Not Dead

I’m not dead, and I haven’t abandoned this blog. I’ve just been devoting my daily allowance of writing-time to some other shit.

Presently, I’m working on what is turning out to be an enormously long contribution to the SCP Foundation collaborative writing project. Here’s an excerpt:


Benjamin Osburne had absolutely no idea how the Foundation had found him, or why they wanted him when they did. The year had been 1998, he’d been fresh out of school and working swing shift at Blockbuster while he tried to figure out what the hell he was supposed to do with his history degree. His Dad had just died and his relationship with Rebecca had seemed to be doomed to failure. He was living in a third floor walkup which smelled like cat piss and mildew. He was playing with the idea of killing himself.

It was in that condition that he’d found the odd little envelope in his mail – the one with no return address, just his name printed in Courier New on the front.

Mr. Benjamin Osburne,

We are writing today to inform you that you have been selected as a candidate for an exciting job opportunity. If you are interested in applying for an interview, please compose a resume and cover letter and mail it to:

P.O. Box 0

Los Angeles, California

A man in a better position of life might have done the sane thing and thrown the letter away. A man in a better position in life would have written it off as the beginning of some bizarre scam, or an attempted kidnapping, or something even more nefarious.

But Benjamin Osburne, at that time in his life, had not been such a man. He’d hammered out a cover letter, emphasis on “inventory management and logistics” (Blockbuster), and mailed it off to the mysterious owners of P.O. Box 0.

A week later he’d gone to bed in his crummy apartment and had woken up in a concrete holding cell at Area 5, and that had been that. Five years later he moved up out the bowels of Document Storage to fieldwork, and his career had stagnated ever since.

Osburne had never known what the Foundation saw in him. In all his years there he’d failed utterly to distinguish himself in any way. Sometimes, during his off weeks, he’d lay in bed and listen to Rebecca’s deep, REM sleep breathing, and he’d wondered if he was a failure.

But even if the the reasons for the Foundation’s faith in Benjamin Osburne was murky, the reasons for its faith in Kenneth Radler was totally inexplicable. The man was twenty-six, acted like he was seventeen, slicked back his hair in some pale imitation of a B-movie G-Man, and failed utterly to devote any effort to the task of getting good at his job. This was the third field assignment Osburne had undertaken with his young partner, and Osburne was rapidly giving up hope that Radler would ever improve.

When Osburne returned to the car, Radler was sitting in the dirt with has back propped up against the car’s quarter panel. He was drawing stick figures in the dirt with a stick.

At the sound of Osburne’s footfalls, Radler glanced up and got to his feet, dusting the seat of his pants with open palms.

“Find anything?” he said.

“No,” Osburne said.

“Shocker.”

Radler pointed up the way, north, away from town.

“Cave’s a couple minutes up that way,” he said.

Osburne nodded, fumbled in his pockets for the keys, and got the trunk open again. He found the flashlights, handed one to Radler, and closed the trunk lid.

“After you,” he said.

Radler led them down to the waterline. The going was rough, there was not so much a path next to the water as a stretch of broken stone, and in time the ground next to them rose and became the scrubby cliff-face. They had maybe eight inches of ground between the water and the cliff, and they moved slowly along it.

After twenty minutes by Osburne’s watch, Radler stopped and pointed up the cliff. Osburne turned, careful not to lose his footing, and followed Osburne’s finger.

There was indeed a cave, maybe three feet above their heads and hidden almost entirely by overhanging scrub. In fact, Osburne figured , the cave was so well hidden you probably couldn’t see it from anywhere except where they now stood.

“Huh,” Osburne said.

“Yeah,” Radler said.

They stood there for a minute.

“I’ll give you a boost,” Osburne said.

“No, but I’ll give you a boost,” Radler said.

Osburne felt his jaw setting and looking Radler directly in the mirrored shades.

“I am your superior-”

“And I’m not getting my head bit off by a… whatever’s in there.”

Fuck it.

“Fine,” Osburne said.

Radler bent at the wast and laced his fingers into a foothold. Osburne set one foot in Radler’s hands, let down his weight, and the two came very near to sprawling sidelong into the lake.

“Jesus,” Radler said. “You don’t look that fat.”

Osburne jabbed a finger in Radler’s direction. “Fuck you. Just do it.”

“Alright, alright,” Radler said, and the two repeated the ritual. There was much grunting and cursing, but Radler managed to lift Osburne up to where he could grip the rocks at the cave’s edge and haul himself over.

He clicked on the flashlight. The floor of the cave was sandy rock, and it bored maybe ten feet deep into the hill before turning.

“You dead?” Radler called up.

“No,” Osburne yelled back. “Cave goes deeper – I’m going to go a little further.”

Radler said something indistinct.

“What?”

“I said, it’s your funeral, man,” Radler yelled back.

Osburne rose. The cave was almost high enough that he could stand, but not quite. Bent at the waist and with one hand on the stony wall, Osburne took a few slow steps forward.

“Hello?” he called softly. “Carter?”

Nothing.

Osburne advanced, stopping at the point where the cave turned. He wished vaguely that he had his sidearm on him, but that was still stowed back in the trunk of the car – nowhere to conceal a holster without a suit jacket.

Goddamned Hawaiian shirt bullshit, he thought to himself.

Obsurne took a deep breath, and stepped around the corner.

At first, he was not entirely sure what he was looking at. He took a step forward, and then another, and with the third he found himself very near the edge of the… hole. Yes, it was a hole. The flashlight picked out its rim, picked out the walls of a perfectly circular hole maybe four feet across. Osburne leant forward, not daring to put his center of gravity too near that edge. The flashlight shone on the walls of the hole, the… well? Shaft?

They were smooth. Perfectly smooth. As if cut by some inconceivably powerful laser.

And the hole went down, and down, and down, until the beam of Osburne’s flashlight failed against the darkness.

The walkie coughed to life and Osburne almost fell headlong into the shaft, so great was the force with which he jumped at the noise. He took a precautionary step back from the rim and fished out the walkie.

What?” he said, vaguely embarrassed by how hard he was breathing.

“See anything?”

“Yeah,” Osburne said. “We’re gonna need backup.”

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