Death is the Morning Mist


From where he knelt alone in his hazy pit, he could see shadows lying in deranged stretches on the field, playing with his escaping mind. He shut his eyes to avoid them, while clutching his bloody arm in the faint light. The feeling in his legs were fading away, which might have been a good thing. Anything to erase the pain.

Nothing kept Mike from thinking about his friend, however. About how he made him into a form of evil, an unrecognizable wound of his former self.

There were voices coming, floating intermittent on the mist. He didn't know to trust them or not. At that point, nothing made sense, and trust was a gift that didn't exist anymore. Perhaps it never did.

Run to them, he thought, it doesn't matter anymore. Just stop the pain. I can't walk. I can't see. Blood in my eyes, streaming down my face into my mouth. I'll dwell on the taste to keep me from passing out, the flavor of this demon I've made.

Please help me, Mike thought, whoever you are. Don't hurt my friend.

*****

Kirk took his time with his last delivery of the evening. From there, he would head home for soda and TV, and if he was lucky, the company of his roommate. Mike stayed late at the campus library a lot, leaving Kirk alone with his tip counting. Kirk never could remember Mike's study schedule, no matter how many times he was told.

Before he let his finger off the doorbell, his last customer for the day answered with anticipation, swinging open the brownstone door.

“Kirk, my won ton man,” said Professor Dillenger, thinking he was funny.

“That's what I am,” laughed Kirk in his animated way, also thinking the old man was funny.

The professor handed him a ten spot from the top pocket of his pullover, with words of advice. “Keep the rest, and save up for a new helmet. That one's ready for the closet.”

He was right. Kirk's white helmet was at least 20 years old. He bought it at a garage sale along with a lamp that had long since retired. The helmet only covered the top half of his head, had a torn chin strap, and was cluttered with remnants of once colorfully-bright cartoon stickers.

“It does the job,” Kirk said to the professor.

“Deep blue,” he replied, “get something in a deep blue, to match your Honda.”

With a half-smile on his face, Kirk walked back to the sidewalk where his motorcycle was parked. He secured the straps on his bike's cart, smiling back at the professor. With a hesitant whirring, he started his Honda and drove off.

*****

“Your tips get better everyday,” Mike said to his roommate, opening the windows of their stuffy apartment.

Kirk was at the table in the kitchen/dining room, with crumpled dollar bills and various coins sprawled across the formica top. He slid the biggest coins over the edge of the table and into his palm, counting as he did so. From the other side of the living room, Mike had to remind him that the nickels were actually worth less than the dimes, despite their larger size.

“I always forget that,” Kirk chuckled as he obviously miscounted his tips while watching TV.

Sitting on the sofa, Mike glanced at Kirk and his treasure of tips. $11.34 for the day. Mike knew that his friend's count would be wrong, like it was every night. He knew that he'd recount it after Kirk fell asleep. But he didn't mind it much, because there was never more than ten dollars to sift through.

The two were an unlikely pair to be sharing a small apartment in the university district of the Woodston suburbs, or so it would seem. Mike was attending W.U., involved in a variety of activities, from sports to science projects. He got his thin black hair cut and trimmed twice a month, and called his mother weekly to tell her how he had yet to meet a nice girl.

Kirk's flat blond hair was cut the same days as Mike's, whether in need or not. They would make a good time of it. With the sole exception of Mike, Kirk had acquaintances as opposed to friends.

More dominant in his description, Kirk was uneducated. To be exact, the boy was a simpleton. On the surface, he had traces of naivete in the personality of a nice guy. What didn't show was that he had no college or high school education, merely basic math skills and first-stage phonetic reading abilities. Those special school programs never went above that.

Every piece of paper in Kirk's life had some footnote about his simple thinking. His I.D., his job application to deliver for The Blue Dragon, even his school certificates all had brief, small-printed mentionings of his “limits”.

Mike had been pals with him since they were at the same orphanage. He himself was enrolled in Kirk's Enhanced Education program at their alma mater. By his sophomore year, however, Mike extended himself beyond the fences of the program. Kirk never left them.

“The professor said I should get a deep blue,” Kirk said into the air.

“Deep blue what?” Mike asked.

“Helmet. He said my helmet is old and ready for the closet, and that I should get one that's colored deep blue.”

“To match your trail bike, I suppose.”

“How much does a deep blue cost?” Kirk asked, holding a fistful of faded dollars.

“More than what you've got,” Mike told him. “They probably start at sixty or seventy bucks.”

“Kirk opened his hand and looked through the tumbleweed of money. He pulled away a few bills, then a few more. He counted them and came up with a disappointing figure.

“I could loan you some cash until you get paid,” Mike offered.

“No,” Kirk quickly said, almost upset. “I already borrowed for rent. I have a job, and I should pay for my own helmet.” He clumsily slid the money into a huge glass jar. “This will be the Helmet Jar from now on. It will be until I have enough to get one.”

“I admire you for your determination,” Mike said blankly, watching TV.

Kirk took it as enthusiastic approval, and tossed his helmet into the air, following it with his eyes. “My head will shine like the sky!”

Mike smiled at Kirk's proclamation and stood from the saggy sofa. He walked into his bedroom to do a little studying for the next day, leaving his friend at the table holding his helmet in front of the jar with an air of impatience.

*****

In one of the halls of Woodston University, Mike and his friend Theo walked to a water fountain beneath a student bulletin board. Mike bent over to drink as his friend glanced at the passers-by.

“How's life with Quirk?” Theo said, looking at the students walking by.

Mike stopped drinking just long enough to answer. “He's fine.”

“I didn't ask how he was, I asked how life with him was. For example, how's rent?”

Mike stopped drinking and looked at Theo for a moment before replying. Theo removed his glasses and gulped water from the fountain as well.

“Rent is okay,” Mike finally said.

“You went from 'fine' to 'okay'. You're broke again?”

“Well, yeah, who isn't?”

“People with decent roommates.”

“What's that supposed to mean?” Mike asked knowingly.

Theo rose from his crouched position and put his glasses back on, just in time to see Professor Dillenger limp by.

“Hello Professor,” he said.

“Girl-watching, Theodore?” the Professor laughed in his hurried walk. “That's so unlike you.”

“Not really, sir, we're all testosterone and Pepsi inside,” Theo replied. The Professor disappeared around a corner with a little laugh.

“What are you guys, chums or something?” Mike asked.

“It helps to oil the wheels from time to time. You should try it sometime, it takes off a lot of the pressure of being a full-time academian.”

“Get back to what you were saying. About roommates.”

Theo looked at him serious for a moment. “The Blue Dragon's rumored to be closing.” Knowing that news would make Mike pause in thought about his near future, Theo gave it a moment to sink in before continuing in a jovial manner. “We won't have anything delivered in Woodston, except pizza. Some college community, huh?”

Mike was still taking in the news, hoping it wasn't true. “Where did you hear that? Kirk just landed a raise, not even three weeks ago.”

“You know Peter?” Theo said. “His uncle owns the place. I never knew that till this morning. He said that his uncle is suddenly talking about being too old to run a business, about dying in his own country. Closing down, moving back to China, the whole bit. He's almost 80, and he's afraid of not seeing his grandchildren again.”

Mike knew how hard it was for someone like Kirk to get a job, and how lucky he was to get one at the Dragon, working with people he's known for years. It wouldn't just set the two of them back financially, it would strike Kirk emotionally as well.

“I don't know what's going to happen with you and Kirk,” Theo said, “but if the two of you split ways, and you need a roommate, let me know. My roommate and I are about to reenact Gettysburg.”

“That's what everyone says about their roomies.”

“Apparently, not you.”

Not really listening to Theo, Mike stared across the hallway in thought.

“If you do decide you want another roommate, don't put an ad up on the board,” Theo said, looking at the bulletin board above them. “You know where I am.”

