K. A. sutherland
Kenny was haunted by a heartbeat.
He first noticed the haunting when he made his way down the hall to the commissary. It beat large and basso—like the ships that took off from the arctic spaceport a hundred miles away. He dismissed it and expected the noise to vanish as soon as the launching spaceship broke through the atmosphere.
The beat remained as he boiled the water for his instant noodles. It persisted when he sat at his usual table and poked at the rehydrated food with a bamboo fork.
He swirled the utensil in the hot broth and began to pull a glob of noodles to his mouth. He frowned, set the fork back into the cup and touched his ear. Kenny opened and closed his mouth, swallowing, rationalizing that if he could pop his ears, the throbbing bass would go away.
“Hey, that dinner I smell?”
Kenny lowered his hand. Fontaine, the station’s director, walked in, a mug stamped with the iconic I’M LOONY FOR LUNA CITY in one hand.
“Kind of late for dinner, isn’t it, Kenny?” Fontaine asked as she pulled the coffee carafe off the hot plate. She turned towards him while she poured, a smile on her face.
“This is a snack.” Kenny swallowed again and he felt the pressure between his ears slink away. He twisted the fork. He’d never seen the director around this late. Nerves prickled and yelled and it took all of Kenny’s willpower to remain seated. “It’s uh… kinda late for coffee though.”
Fontaine’s eyebrows bobbed and she tilted her head forward in a motion Kenny had come to recognize as agreement. “That’s why this is decaf. My office is freezing. I figured I might as well stretch my legs and thaw out.”
“What are you working on?”
“Monthly reports. Don’t ever get into admin unless you like paperwork.” She twisted around to set the carafe on the counter. Kenny took a bite of noodles and the top of his mouth blistered.
Kenny poked at his noodles again, scouring for one of the scant vegetables, expecting Fontaine to say farewell and return to her freezing office.
The chair across from him grated on the linoleum and Fontaine sat down. The steam from her mug swirled upward until it disappeared and rejoined the rest of the air in the room.
“How ya doing, Kenny?” she asked.
He knew the inflection, polite eye contact, and slight forward posture meant ‘I’m inquiring about your general well-being. No need to write this down. I’ll remember everything you say.’
“You’ve been working pretty late recently.”
Kenny chomped down on a bundle of noodles so he could have more time to decode the director’s words.
“Yeah,” he said after he chewed and swallowed his mouthful. “There’s a lot of data to go through.”
Fontaine smiled and shook her head. “You don’t have to burn the midnight oil. It’s not like we have a pressing deadline.”
Fontaine blew on the rim of her coffee mug. Steam billowed away from her face and returned to kiss her skin with moisture. Kenny focused on his meal. He felt Fontaine’s attention remain on him.
“You’ve been here pretty long,” she said after a sip of coffee.
“Eighteen months,” he said.
Kenny had enough familiarity with conversation lulls to know when he was expected to speak.
“Why do you ask?”
Fontaine shrugged and took another sip. “Just wondering what your next move is. Most techs ship off-world after a year or two. I suppose listening to stars is more interesting than crackling ice.”
“Are you not pleased with my work?” Kenny’s pulse thudded in the base of his throat.
Fontaine leaned back. “What? No. No. You’re one of my best. But…” Kenny saw the small downward tug on the corner of her mouth. “You won’t be able to further your career here. We’re too small and you’re young. You’ll want to move on eventually, surely.”
She meant space.
Kenny let his fork rest in his soup. It was the one thing he feared—the great endless expanse of the unknown that would kill anyone that made the slightest mistake.
He knew he’d have to go there eventually. Unless if he wanted an exciting career change to some dilapidated high school’s underfunded AV department. If he uttered his ultimate fear to anyone, he might as well pack his bags. It would save time and get the dead end of his career into the present.
“I… can I think about it for a little bit?”
“Sure. Let me know when you’re ready to talk.” Her chair scraped against the floor. Fontaine smiled, fingers wrapped between the mug and the handle. “Pleasant dreams, Kenny.”
“Thanks. You, too.”
Kenny watched her leave. He listened to her sneakers squeak and fade as she headed to her office. The heartbeat returned and hummed between Kenny’s ear and jaw. He sipped at the broth and grimaced. Cold.
He stood and walked to the door, tossing soup and fork into the bin on his way out. The pounding noise drifted up Kenny’s spinal cord and slid its tempo over the top of his skull.
