The Mystery At Granholm by Sean Arata

The wind roared through the open windows of the dusty old station wagon as it rumbled across the open plain towards its destination. Michael and Stephanie sat in stone silence with the dulcet tones of Frank Sinatra playing, via cassette player, through the old speakers in the rear of the car. Michael banged his fist on the dashboard and the sound issued intermittently through the front speakers. A word of exasperation passed through his pursed lips and his daughter gave him a disapproving glare. He grunted an apology and reached towards the knob on the radio and boosted the volume higher.

“Why are we going to see mom? She made it clear that we weren’t welcome any longer the last time we visited and I really don’t want to go through that again,” she said. She trailed her hand through the window letting the wind take it. She enjoyed the feeling of the wind even in this dry and dusty climate.

Michael thought for a moment before he answered her. When he spoke, he pointedly avoided looking at her as he stared at something only he could see in the distance. “Honey, its just something that we need to do. It has been far too long since we have seen her. I’ve made my peace with her and I would really like it if you would at least think about doing the same, and you know how hard it has been for me. … Look, she reached out to me this time and it sounded important!” Without taking his eyes off the heat-glazed road he reached over and took his daughter’s hand. She started a bit at the unexpected physical touch and then took her other hand and placed it on top of her father’s. Though his words were hollow, especially the part about making peace with her mother, Stephanie decided not to argue anymore.

“Dad, I’m sorry. It’s just so hard for me to think of her as my mom anymore. I think I got the stubbornness gene from her! I hope that’s all I got.” She took her hand back and laid it onto her lap. She continued to gaze out of the car towards the distant horizon as her father adjusted the volume of the radio every so often as Frank starting singing his song over again. Must be stuck on a loop, she thought as she closed her eyes and forced the outside world away. Dreams soon took her as the old wagon continued on down the road towards the unexpected.

#

#

She woke several hours later as the sun was setting over the distant horizon below the rising mountains. The stars were beginning to come out in the Eastern sky as she woke out of her dreamy oblivion. She took a moment to admire their beauty. How amazing, she thought. She was always amazed by how clearer the cosmic realm was out in this wasteland. When she was a kid she used to stare at the stars with rapt attention imagining herself out amongst all those pretty little lights. Even now that she held a college understanding of the greater sciences she still liked to imagine herself star-hopping and meeting new and strange creatures out there. She breathed a contented sigh as she pulled herself up in her seat. For the first time since they had started out from the house early that morning she felt happy.

“Ah, it awakes!,” her father said. He was grinning from ear to ear as he gazed ahead.

“You sure are chipper!,” she said.

“I’m not so much chipper as suffering from Frank Sinatra torture. I literally cannot turn off the radio or change the station and he’s been singing the same damn song for the last three hours. Yeah… you slept that long. I even tried pulling over and turning the car off and almost got to the point of pulling it out, the radio that is, before I decided that would be going a bit far.” He let out a long whistle and shook his head rapidly as she stared on. From past experience, she knew that he had been waiting for the opportunity to make some kind of noise for a long time. It was his preferred method of de-stressing.

“I don’t really have a good reaction to that story Dad. It’s just too bizarre. How much longer do we have anyway?”

“Not much longer. About an hour then we can stop at Jarrod’s and get a bite to eat. I don’t know if you remember but they have the best fried chicken and don’t get me started on the mashed potatoes…” Stephanie let her father describe their general itinerary though she was thinking about the impending visit with her mother which her father conveniently skipped over. The remainder of the car ride gave her some time to think about the last time she had seen her mother.

