Read Soul Seekers Online

Authors: Dean Crawford

Tags: #Science Fiction

Soul Seekers

Soul Seekers

Dean Crawford

Copyright © 2013, Dean Crawford


Boston, Massachusetts


Keep running

The words flashed through the boy’s mind as fast as the tendrils of mist that swirled past like ghostly hands reaching out for him. Dense ranks of towering trees reached up into a cold grey sky, the depths of the forest obscured by a thick blanket of fog. His skin felt numb beneath his tattered clothes as he ran through the dense foliage clogging his path.

Distant shouts echoed back and forth behind him. His heart hammered inside his chest, his breathing laboured. The shouts became louder and then the forest trembled in the wake of a deep boom that rolled like thunder through the trees. Something screeched through the forest above his head and crashed through tree limbs to explode in front of him. He ducked down as chunks of frozen earth were blasted over his head and a shower of cold soil sprayed down around him.

He looked back over his shoulder and through the fog saw a distant, snarling tongue of flame spit another howling cannonball into the air. Ranks of men advanced in his direction like shadowy phantoms, the bayonets of their muskets glinting with wicked shards of light.

He turned and ran. Tree trunks shattered with cracks as loud as gunshots as cannonballs slammed into them, crashing down all around him like meteors from the sky. The earth trembled beneath the blows and he stumbled, his ears ringing from the blasts.

Ahead, the trees thinned out and the featureless grey fog beckoned him into its cold embrace as he sprinted out of the forest and across a hillside of thick grass and sodden mud. The hill was covered with the fallen bodies of soldiers long dead, their twisted corpses haunting the lonely wilderness as far as the eye could see.

The thick, wet grass slowed his tired legs and the cold air seeped into his bones, dragging him backwards as though he were in a terrible dream where no matter how fast he ran, he travelled nowhere. His legs finally gave way beneath him and he collapsed to his knees in the deep grass, his chest heaving. The shouts and cries grew closer and he somehow found the strength to get to his feet and turn to face them.

Through the thick fog a line of soldiers advanced out of the forest toward him.
Hundreds of them
. Ranks of uniforms, heavy greatcoats and long barrelled muskets tipped with lethal bayonets. The soldiers spotted him standing alone in the centre of the grim field and with a great cry that soared into the sky above they charged toward him. Their bayonets flashed like the teeth of some gigantic monster racing across the field, rushing ever faster behind the war cry that chilled the blood in his veins.

I shouldn’t be here. This is not my time. I can’t die here.

The boy trembled as from his mouth fell a single, whispered line.

‘You can’t fight your way out of everything, but you can
your way out of anything.’

Above the terrible cries came a deafening boom, then the howling whistle of a cannon ball as it soared across the field toward him, louder and louder until he could hear nothing else.

The boy closed his eyes, and a moment later the world exploded around him.

* * *


Lincoln, Massachusetts

(Present day)

‘I’m not a coward.’

Casimir Ryan squirmed in his seat aboard the school bus and tried to ignore the uncomfortable tingle wriggling down his spine as his face flushed bright red. Twenty four children stared at him as he looked into the eyes of Siren Winchester. Her real name was Serena, but everybody called her Siren because that’s what most kids reckoned should be used to warn of her approach. The tall, dark girl glowered down at him as she stood over his seat. Her tightly dreadlocked hair framed a severe, dangerous face half-hidden behind designer sunglasses, and her muscular shoulders bulged out of her vest. Almost a year older than Cas, Siren was a notorious bully and Lincoln School’s top predator.

‘Then what are you, Cas? A

Cas glanced down the bus to where Principal Brownstone was talking to the bus driver, oblivious to the confrontation.

‘She’s not going to help you,’ Siren spat at him and leaned in closer. ‘You’re a coward, Cas. You said you’d be there and you weren’t. You ran away and you hid.’

‘I couldn’t get out of the house,’ Cas explained. He was about to add that his mother wouldn’t let him play out late at night but managed to stop himself. No sense in giving Siren the ammunition.

Unfortunately, she had already guessed.