Mike looked up at the board, covered with a skin of papers in every color and size. In the middle of it all was a bright green paper with the W.U. letterhead on it. It said: “Woodston Science needs young people with brains. Big money, no work involved, need not be Einstein.” The headline was accompanied by a cartoon ape holding Lego blocks, and went on with details of who, when, where.

“Big money” was all Mike needed to see.

*****

“What would I do?” Kirk asked, glancing at the green flyer on the kitchen table.

“I don't know, but I've done it many times before,” Mike said. “I never got paid for my time, but the paper says something about big money.”

“What about the Blue Dragon?” Kirk asked. He held his worn helmet in his hands, ready to go to work for the afternoon.

“It would just be every other night. A few hours, that's all. When I volunteered for experiments, I was playing cards a lot. I looked at pictures, drew cartoons. Easy stuff.”

“Cartoons?” Kirk said with curiosity. “They pay you to draw cartoons?”

“Not when I did it, but they'll pay you. It must be a big experiment if their paying money. You might be doing something very important, for everyone.”

Kirk paused for a moment before putting his helmet on. “I don't know. I guess it wouldn't be so bad. You always do say how you want me to go to college.”

“Yeah, and the experiments would kinda make you a student. You'd be studying science with other people.” Mike tried his best to pitch the idea. He didn't tell Kirk what to do, that would create a stubborn rebel. Rather, he merely encouraged him to prepare for the future.

“I could hang out in the rec hall with you on Friday nights,” Kirk thought aloud.

“Well, you could do that now, but yes, you could go to the rec hall because now you'd be part of Woodston U.”

Kirk walked to the door with his motorcycle keys in one of his hands. He slid his other hand across his helmet, feeling the sticker corpses of Sylvester and Bugs.

“I usually go to Miller Park after my last delivery,” he said. “The sunsets are pretty from there.” He rubbed his helmet again. “But I guess it would help me get a new helmet.”

“That's right!” Mike said enthusiastically. “Deep blue. You'd still be able to go to the park. I'm sure they wouldn't keep you every night.”

Kirk smiled at the thought of going into a motorcycle shop downtown and picking out a new helmet. He also thought of a few other things he wanted to buy with his would-be wealth. His smile gave Mike the O.K.

“Do you remember the phone booth on campus where we met when we went to see 'Jurassic Park?'” Mike asked him.

“Yeah, the dinosaurs were the best!” Kirk said with passion.

“The movie was good, but the phone booth, do you remember where you met me? Next to the big white building with the towers?” His friend nodded yes. “That's the science building. Go there after work, Room 23. If you forget, just ask someone where the experiments are. They should know.”

“Room 23, the laboratory,” Kirk said, almost singing it to help him remember. “Room 23, the la-bra-tor-ee.”

“Money for you, deeeeep blue,” Mike sang back.

They looked at each other for a second before laughing at Mike's ridiculous rhyme. With a shake of his keys, Kirk stepped out of the apartment, closing the door behind him.

*****

Turning his trail motorcycle off, Kirk looked up from the student parking lot to the belittling towers of the Woodston science building, a futuristic rendition of a medieval castle. Not bothering to secure his bike in the city-sized college, he walked to the nearest door of the building and peered inside.

The hallway was sterile white, stretching forever. Identical doors stood in front of each other in soldier-like rows, all closed, all blue. Kirk followed the doors with his eyes, from the farthest point away from him to the very door he held ajar. He stepped inside with his helmet in his hands, the door hushing shut behind him with an abrupt clasp of metal on metal.

The first door he examined said “34” on it. Counting backwards through a song he learned to aid him, he walked down the hall until he reached 23. He held the door's big, metal handle for a moment before turning it.

The door's opening let out jungles of various lab noises, all of which he'd only heard in movies. Entering the room, he immediately noticed a large-screen television with the animated “Lord of the Rings” playing on it. He also saw tables with serious science items on them, and people walking around with serious scientist faces.

“May I help you?” asked one of them, a man with thinning grey hair. Just like everyone else there, he wore a white overcoat, and carried a loaded clipboard.

“My roommate told me about some experiments you do,” Kirk said, “and I want to help.”

“Good, good,” the scientist said, “we have a couple of other subjects already. Three should work out okay.” He straightened his coat collar before clearing his throat to speak in a less relaxed voice. “I'm Dr. Farr, the one who wrote the flyer you probably saw. I even drew the ape.”

“My roommate probably saw it, but not me,” said the nervous young man. “I only saw the words part.”

Dr. Farr sensed Kirk's uneasiness and tried to alleviate it. “It might be a little intimidating at first, but really, this is just another classroom. It's the same as all your others. Well, perhaps not as stressful as Bio Lab can be, eh?”

“I don't go to Woodston. My roommate does, not me. I'm not that kinda guy.”

“What kind?” Farr asked. “The kind that likes school? I find not many people are that kind, my boy.”

“Smart. I'm not smart enough to go to Woodston,” Kirk told Farr, not seeming to be bothered by his unfavorable self-evaluation.

Farr noticed this and thought for a moment, looking Kirk up and down. He pointed with his clipboard to another part of the room, beginning to walk there. Kirk followed, though his eyes kept wandering.

“The experiments we do are usually for statistical purposes,” Farr went on. “They're simple, take almost no time, and count for science credits. But since you're not enrolled, I'm sure you'll like the fact that you'll be getting paid. Very well, in fact.”

As he followed Dr. Farr to another door, one with a large, thick window, Kirk wondered if he should have asked what the experiment was about and what he would being doing. But after hearing Farr tell him he would be paid well, he didn't want to blow anything for himself. He treated his paid volunteering as a job, and speaking with Farr was the interview. Besides, getting paid “very well” warranted cooperation from the subject, not annoying questions and delays.

Farr opened the door with the thick window. Kirk noticed networks of wires woven into the glass, all different colors, crossing each other in perfect geometry. He looked at them, tracing the individual paths from edge to edge. As he did so, he could hear Dr. Farr making subtle noises behind him. After following a yellow wire, he looked at the room's lights reflecting off the glass. This new room was quite the closet.

“I have some questions for you, nothing academic,” Farr said, “just some personal routine questions.”

Kirk turned around to see that the room was indeed very small, barely the size of his bedroom, with instruments and computers built flush into the walls. Evidently to save space, though they didn't seem to succeed. In the middle of the room next to Farr was what looked like a dentist's chair. Uncomfortable memories about dentists came to Kirk.

“Sit down, sit down,” said Farr, “you know, I never got your name.”

“Kirk.”

“What a masculine name that is.”

“It's spelled with a K.”

“Of course, what else could it be spelled with?” Farr waited for a laugh, a look of “Yes, that's true, doctor,” but there was nothing. Kirk was serious. By the tone of how he stated his name's spelling, it sounded like that was the way he always introduced himself.

“Kirk with a K,” Farr said, “I'll be back in a moment. When I come back, I'll ask you those questions like I said, and then we'll get the ball rolling. Would you like a magazine while I'm gone?”

Kirk spied the magazines underneath the scientist's clipboard. One caught his eye. Seeing this, Farr gave him the Time issue with Superman on its cover, celebrating the superhero's 50th birthday. “You want this one?” Farr asked him. “Go ahead and look at it for a minute.”

The huge door closed behind Farr with a vacuum seal hush as he left, looking over his shoulder at his newest guinea pig. Kirk leafed through his magazine, looking at the pictures, attempting to read the larger print on the more interesting pages. Through the wired glass, he saw Dr. Farr talking with several other white coats, pointing at him while he went on. The others looked at Kirk, nodding in approval of Farr's find. One in particular, a lad with curly hair and glasses, looked at him differently than the rest.

Kirk wished he could read their lips, but could only hope that what ever they were saying about him was good.

*****

Holding a deep blue motorcycle helmet up to a sunlit window, Mike pinched the cushioning within it. “Plush. Good stuff. How much did this thing cost you, anyway?”

