was happy enough just to settle down in D--- City and work in that mechanic’s shop downtown. He said he chose the place because it had absolutely no view of the harbour, but would never explain why that mattered.

But it was true that after he came back, he was really strange about the harbour. He wouldn’t come out with any of the guys when we went clubbing on the waterfront, and even mentioning a camping trip along the south shore would cause the colour to fall from his face.

None of us were ever very curious about what happened on B--- Island, and what Frank’s role was in all of it. As far as we were concerned, it was just another of those backwards townships that were scattered across the coastline: small towns and villages where the weekend entertainment was boozing it up and playing the fiddle, where a hard day’s work was spent scrounging the ocean for food. It wasn’t like we were prejudiced, and whenever one of the islanders came up to town, for university, or for work when another fishery closed down, we were always polite. It’s just that they always seemed a step behind.

That never bothered Frank much. He was a first generation city boy, his parents were both islanders who’d moved up here three and a half decades ago. They were nice folks. I’d been invited over for dinner once in a while, and they were always generous and warm. Still, those nights could get a little strange, especially the house parties. Frank’s dad would have a bit too much rum and would break out the fiddle, someone else would provide a guitar, and suddenly the whole room would be singing and dancing. Someone was always refilling my cup, and I can’t always account for how I got home on those nights.

Frank, though, had grown up in the city, just a regular guy, home-life not withstanding. He was a quiet guy, the sort that girls would date because of his looks and then would dump because they couldn’t ever have a conversation with him. I never had a problem with that, and really, he wasn’t much more quiet than the rest of us guys. Every now and then, during our poker games, he’d break out with a story from one of his latest supply drops, coming alive with a comic story about the backward yokels or describing an island girl, a true beauty, in agonizing detail.

He really was quiet after he stopped flying helicopters, though. The only stories he ever told after that were told in the darkest hours of the night, only after he’d worked through most of a bottle of rum, and only when we were alone. And the only thing he’d ever talk about was what happened on B--- Island.

“It weighs on me, Joe,” he would say, before falling into a silent brood. “It weighs on me and it gets heavier every day.”

For the most part, he wasn’t even telling stories. He would just say one or two sentences. “I’m pretty sure they got Estabrooks at the store. He was already going strange...” or “They hide them in their attics and basements when they go too far. I heard them at night.” It got to be so frustrating that I had to do a little research on B--- Island, just so I could figure out what he was talking about.

The island was one of the bigger ones in that area, but “big” is a relative term. The island itself was a hilly diamond-shaped thing about 8 kilometers long and maybe three and a half wide, sheltered a bit from the ocean by an outjut of the coastline. The main population centre is a town along the western side, with a population of about 250, just enough to justify the existence of a grocery store and a couple of restaraunts. There’s another hundred people or so who live scattered around the rest of the island, mostly farmers, fishermen, and the occassional eccentric. In the summer they do a small bit of tourism (Frank used to do a bit of ferrying himself), but most of their economy is in the fisheries. They had a brief burst of “fame”, if you can call it that, when that pop singer and her director husband made that awful movie here, but otherwise there was no detail that made B--- Island stick out for any of the other townships there.

Bit by bit I managed to piece together Frank’s story, though I really don’t think any of it can possibly be true. Even so, it’s worth it to get it down, especially what with how Frank’s been behaving these last few months. I think that Frank certainly suffered a shock out there, and maybe inside this strange and frankly preposterous tale there’s a kernal of truth, something that a shrewd shrink might be able to use.

As I said, part of Frank’s job was to drop off supplies to the islands along the shore. There was only one ferry company down there, and they only serviced the largest islands. A few small airplane and helicopter businesses had sprung up over the last fifty years. Mostly they shipped special items; medical and electrical supplies, eBay orders, that sort of thing. Sometimes they brought over relatives of the islanders, or engineers who maintained the lighthouse on the northern tip of B--- Island, and the utilities and single wireless system that kept the two-thousand or so residents of that cove in touch with the twenty-first century.

