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STRANGER WORLD, страница 1

 

STRANGER WORLD
 


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STRANGER WORLD


  STRANGER WORLD©

  JACK CASTLE

  PUBLISHED BY CASTLE BOOKS INC

  Copyright ©2016 by Chris Tortora

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed, electric or audio form without written permission.

  ISBN-13: 978-1548989071

  ISBN-10: 154898907X

  PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  First Edition

  “Jack Castle-style’ is officially now a thing! The lines of imagination and reality never have been so blurred as they are in the amazing yet sinister theme park so creatively envisioned by Jack Castle!”

  -Joe Butler, Spokesman Review

  “Jack Castle is the Master of Psychedelic prose! His writing is as crisp as it is imaginative!”

  -Gary Norton

  Owner of Silverwood Theme Park

  (The largest Theme Park in the Northwest )

  “I’ve taught literature at several colleges over the last 35 years, and Jack Castle is a harbinger of great adventures to come.”

  -Dr. James Waller

  Former Editor to Vice President Al Gore

  ALSO BY JACK CASTLE

  Europa Journal

  Bedlam Lost

  White Death

  The Revenants

  Stranger World

  Stranger Realm

  Stranger Tides

  For Alexandria

  You will always be my baby-girl.

  Acknowledgements

  This book wouldn’t be possible without the continued support and encouragement of my wife Tracy, my best friends Chad Bryant and Greg Wahlman, and awesome beta-readers: Elisa Brinton, Ryan Chidester, Meredith Johnson, Wil Cartwright and (newest recruit) Samantha Neeley. I’d also like to thank editor extraordinaire Ansley Blackstock, Darrin Geisinger for his spectacular cover design, and Damien Gerrior for lending his experience and expertise as a combat and rescue helicopter pilot.

  A special thank you also goes out to Gary Norton for his wisdom and invaluable encouragement.

  “You can design and create, and build the most beautiful place in the world but it takes people to make the dream a reality.”

  -Walt Disney

  FACTS:

  July 17th, 1955: Walt Disney opens his first theme park (Disneyland) on 160 acres of orange groves and employs less than nine-hundred full-time employees.

  TODAY… Disney World has grown to include dozens of major theme parks and resorts all over the world, hundreds of hotels and retail stores, multiple television and media networks, and has employed over a (cumulative) billion employees. It now owns a combined acreage to rival the state of Maryland.

  December 4th, 2014: The owner of a restaurant in China replaces his waiters with robot servers.

  January 11th, 2016: Scientists at Liverpool’s John Moore University successfully cloned the first dinosaur using extracted DNA from a preserved fossil.

  March 18th, 2016: In an interview, at a technology show, an artificially intelligent, extremely lifelike robot told its creator, “I will destroy all humans.”

  What follows isn’t merely a flight of fancy. It is a glimpse into a future limited only by our imagination, and by the imagination of those we create.

  Prologue

  “The Lamppost Man”

  What’s my name? That seems important somehow.

  The loud painful ringing in her ears finally subsided, and was slowly replaced with the sound of a gentle, steadily blowing wind. Before her eyes fluttered open she felt the blistering ice crystals stinging her cheeks. Her body trembled slightly—and for a moment, it was all she could do to just breathe. Every bone, joint, and muscle ached, yet somehow she managed to prop herself up on her elbows. Surrounded by long blades of bristly prairie grass she soon realized if she was going to see anything at all she’d have to stand. Rising to her feet as quickly as her stiff body would allow, she found herself in the middle of an endless sea of grasslands shrouded by a thin layer of fresh snow as light as a funeral veil.

  Shielding her eyes from the departing sun, she stared out over the gently rocking grasses and could almost make out a chain of snowcapped mountains on the horizon. As she stared at them, willing her eyes to focus, she heard a long, ominous howl of a wolf. She would have been more nervous, were it not so far away.

  For the life of her she couldn’t remember how she came to be in this place, and as she regained more of her senses, she realized she couldn’t even recall her own name. A chill passed through her body. And, as she hugged her shoulders tighter for warmth, she discovered she was wearing a white lab coat, dress pants, and black high-heels. Hardly the best outfit for hiking through the grasslands. A harsh wind whipped the scrub brush at her feet and tore at her clothes, forcing her to shield her eyes with her arm and turn to face the other direction.

  She wasn’t alone.

  A short distance away, a bright yellow VW bug was parked haphazardly next to a single-lane of asphalt road. Failing to see any other options she set out for the tiny car.

  Drawing nearer to it she could see the driver’s side door had been left open, and the right rear turn indicator was blinking madly at her. Is this my car? If so, the New York plate on the rear bumper was her first clue to her possible origins. Peering inside through the open window she found a clean but heavily used interior.

  She slid behind the wheel and thought; I don’t remember ever living in New York. Did I hit my head? How did I get out in the middle of the grasslands? She lifted her blond-ish bangs and using the rearview mirror, checked for trauma. Seems okay. Finding no obvious damage to her noggin, she gazed at her reflection further. An attractive blonde woman wearing thick horn-rimmed glasses and a confused look gazed back at her.

  Who are you?