He stopped and rubbed his ears.
Thin spaceship hulls filled his thoughts. One little puncture would cripple a ship before physics crushed it. When you thought about it, they were comfortable coffins rotating in gravity wells. It made his heart quicken, much faster than the one between his ears. His tongue went sour and when he started to walk again, his limbs felt as though they were on the edge of numbness.
Kenny stumbled into his room. Luckily, the station was large enough that no one had to double bunk. He stepped over to the sink and turned on the faucet.
He leaned over and splashed cool water on his face. The sourness faded and his limbs regained sensation. Once numbness smothered his skin, he shut off the water and groped for his towel. He ran the terrycloth over his face and sought comfort in the scent of detergent.
The heartbeat thundered in the chambers of his brain. Kenny grunted, pressed a hand to his head and tossed the towel aside. He sat on the edge of his bed and reached for the headphones hooked around one of the bed posts.
Kenny cradled the headset in his lap and rotated the dials on the ear pieces. He settled the device over his head and lay down.
White noise drowned the heartbeat and he closed his eyes.
Kenny shut his eyes and listened to the ice groan. It grumbled—a long noise that vibrated his molars. He paused the recording and applied filters to shift the sound into a human-friendly range.
He scrubbed back seconds earlier and hit play. He recognized the sound, a low whale’s cry, a pop and crackle of shifting ice.
“Didn’t know they still came down here,” he murmured, his voice a tingling vibration thanks to the huge earphones anchored over his skull. One of his long arms reached over and scribbled a small notation in a spiral notebook with curling edges. His pencil stopped. He squinted, as if that would help him hear. Lower, more pervasive rumble, under the crackling.
His fingers inched the volume dial by degrees. No. Bass. Too much for a quake and it lasted too long for a spacecraft. Another whale, maybe? Too loud, too regular, a steadier tempo than a drumbeat.
A heavy silence settled over his head and a keening whistle stabbed his eardrums. He stopped the playback and pulled off the headphones. He scrolled through the remainder of the audio wave and saw a flat line.
He frowned, pulled the dog-eared notebook into his lap and made a notation for a technician to check the audio array. He didn’t envy the tech that would have to tread onto the ice to check it out. It was important to keep the hardware maintained, though. If the U.N. learned they dropped the ball, there would be trouble. Stresses along the ice threatened the spaceport and the research station had to monitor and report any dangerous anomalies.
The numbers on the clock were closer to morning than night. Kenny grunted and stood, notebook in hand, and headed out of the small office. He slipped the notebook into a cubby by the head engineer’s office and walked into the hallway.
He liked the graveyard shift. The only noise came from the hum of the machines that kept the researchers warm and processed data around the clock. The overhead lights were turned off and dim lighting strips ran along the length of the hall’s corners. It softened the station’s hard industrial edges and made it feel more like a home than a facility.
Kenny hummed quietly, more to feel the vibration of his vocal cords in his throat than to fill the quiet with noise. His shoes scuffed down the hall until he paused by his door.
Something loomed behind him. He felt the pressure of a pair of eyes, the subtle shifts in air when you’re not alone. He looked over his shoulder, peering through the hallway’s gloom, and saw no one else. He frowned, rubbed the back of his neck, and took his hand from the doorknob. He started to walk again, this time heading towards the cafeteria. The stirrings of a headache rippled over his skull, pounding like a heartbeat. A midnight snack would put him right as rain.
“Sorry, man. We can’t go out until this blizzard passes,” Mouser, the head engineer, said. Kenny had forced himself to get up early, when the daytime shift started, so he could make sure they took his request seriously. The two men stood in the doorway of Mouser’s office. The tall engineer leaned against the doorframe, a clipboard in hand.
“How am I supposed to work if the array is broken?” Kenny said and shoved his hands into his pockets. His neck hurt from looking upwards.
Mouser shrugged a shoulder and stroked his beard with his free hand. “Take a day off for a change? Seriously, you look like shit. When’s the last time you had a solid eight?”
Kenny glanced down, as if that would hide the dark circles under his eyes. “I got a vacation coming up. I need to process my data before then.”
Mouser snorted and tossed the clipboard onto his desk. “Right.” He folded his arms. “Earliest someone can take a look is tomorrow, assuming the weather clears.”
Kenny bobbed his head. “Of course. You’ll let me know if anything changes?”