Frank was usually called to B--- Island every other month or so. The island was connected to the ferry service, and there were dozens of under-worked fishermen who’d gladly work as charter boats. It was only during the winter, or during emergencies, that air travel was a necessity. When Frank reckons things started going funny around the island, it was after a vicious autumn storm had ripped through the region. It was the first big hurricane of the season to come roaring north along the seaboard, Hurricane Deborah, and hit the south shore at full strength. Five people had died that night, dozens injured. Entire swaths of forest were ripped to shreds and there were stories of patches of ocean where thousands of dead fish were just floating on the surface, so thick that smaller boats might founder inside them if not expertly piloted.

One of the most amazing things about this region is how people come together. City folk or islander, when our own are in trouble, we rally. The weeks during the immediate aftermath saw an outpouring of care and supplies. The air traffic around the area was immense as tens of thousands of dollars of support and aid, emergency supplies, food and water, medical professionals were shipped back and forth. Despite the severity of the storm, it was predicted that things might be more or less normal within ten years.

Frank’s first trip to B--- Island after the storm was to bring two engineers to look at the wireless system on the Island. For three days after the storm, there had been some sort of information black-out, where cell-phones and other wireless devices weren’t working. Service had been restored, but was still inexplicably spotty and erratic. The engineers were going to double- and triple-check the system for any bugs. They were feeling a sort of professional curiosity about the entire problem. It was their second time out to the island, and while they expected to solve it fairly quickly, they were eager to speculate about what the problem might have been.

Frank would fly them out, stay at the island’s only official boarding house in a room overtop a small grocery store overnight, and ferry them back the next evening. In the meantime, he expected to catch up on some paperwork and some reading he’d been putting off. Later, he would take any special orders from the islanders before he left.

He was known okay on B--- Island. He’d been working for the shipping company for about 4 years by then, and like I said, Frank was a quiet guy. Islanders tend to like quiet guys. Plus, I guess Frank had a grandparent who’d been born on the island, and folks like that are apt to take to that sort of thing quicker than they do to regular city folk.

His routine was to wake up early, take a quick stroll around the “downtown”, a block of 6 buildings: the grocery store; a professional building with a bank and medical office that was only fully staffed 3 days of the week; a cafe-bookstore-pub that rented videos on the side; the mechanic’s; the ferry, liscensing, and town office; and an old box-shaped building that held the town’s now-mostly-defunct department store. There was also a church nearby, just a little bit up the hill, next to the town’s small cemetery. Frank would settle in the cafe, a dingy place called “Donny’s” and run by Donny Estabrooks, the town partiarch. There, he would drink coffee and eat all-day breakfasts one after the other while working on filling out flight reports and fuel forms. By afternoon, he would be finished the work and would settle into reading his novels. He was always reading those. King, Koontz, that Rice chick...he loved anything creepy.

That day, maybe four or five days after the storm, when he was walking around the town he said it was like something out of a horror novel. It was a disaster zone. Branches from trees still littered the main roadway. Windows had yet to be repaired, and nearly a quarter of the buildings and homes had some sign of serious damage. He’d described the landscape to me when he’d gotten back, how the forests on the hills looked like they’d been scooped up by an angry God and thrown out to sea in awful handfuls.

At Donny’s, Donny himself came over to confess that it had been a rough night, even in a town used to the dangers of Mother Nature. Remember, it’s called hurricane season. He’d talked about the families who had lost someone and those who were at the mainland hospitals, fearing that they might lose someone, too. He’d been most concerned about the MacArthur family, though. Their farm was over on the south-east side of the island, it had been right in the hurricane’s path. While the family farm was relatively untouched and they’d kept most of their livestock safe, the whole forest nearby had been almost completely wiped out.