‘What’s up, brave little Cas? Mommy not let you out after dark?’

A ripple of chuckles floated through the bus. Cas cringed further down into his seat beneath Siren’s looming shadow. At fourteen years old, Cas was lightly built and much shorter than his accuser. His wispy brown hair and big brown eyes made him look about as dangerous as a new-born lamb. The teachers all called him ‘cute’, which seemed to infuriate Siren and her crew even more and certainly embarrassed the hell out of him. Beside Siren was Mack, her lieutenant, his fiery red hair and flushed, podgy face a sharp contrast to her exotic dark looks.

‘Cas is a
mommy’s boy
,’ Mack taunted to chuckles from the watching crowd, ‘
mommy’s boy, mommy’s boy

Another voice came to his rescue.

‘At least his mother gives a damn, Mack!’ Jude Harris’s sparkling smile peeked out wickedly from the crowd, a mop of floppy light hair framing mischievous eyes. ‘I heard yours was a drunk?’

‘You shut your mouth,’ Mack hissed back at him.

Beside Cas sat Emily Harper, a polite, angelic young girl who had taken it upon herself to make friends with him after he’d arrived in Lincoln with his family the previous month. She cast her wide blue eyes up at Siren.

‘What was he supposed to have been doing anyway?’

‘He was supposed to have met us in Lincoln Woods to go to
Crazy Jo’s
,’ Siren snarled down at her, then looked again at Cas. ‘But he chickened out.’

A ripple of hushed whispers flitted amongst the watching crowd, as though in awe of the name.

‘What’s Crazy Jo’s?’ Emily asked him.

‘It’s an old shack in the woods, been there for hundreds of years,’ Cas replied, not taking his eyes off Siren. ‘It’s haunted and Siren is the only one who’s been inside. Or so she says.’

Siren raised a bunched fist as she grabbed Cas’s collar. ‘You callin’ me a liar?!’

‘Serena Winchester!’

The voice snapped down the bus like the hiss of a coiled cobra, and instantly the crowd of children watching the exchange melted back into their seats. Siren released Cas as Principle Brownstone stormed down the bus toward them. Tall, thin and with a pointy nose like a witch, she looked every bit as formidable as a principal should. She dressed only in shades of grey and her wizened old face made her look as though she had somehow been drained of colour, like one of those old black and white movies.

‘Wasn’t me, Miss,’ Siren said, backing away.

‘It never is,’ Principle Brownstone uttered and pointed to an empty seat. ‘Sit back down and stay there or I’ll have you returned to school immediately.’

Siren slumped back down in her seat as Principle Brownstone glanced down at Cas.

‘Everything all right, Cas?’

Cas nodded, Siren scowling as he did so.

‘Good,’ Principle Brownstone announced as she turned to the rest of the class, ‘because we’re almost there. I expect you all to be on your best behaviour. It’s not every day that we are invited onto a military base for a tour.’ She leaned down close to Siren’s ear. ‘That includes you, understood?’

Siren nodded once from behind her sunglasses but did not reply.

Cas watched Principle Brownstone walk down the bus, then looked out of the window beside him. It made it easier to avoid catching Siren’s eye.

‘She hates you because you’re smart,’ Emily said conversationally. ‘Siren doesn’t like clever people.’

Cas didn’t consider himself smart or clever, just normal. His father, Joshua, had always taught him that his brains were his best asset, because being strong meant nothing if you didn’t know what to do with that strength.

‘My dad told me that some people are afraid of others who they think are smarter than they are,’ he agreed.

‘Your father works on the base, huh?’ Emily asked him.

‘He’s in the Air Force,’ Cas replied.

‘Mine too,’ Emily said, her hands folded neatly in her lap and her legs crossed at the ankle. ‘I think Jude and Siren’s fathers work here too, but your dad is the senior officer.’

