𝗛𝗮𝗽𝗽𝘆 𝗡𝗲𝘄 𝗬𝗲𝗮𝗿

𝘣𝘺 𝘔𝘢𝘳𝘬 𝘗𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘤𝘦



Nelson Drake sat typing at his desk in the city room of the Baltimore Herald-Examiner, oblivious to the noise all around him. Through the din, he heard his name.


“Hey, Drake!” someone called. “Lady here to see you!”


He looked up as one of the reporters pointed him out to a fairly attractive woman in her mid-thirties. She seemed nervous and somewhat out of place. She timidly approached.


“What can I do for you?” Drake asked.

The woman stood hesitating, as if she was not exactly certain how to begin.

“Oh, excuse me,” said Drake; he cleared some books and papers off a chair and motioned for her to sit down. “There you go. May I get you some coffee, Ms. — ?”


“Hunter, Patricia Hunter. And no, thank you, I’m fine.”


“So what can I do for you, Ms. Hunter?”


“I want you to find my brother.”


“That’s not exactly what I do. Is your brother missing?”


“Yes.”


“Have you tried the police?”


“The police can’t help me.”


“Maybe you should talk to a private investigator. They’re very good at locating missing persons.”


“You don’t understand, Mr. Drake. My brother is Barkley Hunter.”


“The archaeologist?”


“That’s right.”


Drake vaguely remembered seeing some coverage at the time. Barkley Hunter had disappeared in the Andes about six months ago. It had made the news because he was a prominent professor at the University of Baltimore.


“And you suspect... what? Foul play?”


“No... I mean, I don’t know... I mean, I don’t know what to think. I just know my brother disappeared without a trace. He was traveling through Chile and was staying in the village of Santa Rosario at the foot of the Andes. There was an old mission in the hills which he wanted to visit.” She opened her purse and pulled out a folded slip of paper. “Then I got this note, sent from the village the day before he disappeared. In it, he tells me goodbye. That’s the last anyone has ever heard from him.”


“Have you tried to find him through conventional channels?”


“The Chilean government isn’t interested, and the American consulate doesn’t care.”


“Why did you come to me?”


“I didn’t. I came to your paper. I was directed to you.”


Drake sat staring at her, deep in thought.


“Mr. Drake, won’t you please help me find my brother?”


“May I keep this?” Drake held up the note.


“Certainly.”


“I won’t promise anything, but I will look into this, and I’ll discuss it with my editor.”


“Thank you, Mr. Drake. I’ll be in touch.”


She rose and left the office. Drake pulled up his keyboard and began to research everything he could find on Barkley Hunter.


• • •


Managing Editor Tyler Mead sat behind his desk, listening to Drake’s pitch. Drake stood across the desk from him, leaning on his fists. “Think of it, Tye. Barkley Hunter, prominent archeologist, disappears in the Andes without a trace. The only clue is the goodbye letter he wrote to his sister the day before he disappeared. If I find him, dead or alive, it’ll make a great story.”


“And if you don’t find him?”


“Then I do a human interest piece on the grieving sister and the mystery of her brother’s disappearance. A missing archeologist, an old mission in the mountains, a mysterious clue —”


“Okay. You’ve got three weeks. If you don’t find him by then, I’m bringing you home.”


“Deal.”


• • •


Drake entered the lobby of a dive hotel in Santa Rosario, Chile. The heat was oppressive, and flies buzzed around an overhead ceiling fan that did not work. The desk clerk was dirty, unshaven, and dressed in a filthy t-shirt. Several old loafers sat around the lobby, dozing or staring into space. Drake took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow. He stepped up to the desk.


“I’d like a single room.”


“How long will you be staying?”


“Couple of days. Maybe more.”


The clerk handed Drake a card to fill out. Drake signed it, then pulled a photo from his shirt pocket. “I was wondering if you might help me.” He showed the picture to the clerk. “Have you ever seen this man before?”


“What did he do?”


“Nothing. I’m just trying to find him.”


There was a pause. Drake pulled some bills from his wallet and handed them to the clerk.