“It’s my job.” Mouser stared at Kenny. “Get some sleep.”
“Yeah.” He turned on his heel and walked away from the cluster of workstations and offices. He felt Mouser’s gaze on him the entire time. The heartbeat muttered its pulse against Kenny’s spine.
Kenny blinked his eyes against the bright hallway. A biologist chirped a ‘good morning’ as she walked out of a side office. Noise surrounded him, buffeting his overtaxed brain. How many hours did he get? Three? Did he even sleep? His legs moved, feet tingling with each step, and led him into the commissary.
The acidic and earthy smell of coffee lingered in the air. The coffee maker belched as the final drips landed in a mug. A man in front of the machine uncrossed his arms and picked up the coffee. Kenny squeezed to the side to let him pass.
“Thanks, mate!” he said with a flash of teeth in a face that looked too young to be an undergraduate, much less a professional.
“Intern?” Kenny mouthed to himself. They would have been introduced but he couldn’t remember when.
Again his legs moved and he was in front of the cabinets. He blinked and a container of cereal appeared on the counter. The spheres clattered into a bowl as he blinked for a little bit longer. His eyes opened when the chilly air of the fridge brushed against his face. The milk carton’s weight settled against his hand and then slurped into the cereal’s nooks and crannies.
Kenny sat at the table the next time he opened his eyes from a long blink. Each crunchy mouthful of cereal masked the chatter that filled the installation. Yeah, the graveyard shift was better. He rubbed the base of his skull, where a headache slowly pounded. He could feel the weight of someone’s glare on him even though he was alone.
Kenny didn’t know how he got into bed. He tugged his headphones off and set them on their usual perch. The pounding heartbeat lurked under the edge of his hearing. He rubbed his face.
He’d eaten cup noodles.
He sat up. “What day is it again?” he muttered.
A multifaceted scream buffeted the research station, howling around the squat structure, an unceasing chorus that grew ever-louder. Kenny pressed his hand against the wall and felt it vibrate and shudder in time with the screams.
It was worse than Mouser suggested. The control room’s computer could tell him more about the storm. It was better than lying in bed and not sleeping. Kenny rose and tugged on the hoodie he kept at the base of his bed. He didn’t bother changing out of his sweatpants or putting on shoes.
Kenny stepped out of his room and glanced up and down the dark hall, certain he wouldn’t be the only one awake. A large, shadowed form slipped into the gloom. The dim lights caught the silver edges of a fur collar before the figure disappeared, walking in the opposite direction of the hub. One of the engineers? Did the storm damage something outside?
Kenny cleared his throat and said, “Hello?” The person continued forward. Kenny hesitated and then followed. The shadow loomed a few feet ahead, always out of his reach.
The person rounded a corner. Kenny half-jogged to catch up and took the corner quickly, nearly slipping on a patch of ice. A handful of snowflakes tumbled past and the wind snatched Kenny’s breath away. The hatch was open. Ice and snow laced the hallway in growing mounds, snaking over the metal walls and floor like jagged bits of lightning.
“Shit!” He slipped over the ice and smashed into the wall. He swore again and ripped open the emergency intercom’s cover. “The hatch is open. Somebody give me a hand!”
Kenny steadied himself and stared at the iced-over ground. He took a breath and ran down the hall, slipping more after than not, his feet numb, and his chest aching with cold. He latched onto the door’s edge to keep from falling, his legs splayed in opposite directions even as his toes lost their grip on the slick ice. The blizzard screeched over his unprotected flesh and buffeted him with slicing snow. The wind screamed in time with the heartbeat. The beat thudded so hard Kenny feared his skull would burst.
He regained his balance and rammed his shoulder against the door. It barely shifted the heavy portal. Other sets of hands joined his. The frozen door moaned and cracked the ice on the ground as four scientists forced it shut against the gale.
Kenny felt the cold sharply through his bare feet and hoodie. He shuddered and pushed away from the door. He curled his body down, hiding his frozen hands in his pockets. The other three were clad in heavy coats and gloves. One crossed the space to Kenny in two long strides.
“What the hell happened?” Mouser demanded as he shoved Kenny’s shoulder. His beard didn’t hide his impressive scowl. The head engineer pushed Kenny again, forcing him to take a step back. “Why did you open the hatch?”