“I don't remember,” Kirk said, “but I have the receipt.” He reached across the kitchen/dining room table and dug the balled receipt out of a pile of dollar bills and other papers. He read the number at the bottom. “$125.99, but I paid more because of tax.”

“You've only been in the science biz for a month, and you've got enough money for a new helmet, clothes, and rent? What do you experiment with, the stock market or the track?”

“I take a lot of tests,” Kirk said, “and they show me cartoons of trolls and dragons, and show me pictures of forests, trees and lakes.”

“What do these have to do with your deal?”

“They still won't tell me what they want to find out,” Kirk said, as Mike tossed back his new helmet. “They say if they tell me, it'll mess up the control, and I won't get to do it anymore.”

“How long is this little operation going to last?”

“Dr. Farr says as long as it takes. I like it.”

Mike saw Kirk happy in his new sweats, holding his blue helmet, and didn't care to inquire about the university's goals. After all, he himself had been involved with experiments before, none lasting more than a couple of days, but with the same people, with the same Dr. Farr. “With your science adventures and the Blue Dragon,” Mike said, “you'll be rolling in green.”

“I think I'm going to stop delivering for the Dragon,” Kirk said, flat-toned.

Mike was stung with surprise by the abrupt decision, never hearing anything prior hinted to that. “What?” he blurted out, choking on his words. “The experiment isn't going to last forever. What are you going to do when it dies?”

“Mr. Chang says he's going to sell his restaurant so he can go back to China, so that...”

“Yeah, yeah, I heard something about that.”

“And the man who might buy the place said that he won't do deliveries.”

“So, you can do something else!” Mike burned, becoming impatient with Kirk's abandon. “You can clean dishes or clear off tables.”

“But I like the tips,” Kirk said, “I like driving around Woodston. People know me when I give them their food. I don't want to be inside all day.”

He put on his helmet and headed for the door. With his keys in his hand, he turned back to Mike who was leaning against the kitchen counter, looking at the tile floor in frustration.

“Dr. Farr said he wants me to come more,” Kirk went on, “he said he wants me to come in more days a week, or more hours everyday. If I go in the afternoon, I can still see the sunset at Miller Park on some days.”

“What about rent?” Mike said. “What about food and everything else you need? Everything else we both need?”

“The experiment will probably last for a very long time. When it's over, I can get another job. I can deliver pizza or work at the movie theater.” Smiling inside his helmet with a blind confidence, Kirk left the apartment, not to return until well past 11:00.

Mike slid Kirk's money into the glass jar and screwed the lid on. The jar was quite full, mostly of tens and twenties. But he knew that one day, whether soon or farther down the line, it would be empty again. He knew that despite his friend's optimistic view of the future, someone like him doesn't bounce back from a fall easily. His resume would read “Delivery boy, guinea pig”, right next to the part about his mental limitations. Mike found himself regretting ever seeing the green flyer.

*****

Three months passed quickly behind the boys. Kirk removed the basket from the back of his Trail 90 since The Blue Dragon had been transformed into The Ox Cart, a steak-and-potatoes place. Mike had been on vacation from school, the experiments went on, and Kirk's new helmet had lost its luster.

“I've been meaning to wax it, but I keep forgetting,” Kirk told Farr, as he sat in the dentist's chair. Farr seemed to ignore what he was saying.

“Do you still have those dreams?” Farr asked. “The ones where you think someone's going to hurt you?”

“Yeah, like someone's hunting me, chasing me, but I don't know who. It makes me feel like a rabbit or a squirrel.”

“The dream of someone chasing you, of being prey, is a classic one. Sometimes you can even enjoy the thrill of it.”

“Not with my dreams you can't.”

Farr prepared a hyperdermic needle for Kirk, the latest of hundreds he'd taken. At first, the needles scared him, but then he reached a point where everything scared him a little. The needles paled in the sea of fear.

“Dr. Farr, I don't feel so good,” he said, opening and closing his hands on the chair's armrests into tight fists.

“What is it? You're going to vomit? Headache? You have to tell me, my boy.” Farr continued to ready the drugs as he spoke, reducing the sincerity in his voice.

“No, no, its nothing. I'm just scared, I guess. I feel like something's behind me all the time...”

“Kirk, we've been doing this for months,” Farr said. He was getting enough of Kirk's stories of the air grabbing at him, of the unseen assailants between his apartment and W.U. “It's the same every time. You come here, you sit in my chair. I give you this medicine, you sleep for a few minutes. You look at pictures, watch TV, take tests. I don't see what there is to be scared of. But like I've always said, if you want to stop, just say so...”

“No. I can do it.” Kirk was trapped into the experiments, and Farr knew it, especially as he offered to get Kirk out of them. The movie theater never called since Kirk applied for a job there. Neither did the Pizza Barn, though he figured he wouldn't get a job delivering there, since his skinny bike couldn't very well hold a stack of 16-inch pies.

He glanced at the needle, almost ready. He darted his eye away to keep from getting more nervous, a trick Mike told him to do. It usually worked, but for each time he did it, he hoped harder that he wouldn't faint or throw up. How embarrassing it would be for a science man to lose his composure on the job. “I drive my motorcycle fast, now. I don't want anything to catch me.” Talking could help ease the anticipation, he thought. “At night, when I go to sleep, I'm afraid that something is going to grab my leg if I let it hang over the edge of the bed.”

Farr squirted a quick stream of yellow fluid into the air, then lowering the needle to his subject's arm which was strapped down to its armrest.

“They're just dreams. It's okay to feel scared, my boy. You can feel any way you want to. You can keep your feet under the covers and away from the edge of the bed. You can drive a little faster than you usually do. Being cautious will do you more good than anything else. What you need to watch out for is when you act like your dreams are real.”

Farr shoved the needle into the middle of Kirk's right arm. Almost an entire chamber of the drug went into him. “You're not going to run out of here, screaming about a mist chasing you again, are you?” Farr asked with a smile. The smile calmed Kirk a little. “Those naps of yours can be pretty tiring for all of us here. You didn't tell anyone about that, did you?”

“I wanted to tell my roommate, but I didn't. I don't want to spoil anything.”

“Right, the experiment's been going on too long to spoil it. What a good job you do.”

Another scientist, one with curly hair and glasses, entered the small room carrying a few videotapes. It was Theo.

“Hey Kirk,” he said in a conjured joviality, as he watched Kirk's uncomfortable grimacing. “Which ones are we watching today, Dr. Farr?”

“Put in #10, the same as yesterday.”

“Right away.”

“Theodore, just a moment. I need a word with you.”

Theo turned to the doctor, hiding his reservations about the experiment Kirk was involved in. The subjects used to be merely that to him, subjects. But in this particular case, it was someone he knew, or at least knew of. He and Kirk hadn't been introduced before, but Mike told Theo everything about his good pal and roomie. In addition to all that, the experiment itself demanded a unique perspective, being unprecedented in its dangers.

“What is it, Dr. Farr?”

“How are things around school? Classes?”

“Everything hunky dorey,” Theo replied, hoping it wouldn't go further than that.

“And what about you? Have you kept everything in this room only in this room? I see who you walk with between classes.”

“Of course. Nothing leaves me.”

Farr paused, thinking about what his pupil said, analyzing how he said it. The doctor prided himself on being able to spot a lie or lack of will. “I'm glad to hear it.” Theo left the room to set up the videotape, swallowing what apprehension he may have had moments before.

“Same thing as yesterday?” Kirk asked.

“Yes, that's right. Tomorrow will be something new.”

“I want to watch 'Lord of the Rings” again. Some parts of it, anyway.“

“Some parts,” Farr repeated. “Some other parts scare you, don't they?” He loosened the straps on the chair and let Kirk stand on the floor. “That dragon part scares you, doesn't it?”

“Yeah. There used to be a basket on my motorcycle, with a dragon on it. I used to pretend it protected me at night when I delivered Chinese food, or when I drove here to the lab. But one day it turned against me. It didn't like me. I almost fell off my bike when I saw it.” Kirk mumbled something, fading into quiet.