The departure of her mother had been sudden and vicious. Caroline had announced to them both that she would be leaving and that they shouldn’t follow her. Stephanie had been a young woman just entering High School for the first time and truly beginning to need her mother for all those little things that only a mother could provide. She had come back from school with her bag slung over one shoulder. Large text books stretched its fabric to the breaking point, or so it felt to Stephanie. The homework load at the time had seemed like a bit much. All this was torn from her thoughts when she entered the room to see her father in tears and her mother keeping a stony resolve. She may have imagined it but sometimes Stephanie thought that she may have seen a small hitch in her mother’s resolve when she switched her gaze from her weeping husband to her incredulous daughter as though she was valiantly trying to keep her internal emotions at bay. It wasn’t long, however, before she resumed her original glare at both Stephanie and her father.

The tears and the stoniness continued for quite some time and ended with her mother storming out and driving away in a car that was already filled to the brim with her personal belongings. Oddly enough, Stephanie didn’t remember very many tears after that encounter but she did remember sitting with her father being held as he tried to come to grips with things. This more than anything else helped forge the lasting friendship that ran deeper than many father and daughter relationships throughout the world. She lived with this as the last image of her mother for years with the anger building slowly over time and simmering. Her father had been searching for her mother for years despite her protestations and had been about to give up when he received a phone call that he later described to his daughter as “cryptic and just plain weird”. That had been a week ago and now she found herself heading towards a confrontation that she neither desired nor cared to think much about.

As she sat in the car listening to her father ramble on and on about nothing and pointedly ignoring the true reason for their journey she was comforted by his presence in this rather alien landscape. As she was looking out at the surrounding environment her attention was taken fully by a small group of animals about a hundred yards to the west. In this light she could barely pick out the individual animals from the larger group but she was assaulted by feelings of fear that crept up from the depths of her soul. She looked over at her father to see if he had a similar reaction and noticed that he was also staring at them.

“Strange how they are all just sitting there. I don’t know why but I don’t like it,” he said. His voice was hushed and his former manic attitude had disappeared. She couldn’t remember if she had ever seen him so unsettled before. He pressed his foot down further on the accelerator and before long they had passed the strange assembly. Frank continued to sing his endless routine as the car beat its irrevocable path towards the town that the father and daughter knew to be in the distance. As the car passed out of sight of the assembled animals, the group began to move as one in roughly the same direction as the car being pulled by something deeper than instinct.

#

#

The sun had set behind the mountains when they arrived at the town where her mother and father had met so many years ago. Michael kept the car idling as both he and his daughter stared out the windshield at the darkened town. They had known that something was amiss for miles now as they had failed to see any lights from the city as they had come closer and closer to the middle of nowhere. They had passed several familiar haunts from their time here during the happier times in Stephanie’s youth when they had visited her grandfather in this dusty old town. Jack’s Diner and Jarrods, where they had been planning to sate their hunger, were darkened and somewhat decrepit looking. Stephanie did not say it out loud, for fear it was true, but she began to suspect that these buildings and apparently this town had been like that for quite some time.

“What’s going on Dad?” she said. Even though there appeared to be no one around she feared to speak with too much force. Aside from the wind blowing through the valley, the tones of Frank Sinatra coming from the car were the only sounds and they became cloying in her ears.

“I don’t know but I have a bad feeling about this. Maybe we should go…” he was interrupted by a scream from farther inside of town. The next few seconds were like something out of a horror movie as this scream was picked up by other voices around the supposedly deserted village. Stephanie and her father looked at each other for the smallest of moments before her father slammed his foot down on the accelerator. The car lurched forward and then stopped dead as the engine died.

“Damn, forgot the clutch!” he said as he depressed the clutch and fought with the key in the ignition to turn over the engine. As often happens during those darkest of times fate seemed to conspire against them as the engine tried with the feeblest of attempts to turn over and rev the engine back to life. The car was certainly not new and had lived more than most but it was still a disconcerting feeling as Michael kept trying over and over to start the car. For Stephanie, the eeriest point of this was not the continued keening coming from all around them. Instead, it was the irrepressible old blue-eyes who continued to sing to an audience who just didn’t quite care anymore.