“He came through here a few months ago,” the man said, “exploring old ruins in the mountains.”


“I hear there’s a mission near here. Any chance he was going there?”


“Nah. Nothing to see. Just a bunch of old monks. Unfriendly, too. Never come down to the village. Every six months or so, one comes down for supplies. That’s about it.”


“If I wanted to visit this mission, how would I get there?”


The clerk gave him directions. “You’d just be wasting your time, though,” he said.


Drake grabbed his room key off the desk. “Thanks.” He gripped his bags and headed up the stairs.


The hotel room was spartan and dirty. The window was open, and a hot breeze blew through, carrying the flies and mosquitoes with it. Drake tossed his suitcase onto the bed.


• • •


Later that afternoon, Drake squinted against the sunlight as he rode an old burro up the trail. The air was thick with dust. In the distance he could see an ancient adobe mission. He kicked the sides of his animal and proceeded up the path.


He rode up to the mission, dismounted, and approached the gate. There was an arched wooden door with a small door grille, but no bell or knocker; apparently no way to summon the inhabitants inside. Drake picked up a stone and banged on the door. He paused, then banged again. There was no response. He backed up from the gate, put his hand to the side of his mouth, and shouted.


“Hello! Hello in there!”


He waited a moment, then went back to banging on the door.

The slat behind the door grille opened and a monk peered out.


“Hello, my name is Nelson Drake.” The monk did not respond. “I wonder if I might come in.”


“The mission allows no visitors,” said the monk.


“Is there someone in charge I might speak with?”


“This is a contemplative order. We cannot be disturbed.”


The slat abruptly closed. Drake banged on the door again. The grille opened.


“I told you, go away.”


“I’m looking for a man named Barkley Hunter. He was last known to be headed for this mission.”


The monk reacted to the mention of Hunter’s name.


“Wait here,” he said, concern in his voice.


The grille closed again. Drake went and sat on a stone by the path.


Time passed. Drake fidgeted impatiently. He opened his canteen, drank, then looked at his watch.


The sun began to set behind the mountain. Drake sat with his chin resting on his chest. Suddenly the slat behind the grille opened once again. Drake rushed up to it.


“There is no Barkley Hunter here,” said the monk. The grille abruptly shut.


Drake shouted. “Hey, you can’t just leave me out here for three hours and then tell me to go away!” He picked up the rock he had been using before and banged on the door. “Open up in there! Open the door!”


He banged some more but there was no response. He finally gave up and mounted his burro.


The grille slid open, and the monk peered out, watching as Drake rode away.


• • •


Drake sat in his hotel room, speaking on the phone.


“I’m telling you, Tyler, the mission is hiding something. They knew Hunter’s name. And I’ve been talking with the people in town. The monks are very secretive. There’s something strange going on up there.”


“You be careful, Drake,” said the Managing Editor. “This sounds like more than a missing persons story.”


“Hey, you know me, Tye.”


“So what will you do now?”


Drake smiled. “Get the story.”


• • •


Drake lay on his stomach in the jungle, watching the dark walls of the mission through a clearing. Convinced no one was watching, he crawled up to the edge of the mission. He carefully climbed a tree that grew beside the wall. When he reached the point where he could see over the wall, he stopped and gazed across the courtyard. There was no movement of any kind. He climbed to a spot higher than the wall, then swung down and landed along the top edge. He lay flat until he was certain no one had detected his presence. He then carefully lowered himself to a ledge that was inside the wall and several feet below the top. He crept along this catwalk until he came to a stairway down into the courtyard. He quietly descended.


He heard some voices and hid behind a wooden crate. Two monks passed, a man and a woman. Both were wearing the traditional cloak and cowl. Drake crept along until he came to a door. It was open. He slipped inside.


He moved quietly down a hallway which was only lit by an occasional torch along the wall. He saw a light at the end of a passage and proceeded toward it. He continued to creep along. Up ahead he saw a door with a barred window. He approached.