“What, my boy? What did you see?” Farr waited through a long silence for a response. He didn't want to push Kirk too far, not while he was so close to a new plateau.

“The Blue Dragon,” Kirk began, “I saw the Blue Dragon. It was on the basket, on the side, painted. Then it curled around, and crawled on top of it.”

*****

“You're jealous because I have the money now!” Kirk yelled at Mike, outside their apartment door. “You wish you could've been paid for your work, like me.”

“You shouldn't go anymore. You shouldn't go because your mood swings are gonna make me murder you!” Mike screamed back. He unlocked the door in a frenzy, trying to manhandle the bundle of groceries in his arms. “You come home every night around midnight, wake me up ranting about some stupid thing like my shoes being in the living room...”

“They shouldn't be in there.”

“...or a cup in the sink unwashed. Then you go to sleep and wake me up again with your nightmares. Something's wrong upstairs with you, I don't care about the money!”

The two of them stormed into their home, each with shopping bags up to their brows. After a struggle, Kirk accidentally dropped his onto the floor, just shy of the formica table. “Look what I did!” he cried. “Your stupid talking made me so mad I dropped the food!” He violently kicked the bag that was on the floor, sending a splatter of milk into the living room air.

Mike set his bags down on the table and closed his eyes in anger, restraining himself from succumbing to an outburst.

“Why don’t you say it?” Kirk said. “You don’t like a retarded person making more money than you!” He ran into the bathroom and slammed the door shut. After a few seconds, Mike heard the shower turn on.

Quietly, he cleaned up what Kirk left for him. He tried to ignore the shrieks and wails from the bathroom, the thuds against the shower walls. Then, all at once, the noises stopped. Only the sound of the water remained.

He walked into the bathroom, surprised to find the door unlocked. Kirk was usually good about locking doors, especially when he was using the restroom. “Kirk, what are you doing?” he said in a calm tone. The shower door was swung far open. Kirk sat inside, fully-clothed, with the water stream hitting him on the neck. Mike reached in and shut the water off. He poked Kirk in the chest a couple of times to wake him, but he was out for the night.

Taking his roommate's wet clothes off to get him into pajamas, Mike noticed that Kirk's chest had become darker, hairier. Perhaps it was the effect of his body being wet, but it looked spookily as if there was more hair. Quite a lot more.

It had been nearly a year since Kirk began going to Dr. Farr. As of late, his dreams had grown to serious levels. Once Kirk was watching TV with Mike, and said he saw the clouds behind the actors emerge from the screen and float toward him. Another time, Mike came home late from a party to find the apartment in shambles. The sofa was shredded, the table was overturned and split. Another day, while working on his motorcycle, Kirk lifted it in frustration and threw it several feet. Mike remembered when he and a friend were helping Kirk change a flat, and could barely lift the trail bike, much less throw it.

And now the hair on Kirk's body was thicker. Mike knew there were drugs involved, but he had no idea they affected hormones as well as thoughts, his temperament.

The money kept coming in but was no longer important to his friend. Kirk ignored the jar, leaving the money on the table in piles for Mike to put away. Nothing was important to him anymore except his visits to room 23, and his “medicine”. Mike felt he had to talk to Farr about what was going on, despite the need for scientific control. It was becoming too much for him to be in the dark any longer.

*****

“Last night was the first good night's sleep I've had in a long time,” Mike said. “Kirk used up so much energy in our fight, he was knocked out the whole night.”

“He's not sick, is he?” Farr asked as he filed some records. “He's still coming tonight?”

“As far as I know. He's home sleeping right now, but he'll be up for tonight. He looks forward to it.”

“He's at a very fragile stage in the experiment. He needs his sleep, especially if he's as bad as you think he is.”

“As bad as I 'think'?”

Farr walked to a metal table of glassware and small stacks of papers. He scribbled down something on a cubical paper pad and tore of his leaf. “Get this downtown and give it to him whenever he feels bad or gets cranky. It'll calm him down.”

“A prescription?” Mike asked.

“We give it to him here whenever we sense his mood becoming rocky. It's pretty mild stuff, really.”

“Is this what causes his hallucinations?”

“No, that's not where it comes from. This is basically flu medicine. It sedates him a little, makes him mellow.”

“So he'll still see things coming after him, but won't care so much.”

Farr felt Mike's concern, as well as his doubt. “He's reached a part of the study that's crucial to the whole. If we stop now, this entire year will have been for naught. If I tell you what we're doing, it will most likely result in the same.”

“I'm not here to talk about results. Kirk needs help. There's no way he could've known it would get this bad.”

“There's every way he'd know, Mike,” Farr quickly added. “The armadas of paperwork we had him read and sign on the first day are nothing but endless disclaimers, basically saying that anything's possible, and that many things are probable. I know he's a little slow, but he's a big boy. He knew exactly what he was getting into when he first walked through that door.”

Dr. Farr wanted to dispense with any thoughts of withdrawing his most advanced subject from the experiment. Mike's
hesitation to respond told him that he was successful in expressing that. He knew, however, that if Mike wanted to pursue things, he could eventually take not only Kirk away, but raise a heat and take away many other things as well. “We try our best, believe me, Mike.”

“Look, I'm not saying I want the whole thing stopped case closed,” Mike began, “but there has to be a way of doing whatever it is you do without endangering him any more. If not, then stopping the study is the only way.”

“The problem is gaps in the process,” Farr told him, continuing to file folders. “He comes here and moves ahead, then goes home and exposes himself to other things in life. Television. His environment. You. For just this last part of the experiment, I propose he stay here with my staff and I.”

“Spend nights here. In the lab.”

“It's perfectly fine, my boy, and for the best. I assure you it won't be very long. After this we'll be observing conclusions, making hypotheses on related fields, and so on. It won't involve him to a point where we'll need to watch him constantly.”

“That all sounds good,” Mike said, “but I'm also concerned that he may be addicted to your drugs.”

“We're monitoring that, too. We'll give him alternate preoccupations during the testing, placebos, things that will gradually get him used to not receiving the Licycline solution. That's going to be administered whether or not we conclude that he truly is addicted. Does any of this make you feel better? He's my subject, yes, but he's a person first and foremost. I always remember that part.”

Mike didn't care much for the study anymore, or the way Kirk changed. But he'd known Dr. Farr for years, taken his classes, participated in his studies. He decided to give his old professor one more chance to wrap up his experiment before taking it to the dean.

*****

The dentist's chair was gone. In the small room with the thick-windowed door there was now a metal table with many straps on it. Clutching his travel bag, Kirk saw this and instinctively wanted to hide. He wanted to run outside into the nearest open field so that he would have plenty of time to see his approaching killer. He also wanted to duck under the nearest shrub, to cover his head and get lost in the dark.

“This is where you'll be for a while, Kirk,” Dr. Farr said. “The chair is gone. I know how much you hated that.”

“This is worse,” Kirk said under a gurgling, deep voice. He cleared his throat in an attempt to mask his metamorphosis.

“Hop on. I'll show you how it works.”

Kirk lied on the table. Farr and a couple of other staff secured him to it with the built-in straps. Once the last strap was tied down, Farr turned the table to a vertical position. Kirk thought of Frankenstein's monster.

“You're eyes are very red and swollen, Kirk.” Farr raised an eye dropper to his subject's face.

Kirk immediately squirmed and tried to avoid the dropper, like a baby moving its head to avoid its food. Two scientists moved in and held his head in place. A third held his eyes open. Farr administered several drops into each eye.

“It burns! It burns!” Kirk screamed at the wall of deathly-serious faces. “Get it off me! I need water!”

Farr prepared a needle for his subject, filling the chamber full of the familiar yellow liquid. He squirted a little into the air, triggering Kirk's routine nervousness like a sadistic Pavlovian scene, which at that moment rose to skyscraper fear. “Hold his arm down,” he told his staff. “His glands are red-line active, there's no telling anything anymore.” Already strapped in three places, two scientists held down the young man's arms as hard as they could.

