By the end of their meal, they were so lost in thought that none of them even noticed exactly when it stopped. And in all that time, not a single vessel had shown itself out this way, so even Justin felt more comfortable about leaving the ship. Despite the fact that it had stopped raining, the clouds hadn’t let up one bit, leaving it looking as if it could start pouring again any time it felt like it.
“Let’s make a few things clear,” Shades told them as they grabbed their gear and moored the ship, preparing to explore Adnan’s Island in earnest. Like his friends, he had noticed some dangerous trends in some of their most recent adventures, and wished to establish a few ground rules before embarking on this one. “For now, no matter what, we do not split up. No one messes with anything, or takes anything, without consulting the others first. And if anything bizarre happens, we regroup back at the ship immediately. Agreed?”
“Does it look like any of us disagree?” Now that Justin was no longer worried about getting busted by a surprise raid, he couldn’t wait to get moving. Even though he didn’t really see himself walking away from this place with anything of value, a couple of their last stopovers had taught him that some things were better guarded than they appeared to be. That, and he found he was beginning to rediscover just how much fun it could be to just explore, in and of itself.
“Sure, let’s get going while it’s still light out.” Max found that he was becoming almost as restless as Bandit at the prospect of getting out and stretching his legs. Of course, he understood Shades’ concern for safety, but he also knew if they were too cautious, they would burn up all their daylight. There comes a time, he concluded, when you just get tired of being scared, of jumping at shadows, when it’s time to get down to business. “After all, they say it’s not wise to set out after dark.”
“As long as we all agree. This place shouldn’t pose any problems, but let’s stay outside for now,” Shades suggested. Though he knew curiosity would eventually overcome them, for now it seemed safer to find out what, if anything, was going on out here, before venturing inside. “Get the lay of the land before we move in deeper.”
Bandit was practically leading them as they made their way up the dock and past a boathouse. As often as he seemed to end up ‘guarding the ship’ anymore, it was clear he had every intention of getting some fresh air before they left.
The dock led to a concrete walkway leading up the hill to the school building looming over this rocky stretch of beach. The main building was a red brick affair, three floors and two broad wings protruding toward the sea, all banks of dark, blank windows. Guarding the stone stairway leading up to the main entrance was a pair of stone lion statues. Inscribed in the stone archway framing the door, in fancy script, were two words: ADNAN’S ACADEMY.
“Looks like the same place from the pictures,” Shades remarked.
There were two other buildings immediately in sight. Off to their right, at a slightly higher elevation, stood another three-story building of very faded red brick, making it look visibly older than any other building they had glimpsed in their circling of the island, with two blocky tower wings. Almost directly behind the Academy building, in the middle of what was once an open field sloping down to the docks and floating platforms on the other side of the island, they saw the prime source of their curiosity.
This one appeared to be only a one-story square of floorspace, built of deep red brick and raw concrete sections embedded with narrow floor-to-ceiling strips of dark-tinted window. While the main building had its share of windows, and the other had big, tall blocks of them on the second floor, this one only had a few, spread at regular intervals. The whole thing looking much more modern than anything else on campus, every square foot boasting of corporate backing, and Shades could tell from his friends’ expressions that he wasn’t alone in agreeing with Donaldson that it just looked horribly out of place here.
The Camcron Building.
“So this is it,” Shades mumbled as they drew near enough to the tight row of dark glass doors that served as they only visible entrance, reading the name off a small bronze plaque embedded in the foundation. As if they really needed any further confirmation at this point. “The building the Institute Built.”
“What is it?” Justin asked, seeing Shades tense up.
“You know what I said earlier about my dreams?” Shades took a half-voluntary step toward the doors as he spoke. “In the woods behind that house— if you went back a ways— there was a huge embankment leading down to what looks to have been a gravel quarry, and a bunch of garbage bins for local use. Beyond that were some more woods, with a playground, and, even deeper, this building…”
“Shades?” Max looked at his friend with some concern, noting how his voice was becoming more and more distant with every word.