Drake peered into the room, which was heavily bolted. The only opening from the rest of the mission into the room was the door with the barred window. But from peering in, Drake could see that the mission had been built into the side of the mountain. In the center of the mountain wall was a cave. Five monks stood guarding the opening, but they were not facing outward; they were facing the cave itself, as though they expected something to emerge. Each held a long wooden staff in a defensive position.


Suddenly Drake was grabbed from behind by two monks.


“Who are you?” said one of the monks. “What are you doing here?”


Drake struggled. “Let me go!”


“Let’s take him to a cell,” said the second monk. “I’ll summon the Abbot.”


They took him to a small, cramped room containing only a bed, wash basin, table, and chair. They forced him into the room, then exited, locking him in. Drake pounded on the door with his fists.


“Let me out of here!”


He continued to beat on the door as they disappeared down the passage.


• • •


Drake paced the cell. He heard the grinding of a key in the lock. The door opened and an aging monk entered. He was thin and bent, and his wizened face betrayed the nature of a fanatic. He was accompanied by two younger monks who stood on either side of the door.


“I demand you release me immediately,” said Drake.


“You are in no position to be making demands,” answered the monk.


“You have broken into our mission and were caught prowling through the buildings. Who are you?”


“My name is Nelson Drake. I’m a reporter for the Baltimore Herald-Examiner.”


“How long have you been inside the mission, and what have you seen?”


“Why does it make you sweat?”


“I would advise you to cooperate. If we turn you over to the authorities, you will be sent to prison.”


“I’m an American citizen. I want to see someone from the American consulate.”


“You will see no one until our questions have been answered. I leave you to contemplate your position. Perhaps you will be more cooperative after you have spent some time in confinement.”


“You can’t just keep me imprisoned here.”


“You will be kept here until we have determined what is to be done with you.”


He went to the door and exited, followed by the other monks.


• • •


Several monks sat around a solid oak table in a conference room lit by torches. At the center of authority was Andrew, Abbot of the mission, an ancient monk with white hair and a gaze of great depth. At his right hand sat Bocephus, the monk who had questioned the prisoner. At his left was a younger monk named Steven. Among the monks were several women, who wore the same garments as the men. Chief among them was Sarah, a striking, dark skinned woman of indeterminate age.


Bocephus spoke. “We should have known someone would come looking for Hunter.”


“We did know,” said Steven. “And we will do what needs to be done. This is not the first time that we have had to deal with outsiders.”


“No, but it’s the first time we’ve had the press become interested. Drake cannot be allowed to leave.”


“And how will we explain two disappearances? You don’t think his newspaper will be interested?”


Sarah leaned forward; her amber eyes flashed like fire. “Arguing is pointless. We don’t even know what he has seen.”


“We can’t take the risk,” said Bocephus. “You know what we have to do.”


“Perhaps,” said the Abbot. “Perhaps not. We shall see.” He rose. “It is a hard thing to condemn a man to this existence. Let us do it grudgingly, if at all.”


The others rose, and all filed out of the room.


• • •


A monk with a tray of food approached Drake’s cell. Another monk stood beside the door, guarding it. He unlocked the door.


The monk entered the cell. It was dark. The torch had been extinguished. He proceeded tentatively. “Mr. Drake?”


The monk tripped over something in the dark. He fell to the ground, the tray crashing loudly as its contents hurled across the room. The guard came rushing in. Drake swung the chair and smashed it into him. It broke apart as he fell to the ground. Drake ran out of the cell.


Drake ran wildly down the torch lit hall. Shouting could be heard in the darkness behind him. A bell began to sound, and more shouts and running could be heard.


Drake saw a heavy oak door which was secured with a sliding bolt. There was no window on the door. Drake quickly slid the bolt, opened the door, and rushed through.


Drake entered a hallway unlike any he had seen thus far. It was lined with cages, like a zoo. The interior of each cage was a replicated primitive environment—barren rock, or thick jungle, or frozen tundra. But the astonishing thing was the inhabitants of the cages. Some were human, yet almost subhuman—Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon, Java. Others contained animals from a prehistoric nightmare—sabre-toothed tigers, palaeosaurs, Pleistocene reptiles, etc. The hallway was filled with a cacophony of noise—growls from the tigers, roars from the other beasts, grunts and shouts from the humans.