“Hold still now,” Farr calmly told his screaming subject. With a sudden jerk, Kirk broke the two straps that held one of his legs. He kicked Dr. Farr hard in the stomach, sending him back against the windowed door. The staff rushed Kirk and clamped down on him like human vices. He continued to bellow strange moans, beginning to see changes in the staff. One had bright orange eyes. One had long, straw-like hair. One had a long, pointed tongue.

He cried out in high-pitched shrieks, yelping like an animal being beaten with a club. “Gas him! Hold him!” the scientists said. One of them threw a breathing mask over Kirk's face, another turned the valve. Farr jabbed the needle into the boy's arm. Kirk poured out muffled cries, moving about like a fish as it's painfully lifted from its water. The veins in his arms lit up and raised in quite a gruesome sight, resembling the sprawling branches of a dead tree.

With half-open eyes underneath his transparent gas mask, Kirk finally went out. The last image in his mind could not be described as a picture, but rather an emotion, as raw as one could read about in any psychological study. Fear.

Over that next week, Kirk was subjected day after day to the same experience as that of his first 24-hour stay. All day, everyday, even as he slept, Farr's staff poked him, prodded him, drugged him. They recorded every nuance to what he said and did, no matter how insignificant. During this process, Kirk spoke less and less. His words turned to grunts and moans most of the time. Other times, he didn't speak at all, but just stared at everybody and everything as if waiting for something to occur.

The doctors, the student assistants, Farr himself, they were all demons. All of them, long-toothed creatures imprisoning him for the Great Mist, preparing him for when it would envelop his being.

During the day, they crawled countlessly over his body with their daggers and claws. During the night, a chosen few aimed fire at the boy to keep him at bay, accompanied by their strong leather straps. Outside, he knew the blue soldiers were ready to stop him in case he tried to flee the castle. But there was nowhere to go, nothing to lose. He felt he would die either way.

One face that Kirk didn't see much of was Theo's. The student scientist couldn't bare to see what Kirk was going through. He had never seen anything be taken so far, and didn't know what to do about it. He feared for his standing with W.U. and with Dr. Farr, thinking that his academic career was put on the line by his inability to keep confidence.

If Mike knew what was happening, he thought, then he would be the one to end this torture. It's only right that he knows. Someone must know. I can't be the only one who thinks this is wrong. I just need someone to reassure me that I'm not alone.

Near the midnight of the seventh night sleeping in the castle, Kirk's guards were looking the other way. He built up his situation, his desperation, his emotion. He thrust it into his right arm and burst it from its three straps. Quickly, he ripped his other straps to shreds and threw himself at the door of his private room.

Farr's night crew rushed to sustain the subject. They piped gas beneath the door and pushed heavy equipment against it, preparing for anything just as Farr had said.

Kirk slammed his angry, terror-stricken body against the wired window, pressing his face against the sight of the demon guards. Behind him, the wall of lights and knobs were writing his execution. They crafted a guillotine traced in bright red lines of blood. Howling like a rabid coyote, Kirk punched his arm through the window and grabbed one of the staff guards. He pulled the helpless creature through the jagged hole, slicing strips of skin off his cheeks and forehead. Clinching his fist over the scientist's face to fit it through the hole, Kirk curled his fingers hard, shoving them into the man's devil eyes, sending thin spurts of blood onto the glass.

The others saw this and began to flee, one at a time, until the last remaining few ran away screaming all at once. Their only prayer was to get away before Kirk got to them, and hope that the breaking of the wired glass would bring enough security to deal with the thing they made.

Cracking the unfortunate captor's skull apart, Kirk pounded the pulpy head onto the door handle and wedged it against
the roof of its mouth. Using it to pry open the door, he destroyed the great lock.

The Mist is approaching, he thought to himself. I've got to hide where it can't see. Somewhere dark. Somewhere quiet.

He whipped the door open, sending the mutilated corpse across the room, falling prey to a wall of glassware and utensils. The prisoner looked about the room that once smiled to him, but now only choked him, waiting for him to die. He wouldn't let that happen, though. He would kill anything that kept him from the salvation of the sunrise, and punish it for its efforts, its breaths of Hell.

Out into the hall where the blue soldiers stood, Kirk screamed in fear and in pain of what was happening to his mind. It felt like it was melting, like he was forced to bare witness to his own shifting into a mud pit of what he used to be. During this crouched wrenching of agony, from the main entrance of the hall, a dark figure burst in carrying a large weapon.

“Mr. Bowman, I find you at last,” Dr. Farr said, still unrecognizable to Kirk. “You were inevitably bound to reach this point, my boy. I simply thought I was correctly prepared for it.”

Kirk looked up at Farr, who was slowly advancing the troubled youth. As soon as Farr was clearly seen in the light emanating from the lab, he stopped, raising his bizarre gun.

“Don't shoot me,” Kirk gurgled, “let me out.” The state of his thoughts were moving back and forth like water in a can, and it was hard for him to focus on one spot. He saw everything in a jumble, and imagined it all in either black or white, for him or against him. They wouldn't stay in one field, creating unimaginable confusion, clouding him from lunging blindly at his fender. In this, Farr was lucky, and he knew it.

“Mr. Bowman, I want you to tell me who I am. I want you to tell me where we are. What is this place.”

“This is where the walls are,” Kirk moaned, still clutching his head. “This is where the blood holds you for the Mist, and the lights blind you from seeing it hover above your head. And you... you live here.”

“Again, Mr. Bowman. This time, stop reading out of cheap thrift store novels. Who am I? What is this place?” Farr was serious in tone, perhaps creating temporary control where he knew he truly had none. Even with the tranquilizer in his hands, his confidence was lacking. The amount of sedative he carried on his person was nowhere near the amount he needed to fell Kirk, much less the single shot amount in the gun's chamber.

“You live here in this castle. I don't know you... I just know that you want to kill me.”

“Dr. Farr. That is who I am. This is Woodston University. Think of what we do here. Remember what I told you to do if you lost yourself.”

Kirk thought hard about the lines he was made to recite in such an event, but couldn't recollect them. Farr made him study the lines upon the end of every daily test, to help him base himself. “My name is Kirk Bowman. I study science. I am under the care of Dr. Farr. My name is Kirk...” Suddenly, he sprung to his feet, slapping his palms to the cold wall. Farr reacted quickly, firing darts at his subject as fast as he could reload, hitting him square in the back.

Kirk didn't react to the darts' impact, too busy coping with his new level of loss. Once the waves calmed, he turned to his doctor, looking at him through teary eyes as he plucked out the darts. All the while, Farr was reloading, dropping every other dart onto the tile floor along with his courage.

With one blurred movement Kirk bounced forward, knocked the tranquilizer out of Farr's right hand, and destroyed four of the fingers on it. It was unreal how they hung there, limp, completely useless pulps now.

Farr backed away quickly, but was cut off from the exit by his subject who thought he was only going for more weaponry. Kirk's twisted perception considered everyone as strong and enduring as he was at that moment, and didn't consider that the scientist was injured and afraid.

Farr fell to his back to avoid another swing. Thinking fast, he shoved himself against Kirk legs, tripping him. Immediately, he scampered across the floor, trying to get to the lab, trying to find fallen darts to stab the boy with.

Onto his feet before Kirk, Farr ran into the lab. Inside, he looked about for anything that could help him. There was nothing. Maybe he just needed to stay alive long enough for security to arrive. But the thought became pointless as Kirk grabbed him by the throat with amazing speed, in what seemed to be an absence of linear time. But rather than instinctively crushing his windpipe, Kirk paused, face to face with the doctor.

“You have me at a disadvantage, my boy,” Farr said in a warped rationale, shaking in complete terror. “What are you going to do now? Whatever is running through your head, do it. Anticipation is worse than anything you might conjure up.”