He glanced up at Fontaine and shifted away from Kenny. The director stared at him a moment before speaking again. “I’m sure there is an explanation.” Her eyes lowered to frozen, fidgeting toes. “And it can wait until we get Kenny to the infirmary.”
In minutes, they hauled Kenny from the frozen corridor to medical. His hands and feet were placed in warm water and a blanket draped over his shoulders and legs. Mouser leaned in the doorframe, his arms folded over his chest. Fontaine stood near Kenny while the doctor checked Kenny’s face for signs of frostbite.
She shook her head and addressed Fontaine. “He’s fine, far as I can see.” She turned back to Kenny. “You want some soup?”
“I’ll be next door if you need anything.” She offered a tired smile that didn’t reach her eyes and turned on her heel, brushing past Mouser on her way out.
“So,” Fontaine pulled a rolling stool over and perched on its edge, “wanna tell us what happened?”
He didn’t. He wanted to go back to bed and drown out the world with ambient noise. His tongue moved sluggishly against the roof of his mouth as words came out.
“I wanted to go to the hub to see what was going on with the storm. In case if the night watchman needed an extra pair of hands. I saw someone in a parka walking down the hall.
“Who was it?”
Kenny shook his head. “Couldn’t tell. Someone tall, pretty big.”
“Did you call out to them?
“Yeah, they didn’t turn around. I almost caught up with them but then I reached the hallway with the hatch and they weren’t there.”
“Why’d you open it?” Mouser said.
“It was like that when I got there. I used the intercom as soon as I could.”
Fontaine rotated her stool to look at Mouser. “One of your people?”
“It better not,” Mouser said. He pushed away from the wall and headed out the door. Fontaine stared at the empty doorway. The director gave a single shake of her head.
“Have you thought about what we talked about?”
“The other night in the commissary.” Fontaine swiveled back to face Kenny.
She shrugged a shoulder. “Me neither. Been too busy. Storms always make more work for everyone,” she slipped her fingers under her glasses to rub her eyes. Kenny shifted more of the blanket over his shoulders and gave his toes an experimental wiggle.
Fontaine’s glasses clicked as they settled back on her nose. She gave Kenny a smile that rounded her cheeks. “Sure you don’t want anything else?”
She got to her feet with a grunt and rolled her shoulders. “I’ll send Paula back in.” She hesitated a moment. “Don’t worry about Mouser. I’ll talk him down. He starts yanking you around, you come to me.”
She bobbed her head and shuffled out of the infirmary. The doctor returned a minute later, a cup of coffee in hand. She glanced at Kenny with an expression he couldn’t read and went to the counter on the side of the room. Kenny heard a drawer open and small bottles clink together.
He shut his eyes.
“The audio array is fine,” Mouser said when they passed each other in the hallway. Kenny stopped mid-stride. Murmured conversations drifted into the hallway from the lab’s open door.
“When did you—“
“Me and my team went looking for your mystery man last night,” Mouser said, his bushy eyebrows low over his eyes. “I figured we’d check the array since we were already frozen to hell and back. You’re welcome,” he grumbled before he turned on his heel and continued down the hall.
Kenny stared at Mouser’s retreating back for a moment. The heartbeat throbbed above his temples today, slow, a sensuous BPM that deserved to be accompanied by purred vocals.
The noise wasn’t a glitch. It was something big. Something that would rocket Kenny upwards in his career and keep him far away from a frozen coffin in orbit. One of his feet stepped backward. Then the other. He turned and headed to the lab’s half-open door. Heartbeats in his head and chest quickened as he approached.
He slipped inside. He walked, trying not to appear hurried, past glass-fronted offices. Conversations dropped in volume. Stares pressed against his back like jagged stones.
Kenny ducked into his office in the rear of the module and immediately relaxed in the comforting dimness. His guts writhed in anticipation as he neared his console. The heartbeat crashed like waves against a cliff.
He sat and slid the headphones on in the same movement. Kenny tapped on the keyboard, brought up the data for the day after the suspected glitch, and pressed play. He reached for a fresh notebook, flipped open to the first page, and shut his eyes.
He wanted the sound. He needed it. He ached for the bass, the pounding that shivered the small bones of his ears.
Normal acoustics. Animals moved above and underneath the ice. A scheduled launch from the spaceport rumbled and faded. No groaning stress fractures. All was normal. Kenny’s fingertips turned white where he squeezed the pencil. He growled and reached forward to scrub through the playback.