Drake stood in astonishment for a moment, his brain unable to take in what his eyes were witnessing. Then a hood was quickly drawn over his head, and two monks grabbed his arms as a third bludgeoned him unconscious with a single blow from a short club.


• • •


Drake lay in his cell, unconscious upon the bed. He awakened and looked groggily around, then sat up and rubbed the back of his head. The door opened. The Abbot entered with two monks. He saw that Drake was docile and signalled with a wave of his fingers for the monks to leave them alone. They exited, and the Abbot sat in the chair across from Drake’s bed.


“Good evening, Mr. Drake,” he said. “My name is Andrew. I’m the Abbot of this mission.”


Drake leaned forward, tense, almost in shock.


“What did I see, old man? You tell me that. What have you got in those cages?”


The Abbot gazed deeply at Drake. His manner was grave. “You pose a terrible problem, Mr. Drake. You have stumbled upon a secret as old as time itself. A secret which must never be revealed.”


“What secret?”


“What I am going to tell you will be difficult to believe. But I must tell you, and you must believe. Because there is a decision you will have to make.”


“I don’t believe in mysteries, old man. Just tell me straight.”


The Abbot paused, carefully weighing his words. “Mr. Drake, the cave you saw, the one the monks were guarding, is a portal through time.”


“A what??”


“A time portal. One of several throughout the world. At certain places under the Earth, there are openings in the fabric of time. A cave, a cleft in the side of a mountain. Enter one of these openings today, and you exit into some countless yesterday or endless tomorrow. Step into a cave in 21st Century Europe, and you might emerge in 12th Century Asia; walk into a cleft in prehistoric Africa, and you might find yourself emerging in Classical Greece.”


“It’s not possible.”


“Yet, it is so. You yourself have seen the evidence with your own eyes—prehistoric men and animals who wandered into caves before the beginning of recorded history and have emerged into our time.”


“Why don’t you just send them back where they came from?”


“Attempts have been made through the eons to map the portals, but to no avail. When a traveler enters an opening, there is no way of determining when and where they will emerge. We thus have no way of sending the poor devils back to their own time. And we cannot simply force them back into the portals to be foisted upon another era. Each generation must care for the wanderers who exit into their time.”


“I saw dinosaurs... sabre-toothed tigers... If what you’re telling me is true, why don’t you just destroy them when they come through the portal?”


“It is not our purpose to destroy life. Ours is a sacred trust. Until the Maker of All Things descends to reveal all mysteries, we must stand as the guardians of time. You have to understand. The first travelers did so by accident. Then they began to meet others who also had wandered into the eons. Eventually, temples were built to guard the openings. We are the guardians of the portals. We determine who may enter. And we deal with those who arrive from other epochs.”


“And you expect me to believe this fairy tale?”


“You are an educated man, Mr. Drake. If you choose not to accept the evidence of your senses, I’ll not attempt to persuade you.”


“You couldn’t have kept something like this a secret all these centuries.”


“There have been indications throughout recorded time. Legends of hidden lamaseries in Tibet with monks living hundreds of years; tales of Spaniards in the New World discovering the Fountain of Youth in a forgotten Aztec temple. Many of the world’s myths have stemmed from the Temples of Time.”


“Why are you telling me this?”


“Because there is a decision you will have to make. Occasionally, a person such as yourself stumbles upon our secret. When that occurs, they have only two choices. They must either become one of us, or they must remain a prisoner of the mission. Either way, they can never see the outside world again.”


“You’re insane! There are people who know where I am.”


“No one will ever find you. There will, perhaps, be an inquiry, but your disappearance will forever be a mystery.”


“Is that what happened to Hunter? Have you got him locked away in one of your cages?”


“Barkley Hunter was an archaeologist and a man of imagination. This was the ultimate exploration. Once he had discovered our secret, he was determined to enter the portal. What could be more of an adventure than to step off into time? Now you must rest. You have had much to absorb this day. We will talk again in the morning.”