Kirk looked at the helpless man's eyes for a long time, trying to decide what it was, what that moving thing was he had in his hands. It was the first demon that actually spoke to him. All the others screamed or spoke to each other, but never to him.

At an apex of confusion, the hitting of one of his surmounting waves, Kirk tossed the doctor against a mirror as though he were made of straw.

Crying from the unknown consequences of his rash actions, and from the way the world filled so quickly with devils, Kirk ran through his prison and ripped the torture instruments apart. The table, the wall controls, the stacks of magazines, the TV. He even found the dentist's chair he used to tremble in.

As he demolished Lab 23, his mind furthered its slip from sanity, taking great leaps, dismissing all memory and logic. Not a minute after he ended his tirade, he was out of the castle.

*****

Sweating in his two-bedroom apartment, drenching the duct tape-patched sofa, Mike surfed through TV channels. Half-hour advertisements, late night talk shows, classic movies being butchered with edits and commercial breaks. A flash of W.U. Lights up the screen, making him back up several channels to the local news.

“Theodore Allard was found murdered in a gruesome scene in the science building just an hour ago...”

Mike could believe what he was seeing. His eyes open to a point where his brow started to ache. Through his abrupt grief, he gripped a throw pillow, trying to listen to the rest of the article.

“...authorities originally suspected the work of several people, possibly a gang, but witnesses describe only one man fleeing from the three attacks. The suspect, who has been pinned to the two student maulings and the faculty murder, has yet to be caught by the ongoing manhunt. Woodston University has been sealed off, and we can only hope that it’s not too late to catch this man. Police feel confident that the suspect is still somewhere on campus...”

Mike processed all this quickly. His speed of thought skipped over things he kept racing back for. He didn’t know where to start, lost in the crazed blue of theo, the police, the school, and Kirk. My God, he thought. The science building, Theo worked there. He was found there. Dead. Kirk is there. He’s in trouble, he might be next, if he’s not already dead.

Holding tight to the pillows, he reached down to the sofa and pulled at the cushions as the broadcast eerily described the suspect’s features. This was happening so fast, Mike could barely think about what was happening. He cursed himself for what he began to form in his mind, though the evidence was overwhelming. He looked up at the lamp across the room, next to the TV. It was cracked in a dozen places. Mike had to glue it after Kirk smashed it in rage. The mood swings, the tantrums, the nightmares, the hallucinations.

The man they were hunting was Kirk. They succeeded. They made him some kind of monster.

Mike bent over on the sofa and began to sob. He began to travel back to the days before he stepped past Kirk and into a college man’s career. For a torturing few minutes after the broadcast, Mike was thinking the way his roommate used to, with simple sorrow.
The broadcast continued. “Police advise to stay away from the campus, as they are on a shoot-to-kill hunt. The man is considered dangerous and mentally disturbed.”

*****

Yellow ribbons roped around the university entrances, endless in their stretch. A scattered few police officers formed invisible walls between them with their arms held out, keeping people from stepping beyond the crime scene’s borders.

Mike arrived on his bicycle, watching from a short distance away. Enshrouded in darkness, he spied the nearby oleanders and eased toward them. Laying his bike on the ground gently, he stuck a leg into the bushes, then another. From within the bushes, he saw a couple of officers a few yards away. They received a message on their radios and moved deeper into the dimly-lit campus. As soon as they were out of earshot, Mike carefully removed himself from the shrubs, slinking onto the grounds he knew so well.

“There’s nothing here for you!” an officer yelled into a loudspeaker. “Please, everybody, stay off the campus until the situation is over and done!” Mike heard how many people were making a commotion, and how many officers were holding them back. He thought of those huge numbers and added the officers in the manhunt. He realized that in towns like Woodston, especially in suburban outskirts areas, crimes that made the news were swiftly dealt with, and police struck especially hard to kill it as soon as they could.

Here, their man supposed killed one person and mauled two others. The night had many hours left, and the campus was a labyrinth city with countless trees, bushes, buildings of every size and shape, and dark corners. Pathways leading to everywhere were blacked out and there was plenty of partially-constructed outstretches surrounding the center of W.U. This was big. Kirk, drugged-out, uncontrollable, was going to die.

Mike had to find him before anyone else. At that point, he wouldn’t know what to do. If Kirk had really done was he was accused of, then he most likely lost his mind or what was left of it after Farr’s games. He had to find him fast, before the police, before another victim.

Hunched over as if it helped conceal him, he scurried into the shadow of a tall, black-leafed tree. Appearing before him spookily was the castle in the distance, the science building. There were officers here and there about the building, but nothing be couldn’t sneak past. Most of the police were carrying their shotguns and pistols ready to destroy Kirk at first sight. The would tend to investigating the lab later.

Three officers were in front of the building, leaving Mike to hope that the service entrance was unguarded. Surely, the killer wouldn’t return to the spot of his first kill. No need to beef security that much.

So far, he was right. There was no one outside the service entrance. Stepping in, moving his head around frantically, he saw no one inside either. He visualized a map of the building, turning it upside-down to compensate for where he stood. Room 23 should have been right where he was.

In the staff hall, the doors were unmarked, and he was left to guess that the one directly in front of him was the lab. Opening the door, not recognizing anything at first, the blood rivers told him he was right. More yellow ribbons and more officers. They spoke just outside the main entrance to the lab, talking about the murder.

“He punched through three inches of reinforced glass,” said one officer, “triggered the alarm.”

“Must be on high on something,” said another. “Sick thing he did, tearing part of his head off. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Dear Lord, thought Mike, rummaging through Farr’s cabinets.

“Carried the body clear out into the parking lot,” an officer continued. “He drew a big X on the victim’s chest with blood, and carried him through the hall out into the lot. Gotta be some sort of satanic thing.”

“A witness says that he held the body like a shield, struggling to keep it vertical out in front of him.”

Mike was looking for anything regarding the experiment, anything that involved Kirk. He was searched through tears, not bearing what they were saying about his friend. Papers and memos thrown everywhere, the authorities did a half-thorough job of looking for the truth. In the college district, you find the man first, then the intangible stuff, like motive and ties to the victims.

“Cro-Mag Tests 1,” said one paper. “K.B.” Kirk Bovett, Mike thought. “Reversal potential results,” said another sheet, also followed by Kirk’s initials.

Over the next few minutes, Mike scanned through a score of papers in the subject file that the police did not look through yet. He learned that the experiment originally had two other subjects when Kirk started, but soon thereafter they were let go. The experiment concentrated on Kirk.

It first involved pictures and slides, still life photography, cartoons, things with bulky shapes and primary colors. It moved on from there to video tapes, mostly computer animation: wildlife, jungle scenes, recreations of prehistoric times. The progress charts depicted more intense, more violent content in the videos, more complex movements and an increase in dark tones. They were showing Kirk subliminally gruesome stuff, making it gradually worse everyday.

Dragons, dinosaurs, reptiles, bears and lions killing prey, anything with blood, was somehow inserted into whatever Kirk was exposed to. Scenes from “Lord of the Rings,” “Jurassic Park,” “Jaws.” then cam homemade stuff with people running away from muggers in the dark. The muggers became bigger. They became mutants. The dark sidewalk they ran on became dirt and weeds, buildings became barren trees.

Farr is out of his mind, Mike thought, leafing through notebooks. The other couldn’t have known what he was doing. Theo couldn’t have known. They probably each knew part of the experiment, but only Farr knew the entire scope and purpose. This is sick.

A footnote concerning Kirk’s lifetime limitations was circles with theories linked to it. Apparently, his disadvantages in life were Farr’s advantages. Kirk’s learning disorder, his development problems, made him the most suitable candidate for the devolving experiment. The other subjects must have been closer to “normal.”