What was more, the day after the storm, Toby MacArthur had come into town, talking of strange lights and ghosts that were haunting the forests and had been driven out by the storm. People had chalked it up to shock, and eventually Toby calmed down enough that people felt safe about bringing him home to his wife and family, but he hadn’t been quite the same since. Claire MacArthur had been to town a few times, mainly to pick up a few gallons of water. She said that the well water had been tasting funny since the storm, and while Toby couldn’t taste anything, she said, “I’ve tasted his mother’s cooking, bless her heart, so I wouldn’t trust much of what Toby says on that account.”

Frank asked Donny how Toby seemed to be doing now, and Donny said that while he hadn’t seen the man much, he’d heard he was doing pretty well and had bounced back from the shock fairly quickly. Frank then asked, if that was so, why Donny was so worried, but the cafe owner wouldn’t say, just smiled a small, sad smile and went back to minding the store.

That night, the engineers returned to say that the problem seemed a little more complicated than they’d expected, would Frank mind spending another night? Frank didn’t mind. He stocked up on some supplies at the grocery store and spent the rest of the evening in his room upstairs, reading his books. He’d tried calling his headquarters, but the connection was so poor that he gave up any pretence of conversation, just let them know that he would be delayed.

His sleep was restless, which he later confessed to me was, in those days, unusual. Later, long after his last flight to the island, he’d become a notorious insomniac, but in those days he could sleep like a log. He’d supposed it was just his reaction to the devastation wrought by the storm, for his dreams were filled with desolate, destroyed landscapes and glowing lights of colours undescribable in the light of day. The next morning he’d felt sluggish and tired and hadn’t been able to get himself going until his third cup of coffee.

When he did get going, though, he found himself walking along the waterfront down the south west side of the island, the area most densely populated, with clusters of brightly-coloured houses built up along the hillside. Nothing at all seemed amiss, as islanders helped each other with the rebuilding, clearing away large branches, cutting down trees that were at risk of falling down unexpectedly, repairing boats and fishing nets. Seeing all this activity helped lift Frank’s spirits considerably, and by afternoon, when the engineers returned to fly back to the mainland, he was back to his normal self.

Frank’s next flight to the island was a few months later, the second week of December. He was flying some winter supplies before the snows really hit, and was also taking back one of the engineers from the last time for a more permanent assignment. It seemed that the communications problems hadn’t been fixed at all, and that connection with the mainland could go down for days at a time without warning. The engineer didn’t seem too upset about the reassignment, though, and Frank had commented on how the last few months appeared to be good for the man.

“It’s funny, isn’t it? I feel almost like a teenager again. Just...good and strong. I’m looking forward to getting my hands a little dirty, though. Getting some outside air.” The engineer did look more fit than he had when Frank last saw him, though it was hard to judge through his jumpsuit. The beer belly might have been less prominent, or maybe his shoulders and chest were a little larger. Frank just assumed he’d been getting some extra gym time.

During the day, Frank was asked to do an aerial survey of the island. He would be looking for signs of dead wood that could become a fire hazard in the spring. Any thick patches of fallen trees or dead branches had to be cut up and cleared away if the island’s forests would regrow and the populace be safe from a summer blaze. Before he left, Donny pulled him aside and asked if he could keep an eye out for the MacArthur farm. Not for anything in particular, but no one had heard much from the farm in the last few days, not since Claire had left for her mother’s on a nearby island with their three-year-old son for a few weeks’ vacation. The MacArthur men - Toby, his brother Andrew, and Toby’s eldest son the teenaged Toby Junior - were still at the farm, supposedly clearing the fields for next spring.

Frank did his flyby, marking the thick patches of dead wood, so much more than he would have expected. Now that the rest of the leaves had gone, the forests looked even more ravaged. Huge patches of dead, white wood blighted the landscape with fungal patches of red where pine trees had long since died. Where crews had started working on recovery, it looked like acres of land were nothing but tree stumps and barren scrub brush. Frank always insisted, at least until a few months ago, that he was a city man and wouldn’t change, but even he couldn’t deny the wave of dread and grief at seeing such destruction wreaked in so brief a time.