Cas nodded. His father was a fighter pilot, something that Cas found unspeakably exciting. Everybody had seen
Top Gun
and that was what his dad did for a job. At least, it had been until Joshua Ryan had been transferred to Hanscomb Air Force Base. Nobody knew why, even Cas’s mother, Karen, because his dad wasn’t allowed to talk about it. But he wasn’t flying on this posting and Cas knew that made his father unhappy. In fact, everything about this tour of duty seemed to have made his parents unhappy.

Cas had moved from place to place, following his father’s postings, ever since he could remember. He’d lived in some pretty amazing places. He’d liked England the best, where things were like home but quieter. Japan had been weird but exciting, and Germany was where people talked the strangest. But of all of the places he’d seen this had been the most mysterious, and since he’d started school in Lincoln he’d heard all kinds of rumours about what went on behind the heavy gates and high razor-wire fences of Hanscomb base. Last he’d heard was that this was the new
Area 51
: the place where it was said the military tested UFOs and things.

That was when the school had been invited to visit, to put a stop to the rumours because the local newspapers were getting interested in the stories.

‘What do you think they’re doing in there?’ Emily asked him. ‘My dad won’t say.’

‘Mine either,’ Cas admitted. His dad told Cas
, or so he’d thought. ‘Whatever it is, we’re about to find out.’

The other students fell silent as the bus turned in toward the main gates of the base, and armed soldiers appeared holding wicked looking machine guns. As Cas watched, they waved the bus forward and the huge gates to the base opened.

Moments later, they were driven inside.

* * *


An excited hush had fallen inside the bus as it drove across the base. Cas could see a long runway and ranks of transport aircraft parked alongside gigantic hangars. Armed soldiers seemed to be everywhere, some walking with aggressive looking dogs on steel leashes.

The bus drove to one side of the base and slowed as it moved inside one of the huge hangars. The bright blue sky and the sunshine vanished. The noise of the bus engine suddenly became louder as its echo rattled within the hangar, and Cas strained in his seat as the huge doors closed behind them with a rumbling boom.

‘Maybe they’re going to do experiments on us,’ Emily whispered.

Jude’s voice replied from further up the bus.

‘You’ll be okay Emily, they only experiment on human beings here.’

A ripple of chuckles was silenced as, quite suddenly, the bus drove down a ramp and the huge hangar vanished as they were driven underground. Cas looked on in wonder as rows of lights illuminated their way into a tunnel, which slowly looped back on itself until it levelled out and they approached another set of gates manned by armed soldiers.

This time, the bus stopped and the door opened. One of the soldiers stepped inside, his huge rifle cradled in gloved hands.

‘All passengers to disembark the bus!’ he snapped.

The students leapt to their feet in obedient silence as Principle Brownstone guided them off the bus and into two neat lines alongside it. As Cas stepped off he saw his father, Joshua, waiting alongside an older man in a white coat.

Joshua stepped forward, looking awesome in his dark blue officer’s uniform. He smiled down at the children as he spoke.

‘Welcome to Hanscomb Air Force base, officially the most secret place in the country. My name is Captain Joshua Ryan, and on behalf of the President of the United States of America I’d like to ask you all to tell nobody that you have been here. This place is so secret that even I don’t know that I’m here.’

The children laughed and Cas beamed with pride as his father continued speaking.

‘This is Doctor Harrison, our lead scientist.’ He gestured to the old man with a kindly face behind small, round spectacles. ‘He will be taking you on the tour. Please follow only where he goes and remain quiet. Very important things happen here and we don’t want to disturb the aliens. They might beam you all up into their spaceship like the last tour group that misbehaved.’

An expectant, nervous hush settled on the students as they stared wide-eyed at Joshua. Cas’s father grinned and stood to one side.

‘Please follow Doctor Harrison.’

The party moved off and Cas could barely contain himself as his father winked at him and threw him a salute as he passed. Siren scowled in disgust as she saw the exchange but said nothing as the group moved through a series of tunnels. Off to each side were glass walls, behind which sat serious-faced personnel at computer terminals.

Cas quickly noticed that the tunnels were interconnected and always turned right, as though they were circling something in the centre.

