01 Feb My friend has been living in an alternate reality
In order for me to tell you about this, you’re going to need to know a bit about Clint Rockwell first.
Now, I’ve known him for around eight years. He was always… strange to say the least. But not in the sense that it made him an outcast. The opposite, actually. I guess strange wasn’t the right word. Let’s call him exceptional. If I were to give you a quick run-down of his life, it’d look something like this:
Straight A’s from primary to post-secondary. Full rides to Ivy leagues. Internship offers out the ass after just his undergraduate year. Astonishingly charismatic and handsome. It was to the point where nobody even seemed to be bitter towards him. Not jealous either. They just admired him.
But despite all the parties he was invited to, all the attempts at friendship, all the girls that threw themselves at him… he chose to be a loner. In fact, I was one of the only people he talked to. Couldn’t tell you why he chose me as an acquaintance. He just did. And let me tell you, I was about as average as average gets, set for a life of mundanity.
It all started in seventh grade. I just failed a geometry test. To be fair, I didn’t really study for it… but whatever. Clint was sitting right by me. I saw him take one disaffected glance at his paper before putting it down. He got 100, of course. I guess he saw me staring, because he looked down at my paper and chuckled. It was slightly embarrassing, of course. But instead of hurling an insult, he asked me if I had wanted come over after school and study. Maybe play some video games. I agreed. That’s when I started to get a glimpse into his ideals.
You see, he was never satisfied with anything. I remember our conversations regarding what we wanted to do in the future. I had all the generic answers. Buy a Lamborghini, a big house in Hollywood, marry Megan Fox. Yeah, I was that asshole. But Clint… he wanted something different. He had bigger aspirations.
“Adventure” He told me.
“Going somewhere uncharted. Discovering something new, you know? Something that nobody’s seen.”
At that time, I didn’t know what he meant.
“What, like Jupiter or some shit?” I asked him. He just chuckled. “Maybe. Something like that.” At that time, I couldn’t fathom why he would want to go into space. “Nothing’s up there.” I told him. “What’s the point?” He just gave me an amused look. But it wasn’t one of contentious superiority. He wasn’t like that. He knew that I couldn’t have understood, but he didn’t fault me for it.
“Well, think about it. People’s lives have become lackluster.” He went on. “When we have all the comforts in the world, everything turns into structure. Routine. Nothing new. Our destiny decided by the time we’re out of college. Who the hell wants to get caught up in the rat race and just chase monotony day-to-day? That’s the worst possible outcome. Look, that’s why we watch movies and read books. Escapism. Looking for stories that are infinitely more satisfying than the one we’re living in. I mean, what do we really have to look forward to?”
He talked a lot like this. But it didn’t sound suicidal… it was something else. This guy beyond was driven, I could see it. But to be honest, I couldn’t tell you what he did in the long hours he spent in his room alone. He never talked about it. By the time he went off to CalTech and I went to Penn state, we started drifting apart. In fact, after the first year of his master’s degree, he stopped talking to me completely. Stopped talking to anybody, actually. When he didn’t go home for spring break, his folks called the cops. Apparently, he’d stopped going to class as well. They looked for him, but there were no traces. It was a cold case going nowhere. However, I do remember the last time we had communicated. He’d sent me a Facebook message. This is all that it said:
“Do you want to be part of something? It’s a project I’m working on. I can explain more later.”
I’d sent him a message asking about specifics, but he never responded. That was the last I’d heard of him for about seven years. That was before he knocked on my door in the middle of the night some hours ago.
I wasn’t going to open up at first. These kinds of stories never end well. However, that’s when I heard my name being called by a distantly familiar voice. I couldn’t believe my ears. I stared through the peephole at what looked a homeless man. He had dirty, tattered clothes, a mass of a beard, and a generally unkempt appearance. But I recognized those eyes instantly. I recognized that spark. It was Clint. I opened up and greeted him in disbelief.
But before I could pelt him with questions, he stopped me:
“Look, don’t freak out. I’ll explain everything. Maybe let me shower first, though.” He flashed his award winning smile at me, though his pearly whites weren’t what they used to be. “It’s really good to see you, by the way.”