“Of course, it didn’t look anything like this place…” Shades put his face up to the glass, peering into the dim interior. “But it had the same feeling to it, that it just didn’t belong there…” The main portion was an open corridor, dividing that level into four quadrants, and in each corner, several doors, as well as a couple dormant vending machines near the entrance. “In those dreams… the parts I remember… there’s something sinister going on inside…” Railing dividing the main area into walkways skirting four square openings in the floor in two rows, revealing an entire level directly below this one. “I just wish I could remember what…”
The whole place looking dead and deserted.
Shades closed his eyes. For a moment, he felt an odd kind of vertigo, accompanied by a sense of déjà vu, as if he had done this in a dream or something. As well as that same aura from his childhood dreams, that vague notion of something lying dormant within that should probably just be left to sleep.
“…I think we’re alright as long as we stay out of this building.” Shades opened his eyes again. He had no more idea exactly what this Institute was researching out here than he did precisely what he thought they were safe from, but the idea of a large corporation from another realm choosing such a remote location to pursue it bothered him on some intuitive level.
Of course, the fact that Bandit hung back several paces behind them, giving the building a wary look, hardly inspired confidence, though he could wrap his head around the idea of anything dangerous being built in the middle of a school campus.
“You okay?” Max asked. Though he most certainly agreed about this business of the building looking like it didn’t belong, there was something about his friend’s distant, vacant expression that didn’t belong on his face, either.
“Yeah, I think so.” Shades shook his head. “From what I can see, the place is bigger than it appears to be.” Then, realizing how that sounded in light of some of their previous destinations, he quickly added, “No, not like that. I mean it’s got another level below. No telling what they may have left behind.”
“Hey! Look! There’s some kind of tower over there!” Justin pointed off to their left, into some woods, wanting to turn their focus away from the Camcron Building. Much like Max, he had come to be able to read Shades in spite of those opaque lenses, like his old friends before them, and, much as he hated to admit it, his friend had kinda spooked him out a moment ago, looking as if in a trance when he spoke about the place.
“A… steeple?” Shades cocked his head, recognizing the structure right off. Or at least he thought he did, it just looked too much like one to be a coincidence. Letting Justin lead him over, he wondered vaguely what kind of religions he would find here in the Sixth Dimension.
There were paths leading away from the building toward the edge of the island in all four directions, but the path leading into the woods on that side would take them to areas they hadn’t seen yet.
They didn’t have to venture very deep among the trees to see the rest of the building. Faded grey paint peeling off the walls and weeds growing out of cracks in the foundation gave lonely testament to long disuse. Including a type of weed Shades hadn’t seen in years. Tall— some of them along the wall taller than Max— narrow stems bristling with rings of narrow leaves, with an explosion of lavender-pink blossoms at the top. Though he had no idea if such things held true in this world, it was said the rusty red in the leaves served to mark the end of summer in the far north, signally the onset of winter.
“You’ve seen them before?” Max asked, struck by the tallest flowers he had ever seen as much as by all the plantlife he was seeing here for the first time.
“Yeah, they grew all over the place up in Alaska.” Back when his father was stationed in Anchorage, he used to walk past whole rows of them around the neighborhood, even dominating the typically prevalent dandelions in some sections. “I’m told they’re edible, but that the leaves are kinda bitter.”
The fireweeds, though, could only hold their attention for so long in the shadow of this deserted place. Hanging from the eaves above the front steps, faded letters marked it as Adnan’s Chapel of Saint Lucy. Peering through the dusty glass, they could see right through the vestibule into a dim sanctuary, full of cobwebs, rows of dilapidated pews leading up to a bare altar.
Which, after a few of their more recent experiences, they were relieved to see didn’t bear any wacky markings.
“Not much here,” Justin commented, wondering why the atmosphere here was making him so edgy. All he could come up with was Shades’ eerie talk earlier.
In the woods beyond the abandoned chapel, they could spot several cabins, with a hint of other small buildings beyond that, so they turned back toward the building on the other side of the Academy.