For what seemed like an eternity to both occupants of the car, Michael continued to turn the key to the engine that just would not go. Stephanie kept glancing around but the darkness seemed to be coalescing and obscuring her vision of what was around her. She kept imagining that zombies would show up at her window any minute now and rip the car door off with their unnatural strength and pull her from the car into the inky oblivion before she could so much as scream. This, however, wasn’t the scariest moment of the ordeal for her. For some reason, when Frankie stopped singing she became more frightened than at any point along this strange trip to her childhood. With one last gasp, the car attempted to turn over and just quit taking the old crooner into a stereophonic graveyard.

Silence.

Michael and Stephanie were frozen in unapologetic terror as everything around them seemed to have stopped. Stephanie expected to see tiny granules of dirt suspended in mid-air. The strange wailing must have stopped at some point during the mad and fruitless dash towards escape. Michael and his daughter had lost touch with the normal pace of time and couldn’t have described how long it had been since they rolled into the dark town if their lives had depended on it. They made several attempts to speak but found their mouths dry and their vocal chords unresponsive until their hearts came back down from the crescendo peak they had hit.

“W-What is happening?” she asked.

“I’m not sure, but that noise!!” he said. His eyes rolled up into his head and for a moment she feared that he had passed out but was relieved when he seemed to jerk back into awareness. He looked at her with a sudden intensity, his eyes barely noticeable in the darkened interior of the car. “We need to get out of here. I don’t know what’s going on … but its bad.” They both scrambled from the car but neither of them could see much beyond what little ambient light was produced by the stars and the moon, which was of course very far from full. The silence was once again punctuated by a lone cry that was picked up by others that seemed to come from all directions. To Stephanie, who had been a big fan of 101 Dalmations as a kid, it strongly resembled the midnight bark.

“Dad, what the hell is that?” she asked.

“I don’t know. If its an animal I doubt its from around here.” he replied. Stephanie doubted that it could be something natural yet there was something almost human about its cadence. In a way she felt sorry for these creatures though she wasn’t sure why.

They inched along the side of the car until they met behind the vehicle where both Stephanie and her father were standing with their backs to each other. They both felt that turning their backs on whatever was around them would be a bad idea but this seemed to be a fruitless gesture. Before long shadowy figures began to creep forward with unsure steps. Stephanie could not help thinking of several bad zombie films that she had seen yet unlike those atrocities she had no desire to laugh. As they came closer both of them were immediately struck by one thing: they all looked exactly like Stephanie! Down to the tiniest detail these shambling creatures were every essence of her except for intelligence as she could tell that they lacked her self-awareness and instead seemed to be guided by some internal instinct.

Stephanie at first found herself completely unable to talk. Her mind was shocked by this turn of events and she wouldn’t have been able to say her name if she had been asked at that moment. Every ounce of education that she had ever learned in her life was pushed out for the briefest of moments as her brain tried to explain the impossible. A great black void threatened to engulf her reason and take her sanity away from her turning her into these shambling copies of her. Her father’s arms around her pulling her back from terror’s sweet embrace.

“Dad, what is going on?” she asked knowing that he wouldn’t have any idea either.

Her dad remained silent, too frightened to make even the smallest of sounds. They held on tightly to each other unaware of where their fate would bring them.

#

#

Twenty years earlier the town of Granholm had been a thriving center of industry. Young men came from all around to try and claim some of the riches that were said to be in the surrounding mountains in a great abundance. There was never a confirmed account of anyone striking it rich but the town itself prospered from the continous influx of visitors. When asked about their reason behind seeking out this particular town most maintained a perplexed expression and couldn’t quite recall the reasons behind it and to a man they stuck to the goldrush story though they varied drastically on the exact source of the wealth. Some maintained that there were huge oil reserves just under the surface while others spoke of more ephemeral riches that were constantly just out of reach. Caroline had ridden into town with her father when she was a little child and had fallen in love with the town quickly. She knew nothing of the mysteries that surrounded the mythical riches but went along with her father when he decided to move all the way across the country to this new location. Having recently lost his wife, and her mother, the old man needed a place to start over.