From a distance, nothing seemed unusual about the MacArthur farm as Frank approached it from the south. True, the landscape here was particularly devastated, but he could see that most of the fields had been cleared, and there were half-a-dozen very healthy-looking cows at pasture. The main farm house and barn, in fact, seemed to be in excellent condition. The buildings almost shone in the afternoon sunshine as Frank approached, the patches to repair damage from the storm looking professionally and expertly done. In fact, even the fields looked greener than the rest of the landscape. It wasn’t unusual for the fields to keep some of their colour before the first snowfall, but when Frank thought about it later, the whole farm had looked more like a farm in late September than in mid-December.

Frank kept an eye out for any human-type movement as he also looked for anything unusual. Along the side of the farmhouse, he saw that there were several rows of chopped and stacked wood, far more than a farm that size could need for a year. It was probably just from clearing away deadwood, but the amount of wood looked almost super-human to Frank. Three men might have taken several weeks of steady chopping just to make that cordage. It would be impossible for them to also handle repairs and the day-to-day management of a working farm.

But when he saw one of the men, working in the field hauling away twisted stumps and gnarled logs on a sledge that was connected to him by a few straps that crisscrossed his bare chest. This man was practically a monster; in perfect condition, far beyond even a life on a farm might account for. His jeans were straining against his legs as he worked, sweat poured down his giant torso, steam rose from his broad, straining shoulders, his huge biceps glistened. He seemed more animal than man in his physical perfection. What was most shocking was that the man’s blonde hair gave him away as TJ, Toby MacArthur’s son, who had to be no more than seventeen or eighteen. The MacArthurs were red-heads all, except for TJ, who took after his mother.

Frank had to pull his gaze away from the young man with a start, before he crashed the helicopter into a nearby hill, and he swung by one more time, just to be sure. It was then that he saw the circle of fallen trees, lined up perfectly like those crop circles in Europe, or those pictures of where that black hole was supposed to have fallen into the Russian north. They had all been knocked over from the same central direction, these neatly ordered, concentric circles of trees. At the centre, Frank swore that the scrub brush there still had green leaves, were still growing through the white and grey dead tree trunks surrounding them.

He shivered, and looked down at TJ again, who this time had paused in his labour to look up at the chopper. Sheilding his eyes from the sun with one meaty arm, he raised his other hand in a friendly wave before returning to his work. For some reason, this made Frank feel even more uneasy, and he changed course straight for the helecopter pad to finish off his paperwork.

In town, he told Donny about what he saw and asked what was going on. At first he’d been sure that Donny would just smile sadly but reveal nothing like he had last time, but this time he took him aside, out of earshot of the two or three other cafe patrons.

“It’s just that Claire left so suddenly,” he told him. “She seemed fine, was still complainin’ that the well water was funny, and maybe the last few times she’d seemed a little tired, like she wasn’t sleeping well. But otherwise she was fine. Spent a lot of time down here, though. Said she was sometimes gettin’ a headache and that maybe she should check with the doc, but never got around to it.”

Frank asked if it had turned out to be serious, but Donny could only shrug. “She came here just a few days ago, smilin’ and all, but with a suitcase in one hand, and little Ben holdin’ onto the other and said she was going to visit her mother on T--- P--- for a few weeks. I guess she was worried, now that her mother was gettin’ on in years, that she should visit. Toby had to stay on the farm o’ course, had too much work cleanin’ up after hurricane season. It all seemed normal, but it happened kind of fast.”

Frank asked if anyone had been up to the MacArthur farm to check on the men. It seemed to him that if Donny were really concerned, he might want to take the trip himself.

“Well, Bruce Chisholm, from the south point, is pretty much the only one to go up there. Most of Claire’s friends are a silly bunch, think there’s somethin’ wrong with the water up there. In fact, I heard that Mrs Gorsebrook was thinkin’ of selling her house and moving to the city. She’s been in town buying water by the gallon, too, come to think on it. But can’t say anyone other than Bruce, really, and I ain’t seen him in a few days too.”