That’s when I got a closer look at his frame. He was bigger than I’d remembered. Bulkier. Looked like he put on ten pounds of muscle. His model-like face was now weather-beaten and covered in scars. He also smelled of sweat and grime. This was absolutely insane, to say the least. After he washed up and settled into a couch, he laid it all out. I’m going to tell you what he told me verbatim.
Apparently during the latter half of his undergraduate year, he was approached by his Physics professor – Joel Rust, a somewhat eccentric 42 year old. But, he was supposedly brilliant. Rust had chosen Clint specifically to partake in what he called a “Research project”. He laughed when he told me this. “We had to call it that.” He said. “If they knew what we were really doing, the funding would have been gone.”
There were 14 other people involved in this. Two theoretical physicists, three cosmologists, two young thrill-seekers, two ex-Navy SEALS, a discharged US soldier, an archaeologist, a retired MMA fighter, a disgraced entrepreneur and a suicidal drifter Rust found trying to jump off a bridge. It was a strange group, for sure.
“But we all shared similar ideals.” He explained. “For one reason or another, we were all looking to get away from this world. Looking for another frontier.”
Apparently, while on vacation, Rust had discovered something peculiar off a remote coast on the south islands in New Zealand. Something over the Cook Strait. Rust explained that he’d been seeing some kind of strange, thick fog that hung under the clouds.
“We didn’t know what he meant by that.” Clint stated. “He never really explained it.” For years, he’d spend his summers over there and observe it himself. He’d then spend every second of his free time analyzing his observations. Eventually, he’d enlisted the help of some cosmologists and other physicists.
Clint looked at me. It seemed as if he was having trouble holding in a huge grin. “You know what the theory they came to was?” I shook my head.
“It was a passage to somewhere else. A different universe, so to speak.”
This floored me. I was skeptical for about a second. But then I thought about who I was talking to. And how strange this whole situation was. I just kept listening. I asked him how they’d figured that out.
“You want the details?” He replied. I thought about. No, not really. Science was never my strong point. Anyhow, he told me how Rust had started conducting experiments. He’d fly a drone into the fog whenever a storm was brewing. Those were the only times where it was visible. He’d estimated that after it disappeared, there would be about a three minute window where he could control it. After that, it was gone forever. “That’s why we needed the funding.” Clint explained. “This shit was expensive.”
The culmination of all these experiments and all this research was supposed to be a trip into the fog, just to see what they would find. That’s when Rust started forming the team. It took a while, but he eventually gathered together people he deemed would be fit for something like this, along with the other researchers involved.
“He said that he chose me because of an essay I wrote for class. The topic was about what the universe meant to us as individuals.” Clint said. “I guess it spoke to him. I’m sure he had other reasons as well.” He smirked to himself.
Now, while the ex-military and thrill-seekers were all in good shape, Rust and the researchers weren’t.
“Nobody knew what to expect, really. That’s why we had to train. Cardio, strength, agility, the works. Nobody wanted to lag behind.” Clint elaborated.
After about three years, they deemed themselves ready to go. The big day was finally there. On a warm spring day in California and a particularly choppy one on the south islands, Rust, Clint and the rest of the team piled into a private plane owned by the entrepreneur. They brought with them months worth’s of rations, weapons, first aid kits and research equipment. Parachutes as well – just in case. Everything you could think of. Funnily enough, the drifter was the only person who knew how to pilot.
I remember thinking that this was batshit. “Wait.” I asked him. “So you guys were just going through with this? Was nobody scared of what could happen?”
He just chuckled. “So, we have a bunch of insane researchers, soldiers scarred by combat, thrill seekers, a suicidal guy, don’t even get me started on myself, and you think we gave a shit? No, I guess we weren’t.”
As it turns out, they figured out what Rust was talking about when they got close to the thing. Apparently the fog was dark grey, almost black. It was maybe 100 meters below the clouds and it was massive. The strangest part was that it didn’t move at all, and you could clearly tell where it began and where it ended.