“I don’t want to talk again in the morning. I want to leave right now.”


“I’m afraid that is no longer possible.”


• • •


The monks sat around their meeting table in the midst of a heated discussion.


“No!” said Bocephus. “We cannot risk the possibility that he might escape. We have to send him into the portal.”


“Let us not make such a decision in haste,” said the Abbot. “When he has had time to assimilate what he has seen, he might well choose to join us.”


“We can’t risk it. We’re not talking about some wandering shepherd here. This is a reporter for an American newspaper. If we send him into the portal, he will be unable to harm us, no matter when he emerges. Even if he should escape from whatever temple he finds himself in, he would be strange to the era. The asylums of history have no doubt occasionally held escaped travelers who were considered insane for the tale they told.”


“It is a difficult thing to be displaced in time,” said the Abbot. “We must offer Drake a chance.”


Sarah spoke: “There is something else to consider.”


“What is that?” asked the Abbot.


“If he is to be given a chance to become one of us, he will have to be told about the Shriekers.”


“No!” said Bocephus.


“He cannot make an informed decision if he does not know all that it would entail,” said Sarah. “That includes the Shriekers.”


“Sarah is right,” said the Abbot. “We have to tell him.”


“We cannot!” said Bocephus.


“Let us vote,” said the Abbot solemnly.


One by one, each of the monks placed his or her right hand, palm down, onto the table. Only Bocephus refrained.


“It is decided,” said the Abbot.


• • •


Drake sat on his bed. The door opened, and the Abbot entered.


“I trust you slept well.”


“I don’t know whether I slept at all. Or whether I’m sleeping now, for that matter. It is becoming difficult to determine the difference between reality and nightmare.”


“There is one more truth to be revealed to you. You will please come with me.”


The Abbot and two monks led Drake down the halls to a bolted door. They stopped. The Abbot nodded to one of the monks who pulled a heavy key from the folds of his robe and opened the door.


The hall resembled the “zoo” where the prehistoric men and animals were kept. But the humans in these cages were quite modern. In manner of dress they might almost be contemporary except their clothes were tattered and torn. Each cage held only one person, and each person was obviously insane—shrieking and drooling, babbling and giggling, and crying and shrieking all over again. Drake was badly shaken.


“What’s wrong with them?”


“These are the Shriekers—an anomaly of the portals which is seldom discussed among us. The Shriekers have been a problem since the first temple in the dark ages of history. These are the people from 2030 AD”


“What do you mean?


“Every person who has ever arrived from 2030 has been stark raving, babbling, drooling mad.”


“All of them? But why?”


“No one knows. We can determine their year of origin by the identification they carry. But they are unable to tell us what has happened to them. Travelers who have arrived from periods through 2029 have no knowledge of any impending disaster, disease, or mayhem that would cause the phenomenon. But every person who has ever emerged from the year 2030 has been insane.”


“What about those from beyond 2030?”


“In all the history of the world, in all the millennia which stretch back to the dawn of time, no traveler has ever arrived from beyond 2030.”


• • •


Drake lay on his bed, his arm over his forehead. He stared blankly at the ceiling. A key turned in the lock, and the Abbot entered.


“Mr. Drake. I know that what you’ve seen and heard is hard to take. But we will need a decision soon.”


“I’ll never join this chamber of horrors.”


“I would ask you to reconsider. It is a grave fate you are choosing.”


Drake did not answer. The Abbot left the room.


• • •


Bocephus and two other monks proceeded down the long, dark hall. They reached Drake’s cell and unbolted the door. Drake appeared to be asleep on the bed, covered with his blanket.


“Mr. Drake, wake up,” said Bocephus. “You will have to come with us... Mr. Drake? Mr. Drake?”


Bocephus reached the bed and drew back the blanket. Drake was not there. He had set pillows in the form of his body.


“He is gone!” shouted Bocephus. “Sound the alarm!”


They rushed out of the cell.


A bell began tolling throughout the mission. Bocephus hurried down the hall. He saw the Abbot come from one of the rooms.