Frank suggested maybe running down to the point for Donny, but Donny wouldn’t let him, saying that he ought to get back to the mainland before dark. It was true that a gale was coming in quickly, and Frank wasn’t sure he wanted to spend a night on the island after all. The gale turned out to be the first winter storm, and Frank didn’t return to the island until the following spring.

That winter, his company was being bought out by another, and so his schedule had really shifted around. He found himself rotating between flying oil rig workers back and forth to surveying inland lakes for ecological damage. He couldn’t say he spent a lot of time thinking about B--- Island, but when he did he found that again and again he was simultaneously frightened and fascinated by the strange images he’d seen there.

When things did settle down and his flight schedule brought him back to Donny’s, nearly five months had past. Donny Estabrooks was a changed man, someone who had spent a long winter and might be expecting an even longer summer. He told Frank that the winter had been a strange one. A strange sort of hysteria had gripped the islanders, and the town gossip had been full of stories about weird lights in the forest and strange goings on at the MacArthur farm. Mrs Gorsebrook had, in fact, sold her farm and moved to the mainland and it was looking like several other families were considering the same. There were more mutterings about “funny” well-water, and on long, dark nights people speculated that there might be a poison seeping from the MacArthur farm into the rest of the community.

Frank was there to deliver mostly medical supplies, like the island’s diabetes medication, and while he was there he asked the island’s only doctor, a semi-retired man of 72, whether he thought there was anything to the water stories.

“It’s ridiculous, of course,” muttered Dr Amos Seward, shaking his head while he checked off items on his inventory list. “Things in the water, lights in the sky...Island superstition. It was like that when I left for university fifty-some years ago, it’s like that still.”

When Frank had unloaded everything and all the supplies were accounted for, Dr Seward put a frail old hand on his shoulder and looked at him earnestly. Frank claimed that he would remember that look for the rest of his life. “Don’t get too worked up about us strange folks here, Frank. We’re silly in the head sometimes, but we can make our own way. In another few days, maybe, I’ll get worried enough to send one of the younger fellas up to the farm, and while I’m at it, I’ll check up on the Chisholm place, too. Like as not, the MacArthur fellas are just worked up about Claire leavin’ so sudden and for so long.”

It surprised Frank to hear that Mrs MacArthur had never returned from her trip, but otherwise there was nothing else unusual for the rest of his time on the island. On the flight back, he even got to ferry young Anna MacMurray, his university sweetheart. She was married now, so the trip to the mainland was completely innocent (though she had blushed at one point, while mentioning her husband’s newfound “vigour,” as she put it. “He’s just so insatiable lately!”), but Frank enjoyed catching up with her comings and goings. He did ask Anna about the water, but she waved her hand dismissively. “Oh, you know those wells. I always thought they were kind of salty from the sea water, anyway. Hasn’t changed.” She wrinkled her nose and smiled.

About a month later, the ferry-boat that served B--- Island twice a day broke down, and suddenly Frank was at the island all the time. He never stayed longer than an hour or so, picking up emergency supplies or “evacuating” locals to the mainland so they could do their week’s shopping in the city, but he did take the time for another look at the MacArthur farm. The government had asked for another survey, now that spring growth was beginning, and Frank happened to have a couple of hours to kill.

The new growth in those early weeks of May, it must have been, made the damage from the storm look even worse. Frank took his notes, hardened his heart against the wasted landscape, and then swung by the farm, wondering if he’d see any of the farm’s denizens this time. He didn’t, but what he did see was enough to make him start to fear that something really was not right on B--- Island.

He approached in such a way that he could pass over the strange circle of trees first. For some reason, he felt drawn to that image, that place. He admitted to me, one night, that he dreamed of that circle as a whirlpool out at sea, that he was in a small boat, all alone, being drawn toward some dark, frightening abyss.