Many years passed and hard times fell on the town causing most of the young men, now showing a few grey hairs themselves, to ditch their efforts and try to find steady work elsewhere. Through all this, Caroline and her father stayed put. She was never quite sure what her father did for a living and never took it upon herself to ask. It was only when she met the young Michael, passing through on a trip to the cliched ‘parts unknown’, that she began to consider a life outside the dusty little town. They had fallen hard for each other and despite her father’s strongest protestations she found herself moving away to a life with her new husband… with a little baby coming soon thereafter. As Caroline stood watching her daughter and ex-husband from her vantage point in the doorway of one of the many abandoned buildings of her home town she found herself assaulted by memories from her daughter’s youth and the happy times she had shared with Michael. She had always wanted nothing but to protect them both yet here they stood directly in harm’s way despite every effort she had made to alienate them from the mysteries of Granholm… and her father. Dammit, why couldn’t they just stay away? she thought darkly.

With a heavy sigh she unholstered the weapon that she kept at her waist and fired one shot into the sky. The sound was barely audible to Michael or Caroline but all the ghouls that looked like Stephanie as well as Stephanie herself clutched their ears in obvious pain and crashed down to thrash helplessly on the ground. Michael reached first for his daughter before taking a second to look around for the source of the interference. When he saw Caroline coming from the doorway of the nearest building a look of anguish passed over his face before being replaced by anger.

“Caroline, what the hell is going on here?” he said. He was holding Stephanie in his arms as she continued to spasm along with all her copies.

Caroline didn’t answer at first, instead proceeding to put the weapon back in its holster and clasping it back into place. She cocked her head as though hearing something that Michael was not privy to and looked off into the distance.

“We need to get out of here. He’s keeping track of all these monstrosities and must already know that something is going on.” she said.

“What do you mean? Who is he? Your father?” he asked.

“We don’t have time for 20 questions!” she lashed out at him. “Get her up and come with me NOW!”

He always knew that she had a fiery temper and a stony resolve and he found himself obeying her almost automatically as he brought Stephanie somewhat to her feet. Her convulsions were decreasing along with all of her copies and Michael followed his ex-wife through the dark towards an old car parked at the side of the house she had been viewing them from.

“Will you at least tell me why you called and begged me to come?” he asked. Caroline stopped in her tracks and turned on him so fast that the surprise almost made him drop his daughter.

“What are you talking about? I haven’t spoken to you since I left.” she stated quite firmly.

“But you called me two days ago! You said that we needed to come visit you here. You sounded… well, you sounded worried. About us or about yourself I didn’t know but it was enough to make me drop EVERYTHING and come here to see you.”

“No, no, no. I would never. There are things happening here that…” she was interrupted by a cry from one of the creatures. “Hurry, we have no time! Go!!”.

She stepped towards Michael and took Stephanie’s other arm around her neck and between the two of them they managed to get her into the car. With the three of them in the car and the shambling creatures stirring behind them, Caroline turned the vehicle on and stepped on the accelerator. They did not stop for several miles and soon found themselves in the middle of nowhere. When she had gotten far enough away for her own peace of mind Caroline stopped the car and left it idling. She had been ignoring Michael’s intermittent questions for the last half hour. She looked first at her daughter in the back seat, who appeared to have fainted from the after effects of Caroline’s weapon, and then locked eyes with her ex-husband.

“I didn’t call you.” she stated simply. “I think that my father, in an effort to bring Stephanie here, called you disguised as me.”

“Well that’s just…” he started to say before she put her finger up and shot him a piercing glare. She had used that trick on him plenty of times before and he stopped talking immediately.

“I know that you have quite a few questions and I will do my best to answer them but I have to do it in my own way. Its the only way I know how. Do you remember that last trip we took here as a family to visit my father?”

“Yeah, of course. It was the summer before Stephanie started High School.” he said. He was perplexed at where this conversation was going.