Everybody braced themselves upon entering. They were suddenly submerged into darkness. Clint said that he could see the silhouette of anticipation on everybody’s faces from the faint cabin lights. After three minutes, the plane starts malfunctioning. Here’s the fucked up part: Rust never actually told anybody about the drone experiments until afterwards. So when this happened everybody started freaking out. Nobody was expecting it. But soon after, a wave of light filled the plane. What they saw out the windows was incomprehensible:
A dark, foreboding landscape. Heavy rain pounded the windows while a cacophony of violent lightning bolts struck around them. To make matters worse, the plane was headed down, into a black ocean beneath. As they got closer, they could tell that there was definitely movement in the water. Large movements. And they weren’t just waves. Luckily for them, the plane was also on trajectory for a land mass up ahead. Nobody asked any questions. They just stuffed their bags with weapons, rations, and water before hastily strapping on their parachutes.
It was at this point where they realized military training would’ve come in handy. Right then, it was every man for themselves. Once the plane was nearly over the island, everybody started jumping out. A good portion of the team didn’t get so lucky. Other than Rust, only one of the researchers survived. Two of them couldn’t open their parachutes in time, one landed in the water, where he was quickly consumed by something, and one got struck by lightning on the way down. The entrepreneur and one of the ex-SEALS also didn’t make it, both landing rough on the rocky shoreline. The team was suddenly down to 10. They watched as the plane spiraled out of control into the murky sea. The fog was also still visible in the distance, just hanging there.
After they re-grouped, they just sat in silence for a while. Nobody knew what to think. Rust’s theory looked to be right, it seemed. The island itself was pretty similar to tropical ones you would find here on earth. Except for the trees as tall as apartment complexes, and the fact that the sky was always cloudy. They’d later find out that this place had a name – “Dusk Blue”. Another peculiar thing was that the lightning never seemed to strike land. Only the ocean. Good news for them. They started making their way into the jungle in front of them. With nowhere else to go, this is all they could do. Amongst them, they’d managed to take six pistols, four machetes, an assault rifle, and a shotgun. No reserve ammunition, though. They’d also concluded that they had about five days of food and water for all of them.
As they made their way across the land, some creepy, unexplainable shit started happening. The MMA fighter – they called him Duke, went to go piss in some bushes at one point. About thirty seconds later, he ran back to the group, freaked out and hyperventilating. Everybody tried asking him what had happened. That’s when they looked at the clearing he had come from. Duke was standing right there, with a blank expression plastered on his face. But he was also with them. Then, out of nowhere, his copy began sprinting backwards into the woods at a torrid pace. Another occurrence took place when they came across what looked like a void just floating in the air in front of them. It was literally a door-sized black shape that was devoid of anything. One of the thrill-seekers – Jeff, stuck his hand into it for a few seconds before pulling it back. He could still move it, but it’d become completely numb. It stayed that way.
Apparently, one night they woke up to the sound of shells blasting in the air. Lauren – the archaeologist, was shooting at something just a few meters away from where they were sleeping. Clint said it was hard to describe. Something along the lines of a massive spider-human hybrid. The shotgun didn’t affect it. It just crawled away.
“God, this sounds like a fucking nightmare. Is this what you wanted?” I asked him. I was sincerely curious.
“I mean… yeah. This is exactly what I needed.” His words sounded genuine. I guess it didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand him… he understood himself. He went on. Three days pass and they’re still in the jungle. They didn’t know where they were heading, but nobody wanted to admit that. Rust and the cosmologist continuously record their observations while everybody else is getting antsy. They were running out of food. The other thrill seeker – Clint forgot his name, was starting to go delirious. They’d seen a small creature that vaguely resembled a chicken and he’d tried attacking it with a machete. Unfortunately, his throat was instantly slit upon making contact with it. Nobody went near any wildlife after that. It looked like hunting for food was now out of the question. Urgency was setting in. At night they’d start hearing horrific, unrecognizable sounds all around them. One time, they woke up to see a pale humanoid creature with no facial features sitting cross-legged just a few meters away. Suddenly the skin on its head peeled back to reveal a singular monstrous-sized eye. It only needed to blink one more time before everybody got the hell out of there. They’d also come across a strange hole in the ground at one point. It was about the size of a basketball. The other ex-SEAL, name also forgotten – walked up to it to take a look.