Flying over it now, he could see that the trees had been removed, cleared away, possibly by a giant teenager. But the circle was still there. He tried to explain how he could see it. I’d asked him if the grass was in a pattern, but he’d said no, it wasn’t like that at all. Thinking about it irritated Frank, but he did say it was like a magnetic stone underneath the soil, something he wasn’t seeing so much as was being polarised, influenced.

Then he saw the buildings.

There were eleven of them in a neat row, all identical, all behemoths of minimalist architecture, each the size of three or four barns but in the shape of perfect cubes. Frank could barely fly straight as he stared at them. How much effort, how much time to build those buildings? How was it possible in only a few short months, most of those in the dead of winter? It was preposterous, and it gave him the chills.

He noticed, then, that the entire landscape had been transformed, mauled, pillaged for all its worth. Of the forest, even the trees that should have survived the winter, only stumps remained. A good quarter-acre of shoreline was dug up, revealing cold stone and slate beneath, a cut to the island’s bone. Dirt roads crisscrossed the MacArthur property, and even overrode the boundaries and into the neighbours’ property..

Frank also saw the small fleet of pickup trucks and cars parked haphazardly along the road to town. He recognised Bruce Chisolm’s beat-up Ford, and a few of the other townsfolk’s cars, and guessed there might be as many of a dozen of ‘em accounted for by their vehicles, most of them neighbours of the MacArthurs, but one or two from the town itself. What worried Frank the most, what really stayed with him when he was trying to sleep that night, was that he also saw the wireless engineer’s van there, too, already surrounded by patches of tall weeds, as if it hadn’t been moved since winter.

Like I said, he didn’t see any of the people there, but he said he had this scary image in his head, like they were all holed up inside. Not in the MacArthur’s home, but in those giant block buildings, just working. In his head, they were all like TJ, all muscle and sinew, giant slaves toiling in the dark to some alien purpose. Now, Frank was never the most imaginative guy, you know? But that’s how he described what he felt, almost those exact words, depending on how drunk he was when he was telling me.

He bee-lined back to town and headed right to Donny’s to ask him what was up, but Donny was strangely elusive. He wouldn’t look Frank in the eye, and made himself as busy as possible with the other customers until there was no one left in the place.

“It’s not safe,” he said when Frank finally cornered him, after Donny had wiped the counter clean four times. “It’s moved beyond the farm, now. Who knows how far it’s come.”

Frank had to lean close over the counter to really hear him, Donny was speaking in a near-whisper. “How far what’s come?”

Donny shook his head. He looked tired and frantic all at once. “Leave this town, Frank. I know you won’t fly ‘til daylight, but you leave first thing tomorrow. Don’t leave your room until daybreak, and you ought to be safe until morning.”

Frank tried to get him to explain, but Donny wouldn’t say anymore, only finished up his Cafe closing duties and locked up. Frank admitted later how ridiculous everything sounded, but after what he’d seen, those gigantic cubes along the island hill, monuments to alien industry, he didn’t question Donny’s advice at all.

He went upstairs, locked his door, and closed the curtains. He tried to read, but all he’d brought with him were horror novels, and he’d decided that he wasn’t in the mood at the moment. So instead, he lay in his bed, resolved to remain there until dawn.

The memory of the spiral, the giant cubes, stayed with him, like photograph negatives, burned into his brain. He swore, telling me the story in halting fragments, that he didn’t dream, that he wasn’t asleep, but that he was somehow seeing the images as if they were really there. He could see the huge, shifting, muscled forms, their bodies glistening in faint, alien light in colours that had no names. Their round, corded shoulders flexing as they worked, digging, cutting, building, growing, working. There was an excitement growing around him, a charge, a feeling that the work was good, it was important, satisfying. The thought filled him with inexplicable horror.

And that was all he would say. Frank would tell me this story in its entirety maybe three or four times, since he came back. Never all at once, but in bits and pieces, sometimes getting confused and sometimes backtracking, and never would he tell any more. That was his last trip to the island, when he went all quiet and strange on us. I never dared to ask him what else happened that night.