“Yeah.” Though relieved that Bandit didn’t seem to mind this place, there was something in the air about this deserted area in particular, as well as about all these building and no signs of occupation in general, that just felt off. The emptiness. He kept finding himself picturing his childhood home of Layosha with no one about…
Shades wondered if he wasn’t just spooking himself out anymore, especially after that peculiar feeling he got back at the Camcron Building. Sure, he was still getting used to the idea of having some kind of latent psychic ability, and this island was kinda eerie, but for the company to simply dump this place, all he could come up with was that perhaps whatever they were working on hadn’t worked out the way they wanted. Just cut their losses and moved on, so it stood to reason that anything still left in the facility couldn’t be too terribly dangerous, nor very valuable.
As they walked away, Shades looked over his shoulder one last time at the ruined chapel. While most of the island’s facilities at least appeared to have been in use up until only recently, this one looked as if it had been forgotten and neglected for many years. Then again, once he thought about it, he suspected that organized religion didn’t easily hold roots on such an inherently chaotic plane of existence. Even that Shrine of St Lucy back in the port town sounded more like a tourist or historical site than one of any religious significance anymore.
Up close, the building next to the main one proved somewhat smaller, its faded bricks and worn façade making it look much older than the others. In the back, the wall bulged out in a convex bank of windows on each floor, the upper floor likely offering a sweeping view of what they could now see was a sports complex behind it, possibly even the waterfront in the lower elevation beyond. Failing to be of any interest to them, it only held their attention for a moment before they moved on to the outdoor complex.
Based on what they could see from here, they were all pretty sure they were approaching the highest elevation on the island, it’s far edge overlooking the sea could be seen even from this side. About a six-foot height of chain-link fence bounded several buildings, open fields and courts. Through a gap between two of the buildings, they could see a playground on the far side.
Shades’ lockpicking skills made short work of the padlock on the front gate, and they were in. Even on closer inspection, Shades couldn’t place the markings on the courts and fields, none of them quite matching any sport he was familiar with, though the net spanning one of them did suggest some kind of racket sport. One building housed what appeared to be a multi-purpose gymnasium, one was set up with assorted weights and training equipment, and one was an indoor swimming pool. Passing among the empty structures, they could see it was all in pristine order, as if it had just recently gone out of use, simply shut down.
For which Shades, especially, was greatly relieved, as it furthered his growing belief that, whatever the Institute was working on, it at least wasn’t anything hazardous. Since they left the facility earlier his mind had turned to past shenanigans from his own world, from unethical medical experiments to hiding toxic waste in playgrounds to the most far-fetched conspiracies he had ever seen splashed on the cover of tabloids, while he was busy contemplating possibilities for another dimension. Combined with what things he had already seen in this world, and he could only remind himself that Donaldson didn’t seem to be afraid of this place. If he had seen any signs of a hasty departure, he would have told his friends to bolt. Even without knowing exactly what type of business they were in, there was just something about that name, Camcron, that sounded somehow wrong to him.
Too harsh, too mechanical sounding.
Perhaps because of its panoramic view of the surrounding waters, they found themselves drawn to the playground on the far side of the complex. Unlike the inland portions of the fence, the outer perimeter was taller, with an inward-leaning angled section across the top, likely a safety precaution given the high, rocky embankments they had seen earlier beyond this point. While they would probably have to dig through the equipment sheds to figure out exactly what sort of sports were played in this realm, the playground equipment was much more straightforward, consisting of several sets of swings, a slide, seesaws, a jungle gym and some monkey bars, a merry-go-round, as well as a small log cabin and a wooden house on stilts, something from his own childhood school playground Shades hadn’t really expected to see. As Max and Justin examined various pieces and Bandit sniffed around, he gravitated toward the far end, though still careful to stay in clear sight of his friends.