‘This is the communications centre for the air base,’ Doctor Harrison said as they walked. ‘It’s underground in case there is a major countrywide emergency, to protect it from attack from any kind of weapons. We can run almost the entire country from just this single underground bunker.’

Jude Harris’s hand shot up into the air. ‘Where are the aliens kept?’

‘Sadly, there are no aliens,’ Doctor Harrison replied. ‘If there were, trust me, you wouldn’t be allowed to tour in here.’

‘But Captain Ryan said that they beamed the last group onto their spaceship!’ Emily insisted.

The children laughed and rolled their eyes at her.

‘I think he was joking,’ Cas offered, wondering whether Emily believed everything that she was told.

Captain Ryan’s voice called out from the back of the group.

‘The aliens usually disguise themselves,’ he replied helpfully. ‘Sometimes as scientists, other times as school principals.’

Another ripple of laughter fluttered down the line as they walked.

‘Are there any bombs?’ asked a blonde girl called Rachel Barker.

‘Like nuclear bombs?’ Emily uttered in horror.

‘There aren’t any bombs,’ Doctor Harrison assured them. ‘This is a communications base, not a weapons facility.’

Cas spoke up from the crowd. ‘So what’s in the middle of the facility then?’

Doctor Harrison stopped walking and looked back at Cas.

in the middle of the facility.’

‘No we’re not,’ Cas protested. ‘We’re walking in a big circle through this tunnel. What’s through the back doors of all these offices?’

Doctor Harrison opened his mouth to speak, but it was Joshua Ryan’s voice that came from behind them.

‘That’s the elevator shaft,’ he replied, ‘where staff enter and exit the facility. They don’t use the tunnels and by law we need to have a secondary fire escape route.’

Cas looked at his father and thought he saw a glimmer of apprehension in his eye.

‘Okay,’ he replied.

They were about to move on when a pair of soldiers jogged down the tunnel toward them and came to a halt in front of Joshua Ryan. One of them saluted quickly and spoke in hushed tones. Cas strained to hear the words.

‘… power flux… excess energy… volatile… control….’

He looked at his father’s face and didn’t like what he saw there. His relaxed smile was replaced with a serious expression and a clenched jaw. Joshua Ryan barked a quick order in reply and one of the soldiers dashed back the way they had come as Joshua turned to the group.

‘I’m afraid something has come up. Principal Brownstone, if you could escort the children into the holding area just ahead. Corporal Martin here will show you the way. Doctor Harrison and I will be back with you shortly.’

Cas saw his father hurry away down the tunnel ahead and vanish from sight as they were led by the soldier into a small waiting room. It was like the offices but without the glass windows or back door. The door was shut behind them by Corporal Martin, who presumably would remain to stand guard outside.

‘What do you think’s happening?’ Emily asked Cas in a hushed whisper.

‘I don’t know, but my father didn’t look very happy.’

‘I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about Cas,’ Principal Brownstone said. ‘These people are professionals. They know exactly what they’re doing and I’m sure that we are entirely safe.’

Cas opened his mouth to reply but his voice was drowned out by a terrific explosion that rocked the floor beneath them as though the entire room were being dragged across uneven ground. Screams erupted from the students around him as they toppled to the floor. The lights in the room flickered off and plunged them into darkness as a huge crash echoed down the corridor outside.

The sound of the explosion rolled away into the darkness and Cas could hear a sound of distant alarm claxons in its wake. A dull red hazard light lit up in the room and began revolving, the scarlet glow flashing and illuminating the scared faces of the other students in a blood red glow.

‘Children!’ Principal Brownstone called out. ‘Is anybody hurt?’

The silence was deep, but Cas could see everybody looking at each other. Nobody was showing any signs of injury but showers of tiny sparks were spitting from behind panels in the walls. Cas smelled burning metal and saw tendrils of writhing smoke that spiralled up from electrical fires that must have started inside the panels.

Principal Brownstone looked at Cas.

‘Cas, open the door and see if Corporal Martin is outside. Quickly, please.’

Cas grabbed the door handle, turned it, and pushed.

Nothing happened. He tried again. Nothing. They were trapped.

* * *

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