And then, two weeks ago, we were at the gym. He was acting almost like the old Frank, the one before this whole thing with B--- Island and whatever happened there. He’d been on a real upswing, and I’d just said something about how he was really throwing himself into his workouts, how his arms and shoulders were really starting to grow.

He’d stared at me. I’ve never seen a man look so startled, so horrified. The blood drained from his face, he looked like he was staring at Death itself. He dropped the dumbells he was holding, luckily missing his feet - not that he’d notice - and just stared.

I tried to figure out what I’d said, but when he did start talking again, he was a near wreck. We got out of the gym as quickly as we could and went straight for the nearest bar. Frank was calmed down a bit by then, which was a relief, because you don’t want to see a guy’s guy like Frank cry. It’s too unsettling, like seeing a landslide or an earthquake.

In the bar, I watched him down drink after drink, clearly working up the will to tell me something. I knew even before he began speaking that he was going to tell me about the rest of that night. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear it. Before, it had been easy to just listen to his stories about giant alien cubes and small-town paranoia. You can sometimes listen to a friend say the most fucked up things and just let it slide off your back, you know? But now, he was getting ready to bring me into the story, and if even a little bit of what he would tell me all those nights after liver-rotting amounts of rum was true, well, that makes listening a bit more difficult.

Because the thing about what he was seeing, what he was feeling as he lay there in bed staring at the crumbling ceiling in his room over Donny’s, was that it wasn’t just horror. It was anticipation. It was a need, something that built in him slowly but powerfully, undeniably. As his horror and need grew in equal amounts what Frank noticed most was that those brutes in his vision, the muscled thralls, were all disproportionately endowed. As they worked, their enormous erections thrust proudly before them. Frank knew that when the work was finished for the day, these man-beasts would be satisfied in other ways. Ghost-images paraded through his mind of those huge muscle men having their way with each other, thrusting their giant, rigid cocks into each others’ rock-hard asses, their anatomically wonderous bodies flexing and gleaming in a strange alien dark-light. Their mouths opened in ecstacy as their bodies shuddered with orgasm.

What horrified him the most was that his own cock was rock hard.

He didn’t remember how long he lay there, hours or minutes, he didn’t know. But eventually he came out of his reverie. Frank wouldn’t say he woke up; he insisted he hadn’t been dreaming. It was still night time, and the house was deeply silent. From outside, though, he heard a faint but distinct sound.

It had been going on for some time, faint but slowly growing louder as he dreamed of alien things. A low, scraping sound, it came from the street below. It was like a large grindstone being run for a moment, then stopped, a slow, rhythmic beat.

Frank rose from his bed, his vision forgotten for the moment, and he went to the window. It must have been late, he guessed, because the moon was already on the other side of the sky. It was bright, and with its silver light he could clearly see the street below.

Another sound, identical, had joined the first, and another, until the night was filled with the slow, grinding slide of metal on rock. Below him, on the street, he saw about a dozen people, if “people” was the right word. All of them men, all of them bare-chested and large, with melon-sized delts, broad, glistening backs, huge, straining arms. They were gathered in groups of three, all of them harnessed to three or four makeshift sledges, pulling piles of rock and metal and junk up the street. Even though it was miles away, he knew they were heading towards the MacArthur farm.

He watched them, unable to turn away, as they slowly pulled the sleds up hill. Though their bodies were slick with moisture, they didn’t seem to be exerting themselves, though each sledge must have weighed more than an average car. Indeed, on the last one he saw that most of the pile came from cannibalized automobiles: engine blocks, scrap metal. Each man was so focused in his efforts, none of them turned away or took a moment to rest, and even though they moved slowly, there was an inevitability to their motions. He did not doubt for a moment that they would reach their destination.

With growing horror, he realised that they were all moving in unison, as if guided by some outside intelligence. Every flex of muscle, every move of gigantic limb seemed coordinated with inhuman precision. They would all bunch their leg muscles, give a giant heave, take a step, pulling their burdens behind them, flexing and straining heroically, horrifically.