Once he was past the log cabin, a large green object behind it drew his attention. Up close, it appeared to be a random construct of gears and pistons and housings. A machine whose function Shades couldn’t even guess; as far as he could tell, it didn’t look like it “did” anything. Just a painted-over industrial sculpture, a theory further confirmed by a bronze plaque embedded in one of the four concrete blocks that served as its base:
by G H BARTOK
Below that was inscribed: “Initiative is the key to unlock potential.” and –Donated to Adnan’s Academy by Camcron Industries. Seeing its origins, Shades looked at it again in a new light, trying to picture this strange piece of industrial art gracing the playground at Somers South, or even Central. His first impression, even before reading the plaque, was that it almost looked friendly, almost, as if trying a little too hard.
“What the hell is that?” Justin demanded, not liking the looks of the thing at all. Reminding him entirely too much of abandoned mining equipment from the Triangle State, or the dusty, dormant machinery he saw in the Harken Building, for comfort. And just when he was starting to feel more relaxed after that spooky moment at the Institute building.
“Hmm… Where I come from, it would be considered industrial art, a rather abstract one, at that, but here…” All he could think of, harsh and accusatory as it sounded, was the concept of Camcron trying, for lack of a better word, to ingratiate itself to the children of St Lucy. Progress! Personified…
“But what’s it do?” Max asked.
“It doesn’t do anything,” Shades replied, though he couldn’t help taking a step back in spite of himself. Could almost picture the gears turning… Then stopped, reminding himself that it was just a sculpture, all the components were even painted over. For that matter, the structure itself made no mechanical or functional sense.
Now that he noticed it, the one thing that would continue to bother him, even after he walked away, was a keyhole in the housing above the plaque.
Shades’ foot shifted slightly, brushing against something on the ground. What looked something like a mobile phone from his own world only sleeker. Dark grey and partially hidden in a clump of grass. Wondering how it ended up out here, he nudged it with his toe.
“Whatcha got?” Justin asked casually, looking over his shoulder.
“Looks like a phone—”
At which point it started beeping insistently at them.
“Creepy…” was Shades’ only comment on the timing of it.
Concluding that it must be more weather-resistant than he gave it credit for, given how long it must have sat out in the rain, he picked it up. Not sure what else to do, he hunted among the controls, noting both its familiarity and its relative complexity, he spotted a button marked TALK. Wondering who it might have belonged to, he answered it.
“You have to get out of there!” a desperate-sounding female voice immediately whispered. “They sent him! He may already be in St Lucy! Get off the island before they activ—”
Then was just as abruptly cut off with a sharp click.
“What did they say?” Max asked.
“Okay…” Shades trailed off for a moment before resuming, “I think this qualifies as ‘something bizarre’ happening.” Dropping the phone, he turned back in the direction they just came from, telling them, “I think we should get out of here.”
“What did they say?” Justin pressed.
“She got cut off before she could tell me anything useful,” he said as they followed him back out of the playground, “but it sounded like some kind of warning. Something about getting off the island before something happens.”
“Before what happens?” Max wondered aloud.
“I don’t know, but I don’t think we should chance it. She sounded pretty scared,” he replied. “We all agreed to go back to the ship if anything weird happened. I don’t know about you, but that lady seemed to be scared of something, and I don’t wanna stick around to find out what.”
“It doesn’t look like anyone’s around…” Max observed.
That still didn’t stop Justin from looking around anxiously as they left the sports complex.
As they passed the Camcron Building again, they all found themselves casting wary glances at it as they continued their retreat. Shades again struck with that unsettling feeling from earlier, again wishing he knew why that place so firmly put him in mind of the ominous building from his dreams, much like that cryptic warning they just received moments ago. Making him feel less certain than before about this all just being his imagination.
By then, though, they were in such a hurry— almost running— that he had no time to sort it out.
Driven by Shades’ mysterious sense of dread, they wasted no time heading back to the ship. Feeling sheepish, yet unable to shake that sense of urgency, even as they unmoored the Maximum and pulled out. Mr Donaldson’s vague remarks about the Institute starting to sound utterly spooky with that incident still echoing in their minds.