Cautiously, he peered into it. About a minute passes and he still hadn’t moved. People started shouting at him just to leave it, but he’d ignored everything. They tried prying him away, but he didn’t budge. He just stayed crouched, eyes blankly transfixed on the hole. After about 10 minutes they left him.
Things were reaching a tipping point once the fifth day came. They were starving, sleep-deprived and paranoid. With only four MRE’s left for the 8 of them, they needed to conserve energy. However, every time they stopped to rest, they’d hear footsteps behind them. They’d look for the source, but there was nothing visible to be found. The steps would just get louder and louder. Eventually, they’d caught up. Clint said that they could hear something running quick circles around them before he started to feel light-headed. The last thing that he remembered hearing before passing out was a barrage of shouts coming from somewhere in front of them. None of them voices that he’d recognized.
He awoke sometime later, lying on a stiff mattress in a small wood cabin. His head was pounding and his face was covered in dried blood when he touched it. He looked around the room, nearly jumping out of his skin when he saw somebody sharpening some kind of weapon in the corner. But he did look to be human, resembling a Mediterranean man. Upon seeing Clint wake, he’d got up and introduced himself as “Slade”. He also spoke English, albeit it was in a strange accent that Clint said he’d never heard before.
Now, Clint was no small guy at 6’1, but Slade still towered over him. He’d explained that he was essentially a guard protecting a walled civilization called “Ferro Locus”, where Clint currently was. He described how he and the rest of the team had come into contact with what the locals referred to as “Stalkers”. They’d eventually managed to fend them off, bringing Clint and the rest to safety. They were happy to let them stay, as long as they did fair share of work.
He further explained the island that they were on. As it turns out, Dusk Blue was actually one of the few places in that world that had a semblance of order and society. While most of it was still extremely hostile, there were protected settlements set up all around, where people could live in relative peace. However, the main attraction was at the center – a massive self-governing city-state known as “Paradise X”. While settlements like Ferro Locus could be compared to small towns in the old west, Paradise X was more comparable to a modern day metropolis.
He went on to explain a strange trend in births on the island in which around 1 in 1000 children were born with enhanced levels of strength, speed, and nearly impenetrable skin. Officials from Paradise X would come around to settlements every now and then in order to recruit these children into the security force set to protect their borders. In exchange, their families would be allowed citizenship and a place to live within the city. Of course, everybody was after this. This resulted in a lot of questionable moral decisions when it came to children.
Clint then asked about all the stuff that had happened before they were rescued. All the weird shit. Apparently Slade just sighed and told him not to worry about it. He didn’t have the answers either. That stuff’s always been there, and it was better not to think about it. He told him to simply stay inside the settlement and not cause any trouble. The punishment for disorderly conduct was exile.
I was still trying to wrap my head around any of this when Clint started yawning. He told me that he was tired and that we could talk in the morning. I tried to get him to stay up and tell me more, but his eyes were already half-way closed. “I’ve gone through some messed-up shit, man. Just let me rest for a bit. Don’t worry, I got more to tell you. Spent seven years over there for Christ’s sake.” He said drowsily. “Yeah, fine. You can take the guest room.” I told him. After feeding him some left-over spaghetti, I led him up there. I had to ask him one more thing before he passed out, though. “What about your folks? How the hell are you gonna explain this to them?”
He paused for a second before speaking. “Uh… couldn’t if I tried. They’re gone, man.” To be honest, the lack of emotion in his voice disturbed me a bit. “Oh shit. I’m… I’m sorry” was all I could utter out. He just let out a forced chuckle and said “What are you sorry for? You didn’t do anything” Before disappearing into the bedroom. That’s when I really thought about what had just happened. If Clint’s been telling me the truth … then that’s horrifying to think about. I guess I’ll write another update when he wakes up.