“You know I wanted to keep you out of all this which is the ONLY reason that I left you the way I did. It was more important to me that you just assume that I was a cold heartless bitch. I did it to keep you safe!” she said. The resolve in her face was beginning to break down and she was afraid that she might just cry.

“Caroline, please just tell me what is going on!” he said.

She looked over at her daughter who was till passed out in the back seat. She began to tell Michael everything that she had found out on that fateful day almost six years ago. Before long, Michael’s hands were curled into fists and a look of unadulterated rage became permanently etched on his face.

#

#

Stephanie’s head was aching a great deal and she couldn’t remember the exact causes of it. The last thing she could remember was looking over from the car and seeing her mother standing in the doorway of some nearby abandoned building. She had seen her mother take a weapon of some kind from her belt and aim it at the sky. In the next instant strange sensations assaulted her and she was forced bodily down to the ground where she writhed in agony clawing at her head in an effort to get rid of the them. As she started to come out of this she heard her mother and father speaking and began to listen intently much as she had done years earlier when they had attempted to talk behind her back. She reflected for a moment on how easy it was to go back to childhood habits before turning her attention back to their conversation.

“Caroline, please just tell me what is going on!” he said.

“That last trip here I found out something that will be hard for you to swallow. I can still hardly believe it, but here goes. My father was doing experiments on the people of this town that turned them into something not quite human anymore.” her mother said. Stephanie’s eyes widened ever so slightly but she continued to listen.

Her father didn’t seem to know what to say to this startling piece of information so he just nodded his head. Seemingly encouraged by this response Caroline continued with her recounting of events.

“Based on what you’ve seen around you I’m sure you’ve noticed some of the fallout from his experiments. During that last trip here with you and Stephanie I …. I at one point found my father hovering over Stephanie,” Caroline was attempting to hold back the tears that were threatening. Michael was still listening intently though he had tensed up at the mention of his daughter’s name. “It was nothing sexual … but there was something in his eyes that frightened me when he looked at her. Maybe it was all the years apart from him since you and I left this town but he seemed to have changed from the man I had loved. Even then I should have known that something was just plain wrong and I should have gotten the both of you out immediately but I still loved him and I needed to know for sure. That night after you had taken Stephanie to see a movie… I can’t remember which one anymore… I followed my father out into the desert west of the town. He was taking a couple of the townspeople with him and I remember being struck by how docile they were whenever my father was around. My father and the two from town drove to what appeared to be an old abandoned building in the desert. Some kind of war-time relic I think. Once there they disappeared inside and I followed and got close enough to look inside!”

Caroline looked unsure of herself for a moment but before Michael could ask what she had seen she continued. “The inside of this building was something … NOT from here. I’m sorry I can’t really explain it any better. What I remember most were all the different colors of tubes and the technology just seemed out of place. Michael, he was hooking those two people up to some kind of machine and they were letting him do it! I think that is what is still the scariest part. I couldn’t stand it any more so I high-tailed it back into town as fast as I could. I couldn’t stay there any longer with you and Stephanie. My intention was to take you and leave the town forever. I hadn’t made up my mind if I was going to tell anyone else about it and try to pursue some kind of legal action. When I got back to the house…”

“What happened?” Michael said quietly but with earnest.

“My father was there with Stephanie! At the time I didn’t know how he could have gotten there before me.”

“Wait a minute, I remember that night and Stephanie was with me the entire night.”

“Yes, she was. But she was also with my father!” Stephanie, from her vantage point in the back seat, flashed back to that last day in Granholm, and remembered that she had spent time with her father for the majority of the day. She remembered being confused as to where her mother was. This is all insane, she thought. How could she have been in two different places. She began to consider the sobering possibility that her mother had suffered some kind of mental break. But all those look-a-likes…..