“Drake has escaped!’ he said.


“How did it happen?” asked the Abbot.


“I don’t know. We just went into his cell and he was gone.”


“We must find him before he gets too far.”


They rushed down the hall.


• • •


Drake’s cell was empty. A few moments passed, then Drake crawled from under the bed. The monks had left the cell door open. Drake went to the door, glanced both ways down the hall, and slipped out.


In the courtyard, a group of monks had mounted horses. The Abbot spoke to them. “Drake must be found at all costs. Under no circumstances can he be allowed to announce our presence to the world.”


The monks rode swiftly toward the gate.


Drake crouched in the hallway, peeping out the window which looked into the courtyard. He watched as the monks rode away.


• • •


Many hours passed. The sun began to rise. Weary monks approached the temple on horseback. The Abbot stood waiting for them.


“There’s no sign of him anywhere,” said Steven. “Not on the mountain, not in the village. He must have had a confederate waiting for him. We should have searched the surrounding mountainside when we first captured him.”


“It is too late for recriminations now. It is time to decide what we must do.”


Drake crouched in the storeroom, peering out the window. He watched the priests enter the main temple. He then quietly rose and slipped through the dark. He ascended the stairs to the catwalk at the top of the mission wall. He crept along the catwalk, then climbed up onto the wall and reached out to the branch of a nearby tree. He swung across.


Drake hiked through the jungle as swiftly as he could, headed down the hill toward the village. He kept looking over his shoulder. He worked his way further down the mountain without detection. He was panting and sweating. Suddenly, he heard a massive explosion. He turned and looked up the hill. There were two more explosions which ripped apart the mountain above the mission. A series of smaller explosions blasted inside the mission itself, tearing it apart as its resulting rubble was buried under the avalanche of rock created by the explosions in the side of the mountain.


“No!” shouted Drake.


Further explosions caused more of the mountainside to avalanche down, thoroughly burying the rubble of the mission. Drake dropped to his knees as he watched the destruction and burial of the temple.


“No . . . no. . . .” He began to cry. “You didn’t have to do it, old man. I wouldn’t have told anyone. I swear I wouldn’t have told!”


• • •


Drake sat in the newspaper office late at night. He was much older now; his hair turning grey. He sat behind an ornate, mahogany desk. A bottle of bourbon rested on the corner of the desk. He held a half empty glass in his hand. In a chair across from his desk sat an attractive woman in her late twenties.


“They had sealed the portal,” said Drake, sadly. “I went back and dug among the rubble, but it was no use. All of those lives, all of those monks, lost because of me.” He sat silently contemplating. “I like to think they escaped into the portal before the detonations. A later excavation turned up some ruins of the temple, but no tunnels and no caves.” He drank. “I told Hunter’s sister that her brother had perished in an avalanche. I don’t know if she believed me. I’ve spent the intervening years searching the world for another portal. Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America. Even an expedition to the Antarctic. The stories I covered along the way won me a Pulitzer Prize. But I never found another portal. Never.” He looked at her. “You don’t believe a word of it, do you?”


She smiled. “I believe you’re still the best stringer of words this paper has ever seen.” She looked at the glass in his hand. “And I believe you’ve been celebrating a little heavily. But hey, you’re entitled—you just made Managing Editor.” She rose. “So are you ready to go back down to the party?”


“You go,” he said; he stepped up to the window and looked out. “I’m going to watch the New Year come in from right here.”


The calendar on his desk read: DECEMBER 31, 2029.


A saxophone began to play “Auld Lang Syne” from a radio in the outer office.


“There are some hard times ahead,” said Drake. “Really hard times.”


The music continued as he stared into the night. ✦




Mark Pearce is an author/playwright residing in the Denver metro area. He has had stories published in national magazines and plays produced on the New York stage. He was formerly Resident Playwright of the New Ensemble Actors Theater of New York and has been a finalist or semifinalist in over 25 national playwriting contests, as well as a finalist in the annual Universal Studios screenwriting competition.



Speculative fiction & POETRY ZINE