Suddenly, when they had made their way about three quarters of the way up the street, there was a break in the spell. They all stopped, letting the ropes and harnesses fall to the ground. He watched them stand there, their massive backs heaving as they breathed. They all faced the same direction, towards the farm. Then, one man - the smallest of the muscle-creatures - turned around and looked directly at Frank’s window above the cafe.

Frank pulled back in horror and fear, trying to convince himself that he hadn’t been seen, that it was too dark in his room for any human eyes to peer past the window glass, but he was never successful. But being seen was the least of his fears.

“It was Doc Seward,” he told me, his words near-incomprehensible through the drink, his eyes liquid with fear and booze. “It was the old man, but different, so different...” He begged me to believe him, as if I had any choice, sitting there in that darkened bar as the staff began putting up the chairs and turning out the lights over the pool tables.. He gripped my arm with fingers that seemed too strong, too desperate. I shivered despite myself.

He didn’t sleep the rest of the night, nor did he go back to the window. After a few minutes, when he had returned, cowering, to his bed, the sounds of their labour resumed. He told me that he still heard that grinding, inhuman sound, that slow, inexorable rhythm. He listened to it as it slowly faded, and even long after they must have crested that final hill, he could still hear it, in his mind. The sound had joined the visions of men in alien cubes, doing things he’d never even thought of before. He listened until dawn sent its first grey light through his curtains.

At the first sign of morning, he left the room and went downstairs, planning to just leave Donny Estabrooks a note to tell him he’d left, but Donny was already awake, acting as if nothing was wrong. He offered to make Frank some breakfast, but Frank declined.

“Donny was different,” Frank slurred to me. He was carrying heavy jugs of water up from the basement and stacking them by the door. By the looks of it, the man - well into his fifties - had been at it all night. There had to be 200 gallons of water all stacked where the night before there’d only been a few chairs and tables. And Frank thought that maybe Donny looked different, too; broader in the shoulders, thicker in the legs and chest. His clothes were straining as he lifted another container, moving it to the other end of the room.

Frank left as quickly as he could. He walked through the town toward his helicopter. The village was silent, no sign of life stirred behind those dark windows and brightly coloured doors. He shuddered as he imagined what sort of labour was being conducted behind those walls, how many people were affected. There was literally no one on the streets in a town that used to live and breathe on the early-morning fishing.

“It hadda be the storm,” he told me as we left that bar. I was checking my wallet to make sure I could put him in a cab. I didn’t like the idea of leaving him, but was too drunk myself to follow him home. “It woke somethin’ up, somethin that was buried. Somethin’ old.”

I helped him into the car, noticing as I did so that his arms and shoulders were more solid than I’d expected. Bigger. I tried not to make the connection.

“I can feel it. I though I got away, but I didn’t. It’s in me. It musta been the water. I must ha’ drunk some of it,” he muttered. I closed the door and watched as the cab drove away, thinking about the engineer, how Frank had said he was in better shape that last time, about Anna MacMurray and her suddenly “insatiable” husband, about Frank’s description of Toby Junior, that muscle-bound teenager working in the fields that time. I stood there, swaying slightly in the night air, not wanting to think about Frank’s story, wanting to disbelieve him. But the funny thing is, I kinda believe him.

That was a week ago, and I haven’t seen Frank since. I tried to call, and finally went up to his place last night. The superintendant let me in, but Frank wasn’t there. He’d been busy, though. Every peice of furniture in his apartment had been destroyed, and reassembled into perfect cubes, two feet on a side. Other than that and some spoiled milk in the fridge, there was no sign of him.

But I know he went to B--- Island. He was being pulled there, he’d admitted as much. He’d went to join the island people with their strange ways, perhaps to join them in their alien labours. I try not to think about what they’re creating inside those giant cubical buildings, and it frightens me. I suppose if I don’t hear from Frank soon, I’ll have to go out there to try to find him. I just worry about what else I’ll discover.

The End