“Don’t move!” yelled a voice from the main doorway. It was an officer, pulling out a gun for Mike. He was alone, the others were still outside. Mike knew he should have threw himself at the police, maybe help them find his friend. But living in Woodston for as long as he had, with his flickering faith in local humanity, he fell back to his early high school way of thinking, when Kirk was his classmate. He had the instinct to run and avoid being accused of being a murdered himself, or of being an accomplice to one.

“I said don’t move!” The officer then began yelling for his comrades with moving his head. He screamed yelled again. The third time, he moved his head in the direction of the door, just for a second. It was then than Mike’s heart raced as he flew to the service door, barely being able to shut it behind him. The officer lunged for him, weaving through the laboratory disaster. The clutter gave Mike the scarce time he needed.

Immediately, he ran into the shadow path he followed moments before. He ducked and scurried, tripped once, but righted himself as if all in one movement. He heard the officer behind him, but it must have been in his head, because an eternal minute later, Mike had eluded the authorities.

*****

In the middle of a flat dirt field sat the future site of Woodston University’s three-million dollar ball park. Around it was plains of what looked like blue grass in the moonlit darkness. Kirk fell to his knees and picked up a handful of the grass. Up close to his face, it lost its luster. He threw it down in frustration.

Between the stadium construction site and the distant mathematics building lied an expansive faculty parking lot. Lit by only one working lamp post, Kirk felt the surge of hunter in him. He scoped the concrete field for the Mist and the demons coming back to cage him for their master. Along the outside of that rock hard area was an automobile. It looked familiar to him. Perhaps that was a bad thing. He readied his hairy claws.

A lone man walked from the math building to the car, whistling a tune as if he didn’t know about the police, the maulings, the manhunt. He acted quite comfortable, as if this hell was welcoming, routine.

Kirk approached the creature, walking erect so as to strike with unawares. The creature looked up at him, exposing his face to the single lamp post light.

“Won ton man,” said Professor Dillenger, “you attend Woodston now?”

Kirk saw who it was and reeled back from his hunter role. He left it with the recognition of the professor, but only for a second.

“What are you doing here so late?” No response. The professor started to hesitate, not sure what to make of Kirk’s unusual appearance. He continued with the small talk to help ease the tension that seemed to be surrounding him quickly. “What... what do you do now that the Dragon is closed?”

The dragon. He knew of the Dragon. What else did he know? The demons? The castle? Of course, the castle. He just came from one himself, one that shares the same ground as his former prison.

Kirk stood inches from the crisp pan of light. Stepping forward with caution toward his enemy, the light traveled up his body with snail’s speed, and Dillenger would see more detail than he could imagine.

“What that on your shirt... your pants... oh dear...”

His blood soon joined what was already on Kirk’s science overalls. Bleach white next to blackish red. It had an appeal to it that Kirk smiled at as he stepped on the back of the professor’s head, muffling attempts at screams against the grainy pavement. The screams grew louder and higher in pitch as Kirk tore the professor’s left arm out of its socket with a twist and a snap and the entwining of muscles. He had to press down on the professor’s head harder, to silence his worthless pleas for mercy.

Bending the severed arm to extremes, where the elbow stuck out with a sharp fracture, Kirk caved in the professor’s skull with it. His cries were terrifying, their volume tripping over blood filling his throat. Kirk’s heart nearly exploded in fear, and it made him ill to be so frightened. A final swing of the arm and the skull was more than penetrated. It was a jagged bowl of hair and blood, and other things that Kirk knew were evil.

The swing of the arm was so fierce that it flew from Kirk’s grip toward the mathematics building, landing in the middle of a clean grey path.

Locating the ball park again, Kirk ran like an imp to where one of the dugouts had been partially built. It was a giant burrow of hard-packed dirt, cloaked in night dark all around, filled with death dark inside. It was inside this blackness that Kirk was completely unseen. He was free to scan the entire park and the fields beyond it in wait for the Mist to come. The Mist would be grey, black, red, filled with flashes of every color, every soul it’s devoured, no doubt. It would not have a body to attack, no blood to spill, but he would fight it somehow. He would know when the time came.

*****

Near the math building, along the blood-stained path, Mike discovered the professors arm in sheer fright. There was a watch on the wrist and shreds of a man’s dress shirt, soaked in blood. Tilting his head in anticipation for the unimagined worst, he saw Dillenger’s body face-down in the pan of light, next to the driver’s door of his blue sedan with the keys dangling from the keyhole.

Mike walked up to the professor and confirmed it was him with only a passing glance. He couldn’t look for more than a second, doing all he could to keep from vomiting. Walking a few yards further, he turned around to see more than he picture from his new angle.

He burst with vomit, his insides acting before notifying his brain. Grey and yellow liquid covered his clothing. He bent over in weakness, clinging onto his thoughts, his mind.

The ball park was only a hundred or so feet away. It was charcoal grey, darker in some places, and was a match to what Kirk described in his nightmares. Mike walked in, leaving the faint light that bled from that which was honoring the professor. Peering around a concrete bunker, he saw that he was next to one of the dugouts and directly across from the other.

Silence.

Nothing moved, nothing made sound, nothing was alive aside the blue grass, artificial in its appearance.

A rustling and the kick of a pebble broke the quiet. Mike heard it come from the dugout across the way. He walked toward it, waiting for Kirk to come out traumatized, sobbing in pain. Covering in blood, limping as if extremely weak, Kirk stepped forth from the burrow, stopping only a few feet from the edge of the darkness that concealed him. It wasn’t until that moment that Mike realized he didn’t know what to expect. He didn’t see his roommate, but rather a completely different person, a different being.

The two of them stood a mere fifteen feet from each other, unseen to anyone not standing within the half-developed diamond. Kirk made a few grunts with no order or reason behind them, rough sounds with his breathing. Mike looked for something to say. He forgot about the police, the manhunt, the intent to kill Kirk. He almost forgot about the murders. Almost.

“Kirk, you’re a mess,” he said, laughing under a growing ceiling of fear. “Let’s go get you cleaned up.”

Kirk looked at him with an unmoving stare. He didn’t acknowledge his words in any way, looking right into his eyes in wait for something to happen.

Mike was becoming very scared. He flinched at the movement of Kirk’s arm, reaching up to scratch an itch.

“Come on buddy, you’re acting weird,” said Mike, trembling through his voice. “A lot of people are looking for you. We don’t want to worry them. Let’s go home and watch some TV. Maybe we can see a movie. That corner video place is always open.”

Kirk sensed this man’s fear. He began to prey on it.

“They have this discount now for W.U. students. I got a card for it, but I’ve been putting off using it.” Mike could barely stand to look his friend in the eyes.

Kirk screamed a muddy, boiling roar, not taking his sight off Mike. A cold breeze slid across Mike’s face, making his eyes water. Through opaque vision he saw Kirk getting closer, not seeing how fast he was moving.

One second and Mike was hitting the ground. Two seconds and he was thrown against the backstop boards. Three, and he was reeling from the pain of Kirk’s foot shattering his rib cage.

“Don’t do it! Don’t...” Mike was gasping, and the sound of his forearm snapping interrupted his plea.

Kirk threw the helpless student into the diamond, between the pitcher’s mound and home base. Pushing himself up from his brunt landing, he tried to force useless words from his mouth, dry and muffled with bits of blood and lack of air.

“Don’t... don’t... please.”

Kirk stood ominously at the backstop board, taking in huge swallows of air. Unexpectedly, his brow raised from its aggressive expression, and he relaxed his arms.

“Kirk, help me... please.”

As Kirk looked out into the diamond at who was now his roommate, no longer a demon, he saw the great black stretch of land behind him. The darkness began to move in all directions, as though the night was liquid. The swirl became soft at its edges, hovering over Mike.

It was the Mist coming to get Kirk. It was hiding all that time, disguising itself as the night air, waiting for Kirk to be alone before it made the kill.

Letting out a loud, distorted yell, he ran toward Mike who had his head bowed in agony. Mike looked up at the exact moment Kirk reached him. Fearful for his life, he covered his face with his broken arm.