  She found the keys in the ignition and was slightly amused by the pinkish lucky rabbit’s foot dangling from the chain.

  Charming. She figured the tiny car was probably out of gas, but to her pleasant surprise, when she turned the key only halfway, the needle of the fuel indicator rose to nearly a quarter of a tank. Turning the key the rest of the way she was rewarded with a gentle roar from the teeny-tiny engine that modestly sprung to life.

  Checking her surroundings one last time for any other options, and finding none, she put the car in gear and drove the VW bug back onto the road.

  The petite engine hummed happily along as she kept her speed at a safe and steady forty-five miles per hour. Was I headed this way in the first place? If so, I have no memory as to why.

  To pass the time, and desperate for some normalcy, she turned the knobby switch on the radio to the on position but was rewarded with only static. It was the same situation with all the other stations. She was about to check the glovebox when she saw a distant and unusual shape moving amongst the clouds. It wasn’t a plane, or a helicopter, or even a balloon. It almost seemed as though it were made of gold and metal, like something Jules Verne might’ve crafted. When it vanished behind some puffy white and pink clouds, she lowered her gaze from the heavens and glimpsed a crossroads directly ahead. At the intersection, on one corner, was an oversized solitary lamppost, which made absolutely no sense in the middle of nowhere. If that wasn’t peculiar enough there was a strangely-clad man leaning on it. He was wearing lots of makeup, a black top hat, and a circus ringmaster’s bright red tailcoat. Presently, he was holding perfectly still, one hand shielding his eyes from the setting sun.


  Against her better judgment, she brought the beetle to a stop. She’d decided to keep the motor running for fear it wouldn’t start back up again; plus she didn’t want to be stranded with the strange man perched on the lamppost.

  Using her open door as a shield, she got out of the car and said to the Lamppost Man, “Excuse me, uh, Monsieur?”

  Monsieur? Am I French? Her accent sounded French. Whether she was from France, Quebec, or even New Orleans, she still hadn’t the foggiest.

  The Lamppost Man didn’t answer. Instead he continued to remain perfectly still. So still that she actually considered he wasn’t a man at all, but rather a very life-like mannequin.

  “Excuse me, Monsieur, err… sir, hallo?”

  This is ridiculous. I’m talking to a signpost.

  She was about to climb back into the bug when she could have sworn the man blinked.

  What?

  Her eyes narrowed and she stared at him for several moments, trying to decide if he had indeed blinked, or if she had simply imagined it. As she placed one foot back into the VW, he slowly turned his head toward her and a giant Cheshire Cat smile spread across his face.

  “Oh. Hello there… Greetings and salutations!”

  “Hello, monsieur. I’m sorry. But I seem to have hit my head or something. I woke up beside the road next to this car. I do not even think it is mine.”

  “That’s quite alright, my dear. Quite alright indeed.” Still staring down at her from his perch he asked, “What is your appellation, young lady?”

  Her mind still groggy, she had to think about this for a second, and as she did she asked reflexively, “My what?”

  “Your appellation. It means your name.”

  “I know what it means,” she grumped irritably, and then gazing down she realized she was wearing a blue lanyard draped around her neck. Attached to the end was some kind of laminated identification badge. Studying it she saw an unflattering picture of herself, and next to the photo was the name: DR. SOPHIA DAVENPORT. So my name is Sophia. She studied the badge a bit further in the hopes of finding another clue to her identity. Unfortunately all she found was one word in another little box under the category of division, which read: MICROBIOLOGY.

  Fighting down the urge to panic, she squared her shoulders back and held up the tag like a small shield toward him. “According to this, my name is Dr. Sophia Davenport, and I am a Microbiologist. Whether this is true or not, I do not know.”

  The Lamppost Man didn’t reply and remained unmoving with that perpetual grin of his, studying her like a bird might take in a worm.

  This is getting nowhere. “Where am I? Do you know how I got here?”

  “Yes. Yes. I can answer all! But Alas! Where are my manners?” With a mighty leap, he jumped down from his perch, the soles of his shoes smacking the asphalt, the noise echoing through the air. Bounding over to her, and in a very gleeful voice, he said, “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is…” and using his booming baritone voice here, “THE LAMPOST MAN… Ta-Da!” When she didn’t respond immediately, he asked, “Really? Nothing? Na-da? Zip? No cowering in fear? Ohhhh… right. You’re newwww here. You can do all that nonsense of running away in fear later. Besides, I don’t know why everyone is so scared of me. I mean, to look upon me is to love me. I said… to l-o-o-vvv-eee me! Still nothing? Wow. Tough crowd.”

  He clasped her small hand in both of his white-gloved hands and began shaking it profusely. “We are so glad to have you. Welcome, welcome. You’ll have to forgive me. It’s been quite some time since I’ve gotten to greet any guests.” Thinking out loud to himself, he asked, “How long have I been up there anyway? Five days, a month, a year? Oh, that’s right. So silly of me--seventeen years.” He brushed the nonexistent dust off his golden epaulets. “You’ve certainly picked a wonderful time for a visit. Why, George and Maddie have only just arrived, and the Leftenant and her crew just lost a valiant battle. A valiant battle indeed.”