“When I saw them in his bedroom my father was injecting some kind of drug into her. She looked up at me with those eyes… but there was nothing underneath them. That thing wasn’t my Stephanie. That thing only looked like her and I decided right then and there that we would have to leave and never come back. I hastily packed everything and refused to say anything to him as he hovered over me trying to explain! Can you imagine, trying to explain something that…. that awful. I didn’t want to find out what happened so I packed the car up and waited for you outside the movie theater. It took me a long time to shake off what I had seen.”

“What about all those creatures that look like Stephanie?” Michael asked. Her was flustered from all this explanation and could not even begin to wrap his mind around it. Stephanie was first in his mind still and he knew that her safety wall all that mattered.

“That was why I left you both. It soon came to my attention that my father had plans for our daughter that went well above and beyond what a grandfather should want. Michael, our daughter IS one of them!” she shouted at him. She was coming close to hysterics and Michael wasn’t doing any better. They both glanced back towards their daughter, who was still playing possum and in a world of pain beyond anything her two parents were feeling. I’m one of them?, she thought. She thought it over and over again until their voices brought her attention back to the front.

“He wrote me a letter full of babbling and incoherent talk but he said over and over how Stephanie was his greatest achievement and how he needed her to finish his work. Hah, can you imagine the gall of writing that to me?… But there was an edge to the letter that I can’t fully describe. I knew… I KNEW… that he would find a way to get her and do god knows what to her. Experiment on her, maybe even kill her.” she whispered this last bit afraid that Stephanie would overhear.

Stephanie had thought on several occasions during this discussion of interrupting and letting them know she was okay but something always held her back. Perhaps it was an innate desire to learn but she kept quiet and waited on the next bombshell to drop.

“Is this why you left? Is this the reason behind the cruelty of it all?” he asked. He was trying to hold it in check but he still felt a deep and personal pain at the separation.

“Yes. I knew that I had to sever the ties as completely as possible. Don’t you understand that I did it to save you? I needed you to believe that I was leaving and would never come back… and I needed you to never want to see me again!” Tears began to course down her cheeks. Michael reached his hands out to her face to wipe the tears away. For the first time in six years they held each other as a man and a woman who are deeply in love. “I haven’t told you the worst part yet, Michael.”

Stephanie tensed her muscles and awaited what would surely come out of her mother’s mouth. She knew that her mother would say something that would change their lives forever. She listened and time seemed to march slower than normal as her mother spoke.

“He needs our daughter. His … experiments have all been a failure and recently they have gotten out of his control.” She allowed herself a brief grin before continuing. “Much of that is because of me as I’ve been able to throw a few wrenches in the works. He needs what she has… what he gave her before she was even born. The craziest part of this whole story is that she isn’t even your daughter, at least not in the technical sense. She was created in a lab, in his lab, and somehow implanted in me. I can’t even begin to imagine the type of technologies that he could possess to do this, especially while keeping me completely in the dark!”

“Are you saying that I’m not even human?” Stephanie burst out. She could not hold back the feelings any longer. Her comfortable life had crashed right in front of her and her brain was quite simply balking at the irrationality of it all as she attempted to make sense of it.

Michael and Caroline looked back towards Stephanie. Caroline’s face was a mess with unshed tears and Michael looked like he just had no idea what to say. He finally settled on, “Honey, we aren’t saying that at all.” It was a feeble attempt for the circumstances.

“Then what am I?” she asked.

“In the simplest of terms you would be a clone, like those monstrosities out there, but different in all the ways that are important.” Caroline said. “You have what he is trying to find.. a soul. You have intelligence where they do not. Without getting into a philosophical debate about the presence or absence of souls, you are completely human and we both count you as our daughter. Isn’t that right Michael?”

“Absolutely, honey. We’ve entered some kind of topsy-turvy situation here but you are and will ALWAYS be my daughter.” he said. He took Stephanie’s hand in his own to provide her a small modicum of comfort though he knew that it would take alot more than that.