Kirk grabbed his legs and dragged him into the burrow, hiding him in the complete dark. He jumped out to face the Mist, which had started to approach his friend just moments before. He stood tall, looking for anything that would given his enemy a disadvantage, thinking like a hunter, a killer. This was the meeting of the Dragon’s Breath and the Zealot, the end of a long, insane dual huntdown.

The Mist stopped in front of him, pausing as though it were hesitating to strike. Kirk cried out, waving away images of a time before the drugs and experimentation, before the closing of the restaurant. He drove back his sanity, coming to take over again. He ran away from the still mist, sitting atop the mound. He would fight it when he had more control of his emotions, over his sanity or lack of.

“Kirk,” Mike moaned. “Don’t leave. They’ll kill you.”

*****

The police officers were combing every dark corner of the campus, searching the Language Arts area, working their way to the Mathematics department. A couple ran out of the fog-like night to them. They had just come out of the Biology lad, where they spent the last several hours studying, unaware of what was happening on campus. As they approached the officers, it was clear their eyes had just see evil.

“Over by math,” the young man tried to say, “over by math.”

“We saw something by the math building,” his girlfriend followed, “and they headed toward the baseball stadium.”

“Get over there,” an officer said to his comrades in a quick, stern tone, waving his flashlight in that direction. Immediately, teams of police aimed their detailed search to where Kirk and Mike were.

“Calm down,” the policeman told the frantic couple. “What did you see?”

“By math, Professor Dillenger.”

The troops of police were stunned by the sight of the professor’s body. The mangling of his upper torso was nothing short of the devil’s work. When they reached the ball park, they beamed their lights at the nearest burrow. It was empty. Lighting the opposite burrow, they saw what looked like a crouched figure, possibly dead in its stillness.

Mike looked up from his drowsy position on the lowered dugout floor to see what looked like dozens of lights bleeding into one blinding white mist. The click of a gun rang out, unfamiliar to him.

“Come out of there with your hands in the air!”

From where he knelt alone in his hazy pit, he could see shadows lying in deranged stretches on the field, playing with his escaping mind. He shut his eyes to avoid them, while clutching his bloody arm in the faint light. The feeling in his legs were fading away, which might have been a good thing. Anything to erase the pain.

Nothing kept Mike from thinking about his friend, however. About how he has become some form of evil.

The voices were coming, floating on the mist. He didn't know to trust them or not. At that point, nothing made sense, and trust was a gift that didn't exist anymore. Perhaps it never did.

Run to them, he thought, it doesn't matter anymore. Just stop the pain. I can't walk. I can't see. Blood in my eyes, streaming down my face into my mouth. I'll dwell on the taste to keep me from passing out, the flavor of this thing I've made.

“Come out of there right now!”

Mike didn’t really hear the voices. Even as he stepped out of the burrow, in his head, he was still passed out across the dugout floor.

“Stop right there! We’ll open fire! Stop! Hands in the air!”

He stumbled onto the diamond, halfway between third and home, falling to one knee. The addition of more light revealed the blood all over his clothing, the maddening look on his face. More guns clicked to load, two officers moved in to apprehend him.

“For the last time, put your hands in the air!”

He knelt still, with seventeen policemen aiming their pistols at him, less than twenty feet away. Every officer knew what this killer was capable of. They knew of the sheer strength it must have taken to rip a man’s arm away from his torso. With whatever drug is coursing through his body, they wouldn’t be able to predict what he might do.

Mike’s vision started to clear. His head was still foggy, not knowing where he was or who was with him. He wanted to go to whoever was there.

The two officers were behind him, getting closer, moving slowly, readying to sprint in with arms held out and their hands spread tightly. Before they got their chance, Mike rose to his feet, much to the discomfort of the police.

“Don’t move, or we’ll open fire! Again, do not move or we will open fire!”

His head still swimming, Mike wanted only to run toward the comforting distorted words that were calling out to him.

*****

The sunrise cracked light along the distant hillside. Between Kirk and that beautiful horizon was a valley of green pastures, farms, and a snake-like river. Rickety wooden fences kept in the cows, the chirping of birds filled the huge, bushy trees. This view was Miller Park’s most beautiful and most secret. Only a few knew the back way to the small cliff that was isolated from the rest of the giant park. He found it as a small boy, living in the orphanage with Mike. Usually, he sat with his legs crossed on the cliff during sunset, but today sunrise would do.

He bowed his head in thought of his friend. He thought of the Mist, and of how it probably got to him, despite the vast darkness he hid him in. If it didn’t manage to penetrate that dark, it would surely have had him by sunrise when the sun stole his cover.

“Kirk,” a voice suddenly said. “Don’t be afraid. It’s going to be alright.”
He turned and saw the Mist coming toward him slowly. This time it was a glowing white. Perhaps it was a different being, a different collective of beings. No. It must have been a trick. The comforting words, the change of color. He knew there was no place to run from it now.

“Kirk, don’t move. We’ll come to you. If you move, we’ll be angry.”

It is a collective! Kirk realized. The Mist widened, starting to surround his position, preparing to envelop him. He was confused as to whether it was to be trusted, and he had to decide before his choice was made for him.

“Just stay still now, it’ll be alright.”

He stood like a savage, breathing hard, foaming. His teeth were exposed, his back was arched like a cat’s in defense. The white Mist came closer from three sides. Kirk had to do something fast. He randomly picked a side, curled his fingers, exposed his teeth, and lunged.

“Hold him! Get in there and hold him!”

“Move it! He’ll overtake us!”

“get it ready! Hurry! We can’t hold him any longer!”

“Now, Hirsh, now!”

Dr. Hirsh stabbed Kirk with a hyperdermic needle, sending him into an uncontrollable fit. He rolled around, nearly falling off the cliff. Farr and the others rushed to make sure he didn’t.

With a final shake and a drowning yelp, his arms slid to his sides, and his eyes froze in their wide stare. Kirk was dead, as all the scientists very well knew.

Dr. Farr held the other needle in his right hand. Hirsh gave him the one they used.

“It’s sad we had to use this one,” he said, holding up the two needles, indicating the one in his left hand. “But what else could be done?”

“The sedative, any sedative, would have done nothing to him,” said another scientist, “not with the gland flow he had.”

The eight men in white smocks paused as if honoring Kirk with silence. They had quite a rough and distressing night, one filled with decision that were hard to make, and regrets about what forced them to make those decisions.

The night was long, the news broadcasts went on all hours, the police continued their manhunt, expanding it beyond the campus. Morning papers reported that the killer fled the college and was loose elsewhere. A young male student was mistaken to have been the killer, and was shot and killed while in a disorienting stupor.

Farr hoped that their plan to “decrease he negative publicity” would work. He was quite sure it would, as it had before.

“How did you know to come here?” asked Hirsh.

“His friend came by the lab,” Farr replied. “He was an old student, as well as an old subject of mine. I asked him to tell me where he thought Kirk would go if he was upset or sad.” He paused for a moment, choking back all regrets that had been born in one night. “I wanted Kirk to think of that place whenever he had trouble with the Licycline, but I never had a chance to ask him to do that.”

Farr bent down to look at Kirk’s face. At last, he seemed at rest. “This was Kirk with a K. That’s how he introduced himself.”

The eight of them stood around Kirk’s body in its fetal position on the dirt, thinking about the length of time between the moment he first walked into the laboratory, to the moment Dr. Hirsh injected him with 90 doses of Licycline.

“It’ll look like an overdose, a build-up of the drug, perhaps,” Farr said calmly, cutting the silence. “The drug mixed poorly with his elevated adrenaline, we’ll say. We have federal documents that separate us from those responsibilities.”

“A year’s work,” Hirsh said, “the town in its frenzy, the lives lost. I can’t believe we did this.”

Dr. Farr put the syringes in his pocket and breathed a long sigh, looking out at the sun rising above the countryside and its morning mist.

“I agree,” he replied. “We should have used a female.”

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