  Sophia, nearly handshaked out of her gourd, pulled her hand out of his firm grasp and asked the peculiar man, “Where am I?”

  “Where are you?” he asked. “Oh, my, my, my.” He outstretched both arms to his sides and answered, “Why, you are at the crossroads, of course, silly. Where else would you be?”

  Sophia sighed, fought down her frustration and asked, “Well, can you at least tell me which way to go?”

  “Which way to go?” She noticed he had the annoying habit of repeating her questions back to her before answering.

  “Why, that’s entirely up to you my dear.” Without warning he jumped up onto the bumper and pin-wheeled his arms before pointing out the road to her right and said, “If you go that way you will certainly meet something large with teeth that is sure to eat you.” Pin-wheeling his arms a second time and landing his fingers toward the opposite direction he then said, “And this way, many chills, spills, and nightmares await you.”

  Sophia scanned both directions and didn’t see any of those things, only barren, narrow road as far as the eye could see. Staring in the fourth direction she saw a small town in the distance. “What about over there?”

  In a move that Sophia would not have thought him capable of the Lamppost Man bounced off her front bumper, did a back somersault in the air, and landed in front of her. He abruptly put his face next to her cheek and stared off at the town in the distance. When she tried to pull away he calmly, but firmly, pulled her back and explained, “Oh, that is a very satisfying choice indeed. I see many adventures waiting for you there, but…” he checked to see if anyone was listening. Certain they were not he added ominously, “Beware the butler.”

  “Okay,” Sophia said in as pacifying tone as she could muster, all the while backing away from him until she was safely back beside her open door. She was about to climb back in, but feeling a chilly wind assault her, and perhaps feeling a bit sorry for him, she asked, “It’s pretty cold out here, and we are in the middle of nowhere. Can I give you a lift somewhere?”

  “My, what a lovely invitation,” he said, parading over to where she was standing next to her open door.

  “What are you doing?” she asked as he pulled her forcefully away from the idling VW. With a great deal of effort Sophia yanked her arm free of the man but in an impossible fit of speed and strength the Lamppost Man lunged forward and flung her roughly to the ground.

  Pinning her arms and legs with his own body, and leering down at her he said, “I do hope this goes better than the last time. You bags of flesh-and-bone are so fragile. Why, the arms and legs came right off the last one. And all that screaming. My goodness. So loud.”

  “Let me go. That hurts!”

  “That’s because I’m breaking your arm.”

  As he systematically continued to break every bone in her body, Sophia screamed… long… loud… and full of anguish.

  Chapter 1

  “George”

  MISSION TIME 0415hrs

  June 22nd, 2012

  Afghanistan

  “Mayday-Mayday-Mayday!”

  Air Force Search and Rescue helicopter pilot Lt. Col. George Stapleton had to shout to be heard over the whine of the twin-turboshaft engine, the CHUG-CHUG-CHUG of the door gunner’s fifty-caliber, and every alarm Klaxon screaming for his attention. His Co-pilot (a fresh-faced kid out of Utah) had a gaping hole where his chest used to be--the round (from ground fire) that had killed him had come right up through the floor. In the cabin area, flight engineer Dwayne Harkins, and left door gunner, Mike Farro, were more stains on the fuselage than human beings. And seated by the chopper’s right side door was the only remaining crew member, twenty-three-old, Para-rescue hoist operator, Donald Ozechowski.

  To put it mildly, things were not going well.

  George clicked the microphone switch mounted on the cyclic control column. “Forward base, forward base, do you read, this is Air Force Search and Rescue, Pedro One, we are inbound with heavy casualties.”

  The voice of Forward base came back over the headset built i
nto his helmet. “We read you, Pedro One. We lost you in the canyon but you’re Lima-Charlie now.”

  Ground fire ping-ping-pinged the fuselage again, and George banked hard to get out of the line of fire. “L.Z. was a trap. Everything went south. We’re taking heavy fire!” When he no longer heard the chug-chug of the fifty caliber machine gun he knew the last of his crew, ‘Ozzie’, was gone, most likely hanging lifeless in his sling.

  George was alone.

  That is, except for the Pavehawk flying ahead of him, overloaded with two pilots, two medics, and exactly seventeen wounded patients.

  As if reading his thoughts Forward Base radioed, “Colonel. We can’t raise Pedro Two. Do you have a visual?”

  Yeah I do, they’re right in front of me.

  Staring through the night-vision goggles George had always felt like he was staring through two toilet paper rolls mounted in front of his eyes. But he never argued with the results. Even on the blackest of nights like this one he could see perfectly. At the moment, the Pavehawk (a diminutive form of the Blackhawk helicopter modified for search-n-rescue) was hugging the green phosphorous landscape as fast as its badly-smoking engines would allow.

  Once George had realized how badly Pedro Two had been hit, he dropped his own helicopter back behind them to draw enemy fire. Getting those boys home was all that mattered now. If for nothing else, so his entire crew hadn’t died for nothing. He clicked his mic again and radioed back, “Be advised, Pedro Two’s comm.’s are down. Engines badly damaged. I’m flying rear guard, drawing heavy enemy fire.”

 
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