The three of them sat in silence for awhile, each trying in their own way to come to grips with the circumstances of this encounter and the information that was being shared right and left. The silence was interrupted by a low rumbling sound that was getting louder with each passing second. Caroline had a panicked look on her face as she stuck her head out of the window and strained to see what was approaching. Without another word, she slammed on the car accelerator and they lurched forward and were soon traveling at dangerous speeds on the desert floor. Driven by sheer terror, Caroline was trying to simply outrace whatever was approaching.

“What the hell is that?” Michael finally asked. He had to shout over the increasing volume. Stephanie surmised that they were not coming close to outracing it. She looked out the dirty window and saw a dark something approaching. From her vantage point, she was unable to discern a true shape to the object but could definitely tell that it was hovering over the terrain. Oh this is not happening, she thought.

“That’s the reason that all of this started and also the reason I haven’t been able to alert any authorities about what is happening here. It’s what was hidden in the mountains and has maintained a strange grip on this town allowing none to leave and affecting my father so much that he began to experiment on his own neighbors …. and family.” she said. The terror levels in her voice were palpable. She looked once more in the rear-view mirror, hesitated a second then seemed to make up her mind. “Here, take over my seat Michael. I need you to drive.”

“What are you talking about, just keep driving!” he said.

“Michael! I need you to do this and I need you to do it now!!” she screamed. It was becoming more and more difficult to hear each other over the hovering giant behind them. Michael gave up his protestations and, making sure to always keep one of their feet on the accelerator, they switched sides.

“No matter what, keep driving until the gas runs out and then keep going. I can stop it and keep it at bay but only I can do it. You two need to keep going. There are things happening here that the world is just not ready for. I love you both very much…. always remember me.” She said this last in a wistful voice before opening the door and rolling out of the car into the path of the flying object.

Michael and Stephanie both yelled for her as she disappeared in a cloud of dust behind them. Michael slammed on the brakes, but at the speed they had been going she was already a couple of hundred feet behind them. Michael was torn between his need to keep his daughter safe and his desire to save Caroline. With six years intervening between when he had a relationship with Caroline, the logical choice was to keep going and save his daughter. With a heavy heart, and an even heavier foot, he accelerated to a cruising speed away from the town and the events of the past couple of hours. Tears flowed freely down his cheeks as he drove.

Stephanie looked out the back window and saw that the flying object was no longer pursuing them. Though she could not see what had become of her mother through the distance and the dust she liked to believe that her mother in a last heroic effort had acted to save them. Michael and Stephanie drove for the remainder of the night trying to put as much distance as possible between them and the town of Granholm with its decrepit old buildings and its wandering gangs of Stephanie look-a-likes. Stephanie felt a chill roll down her spine as Michael turned on the radio only to hear Frank still singing that same old song. He clicked it off in disgust and shook his head wryly. His mind had still not grasped what had happened.

“Dad, shouldn’t we go back?” Stephanie asked as though she wasn’t sure about it herself.

Michael stopped the car and stepped out. Stephanie was startled but got out from her seat in the back and followed him around the car where he stood leaning against the door. He was staring straight towards the direction that they had come. The sun was just beginning to creep up past the mountains on its neverending journey around the globe.

“This thing is too big for us! Whatever is back there is too much for two relatively normal people like us.” he said finally. As the sun lifted higher over the distant mountains Stephanie could see the barrier between full light and shade fly across the terrain. “I believe… I believe that your mother was right when she told us to just keep going and never look back.”

“I actually would tend to agree but I wish that we could have saved mom from… whatever that was.”

Michael turned to his daughter and wrapped her up in his arms. Together they let out their shared frustrations at the loss once again of Caroline until the tears began to dry on their faces from the desert wind. With one last look back they got in the car and travelled away, forever, from the city of Granholm and its bizarre inhabitants. Stephanie looked back just once and then trained her eyes on the future and what was ahead instead of focusing on what was in her past. Little did she know, however, that her unique genetic makeup carried within it the seed for a strange new world.

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