Justin busy at the helm, Max watching the surrounding waters in case they got any unexpected visitors. Shades keeping a watchful eye on the island itself as they pulled away, wishing that mysterious caller had gotten the chance to say even a little more before getting cut off, just a hint of whatever it was they were supposed to be running from.
Each of them struck by a lingering bad feeling, even after they made it off the island without a hitch. Striking Justin, especially, as strange, given that they managed to get away before anything could actually happen. Kept looking over his shoulder, expecting all the buildings to explode.
Or something. Like his companions, he had no idea quite what was supposed to happen.
Though as the island got smaller and smaller, fading away as they sailed out from the realm of St Lucy, they felt safe enough to kill the engines and go back to wind power. Simply relieved to have escaped. From what, precisely, didn’t really matter. Just that they made it out. After their past experiences with places more easily entered than exited, anymore they were just glad to continue coming and going as they pleased.
“I wonder what that was all about,” Max remarked, finally breaking the brooding silence looming over the cabin, making the others jump in spite of themselves.
“Don’t know.” Shades had heard a terrible urgency in that voice, as if she knew something horrible. If not the whole story, he speculated, though now he would never be able to put that odd intuition to the test.
“Don’t care,” Justin stated. On one hand, Shades’ hunches could be a handy early-warning system. On the other, though, his friend’s mysterious gift still spooked him at times. “Whatever it was, it’s back there. Meaning it’s not our problem anymore.”
One thing he know they were all in agreement about that place, and it felt good to be putting some distance between themselves and it.
“Still, I wish we knew what was going on out here,” Max said.
“Why did that crazy old man send us out this way again?” Justin found himself feeling increasingly suspicious that Donaldson knew more than he was letting on.
“He didn’t ‘send’ us anywhere,” Shades pointed out. “We came out here of our own free will.”
“Yeah, but the way he talked about it…” Max pondered aloud.
“While he certainly talked about it in a very leading manner, I don’t think he meant for that to happen,” Shades argued. “I imagine he’s as curious as we were, which is probably why he kept going on about it.”
“Yeah,” Justin told him, “but we’re not goin’ back to tell him about it.” Though of half a mind to go back and give the old man a piece of his, he decided it was best to avoid any further entanglements with this realm. “We’re gonna get the hell out.”
“Oh, I’m with you on that one,” Shades agreed, though he still felt a twinge of remorse about leaving Donaldson in the dark. “That call really creeped me out. Plus I just don’t like the sound of that name, Camcron.”
“What does it mean anyway?” Max wondered, along with the question of why he hadn’t asked sooner.
“If it’s anything like most company names back on Earth,” Shades hazarded a guess, “I doubt it’s a real word. Probably an acronym or abbreviation or something. I’m not even sure what sort of industry they’re in, though they almost sound like some kind of conglomerate, an octopus with its tentacles wrapped around a bunch of different stuff. Maybe that’s why I don’t like the sound of it, so harsh, mechanical-sounding…”
That image immediately reminded Max of the devilfish he tangled with years ago.
“Like the TSA.” Justin tried not to dwell on his impression of the ghosts said to walk among the cast-iron skeletons of Benton Island’s Bone Yard, hiding from the Junkyard Dogs years ago… Shook his head, wanting to get out of that department. Then he perked up, saying, “Come on, guys! We made another of our great escapes without even having to fight or anything.”
“Hell yeah!” Max joined in, trying to go for spirit even in this place that seemed to dampen it.
“I guess so.” Shades figured they would be talking about this all the way to their next destination. Strange, given how uneventful most of their brief visit to St Lucy actually was. Figuring it was a little late to jinx himself anyway, he added, “Doin’ it with style, right?”
“Damn we’re good!” Justin, for one, was starting to wonder why they were so jumpy earlier. Why that sense of foreboding for events that were fairly tame by their standards, now that he thought about it. After all, they were now safely on their way to places unknown, having escaped whatever danger they had been warned about. “It’ll be clear sailing from here on out!”