It came suddenly, before Kenny could move the cursor, drowning out the ice’s small clicks and mutterings. It roared through his ears and raced along his brain. His fingers fumbled for the volume knob. The noise remained no matter which way he wrenched the dial.
An animalistic noise shrieked under the thundering heartbeat. Kenny tore the headphones off and threw them aside. The momentum yanked the jack out of the computer and the headphones shattered against the wall.
Kenny stood, knocking over his chair. He staggered, tripped on the chair legs, fell backward, and slammed into the ground. His lungs ached for air and the unceasing rush of endless sound swallowed him whole.
Kenny was warm under the parka. The fur tickled his cheek and he felt an itch in his nose. The hallway lights were dim and no one had seen him enter the equipment room. He had to get out onto the ice. He had to see the array himself. His feet were sluggish in the boots and his footfalls were louder than normal. He couldn’t afford anyone stopping him, not this close to finding answers.
He turned the corner and saw the hatch. His gloved hands wrapped around the wheel. He strained against the mechanism. It gave, just a bit, and squeaked loudly. Kenny’s hands twisted and the door loosened as the bolts slid away from the jamb.
The wind flung the door inwards. It caught Kenny in the side and he grunted. Snow tumbled and ice snaked into the hallway as long, jagged crystals. Absolute darkness reigned outside with wind that sounded like raging surf. Kenny turned on the light attached to his belt. Ice crunched underfoot as he took one step and then another. Snow rose until it dragged against his knees.
And then the snowfield was gone. He sat in the canteen with a cup of noodles huffing steam into his face. He wore a T-shirt and sweatpants, as if he were about to head to bed.
He looked up from his noodles and into Fontaine’s face. She peered at him over the rim of her mug. His face still tingled from the arctic chill.
“You okay?” Fontaine said.
How the hell did he get here?
“No,” he said. It was quiet for once. No heartbeats. No screaming.
“So? What do you think about me giving you a recommendation?”
This had happened before. He was sure of it. “What day is it?”
Fontaine lowered her mug. “Wednesday.” Her eyes were dim, the spectrum of jagged hues inside her iris were flat, as though they were watercolors that had all bled together, more like glass than actual eyeballs.
Kenny rose from his chair. Languid air suffocated him. Colors were too bright, too vivid. Fontaine remained in her seat, stock still except for eyes that followed his movements. The heartbeat returned to his mind with thunderous force.
The thing at the table wasn’t Fontaine.
Kenny ran into the hallway. Something rumbled under the soles of his feet, like a distant underground train. The hall lights flickered in time to the heartbeat. All the doors were open, leading to inescapable darkness. Snowflakes flurried from one end of the hall where fingers of ice inched over the walls, crackling with every advance.
He hissed and grabbed at his arm when a sharp pain jabbed at the soft part of his elbow. He pulled his hand away and saw a perfect sphere of crimson bubble up from a vein. It grew until it oozed down his arm in a thin line.
Fingers dug into his shoulder. “When did you sleep last?” A jagged, angular form pressed against his back, a facsimile of a human body rendered in ice and bone. It breathed into his ear, in a voice that was Fontaine’s with the tenor of an ice quake. “How much time have you lost?”
Kenny fell forward, freeing himself of the fingers. He crashed against the floor, scraping his palms and knees. Ice slithered closer and froze his fingers even as he scrambled forward toward one of the darkened rooms.
The heartbeat thundered, so loud that blood began to trickle out of Kenny’s ears. Ancient words chanted in the beat’s empty spaces, gaining in power and volume until they were a constant, frantic scream. He sobbed. Tears froze on his cheeks. The breath in his lungs turned to frost. The distance between him and the door grew, lengthened with every spasmodic jerk of his limbs. The floor shivered and Kenny knew the horror that wore Fontaine’s voice approached. He felt the long fingers cross through space, reaching for his back, while its artic breath rattled in its monstrous form.
He was on the ice.
Kenny blinked the snowflakes away. He was still on his hands and knees, but soft snow cradled his parka-clad body. He got to his feet and looked around. He didn’t see the research station anywhere. All around him, an endless field of white stretched from horizon to horizon. Above, curtains of aurora shimmered over the dome of stars.
The thing that haunted him was there. Under the snow. Waiting for him. He just had to dig.
“Sir?” a young voice murmured. Something dabbed at his arm while a cool, small hand pressed against his elbow. The snowfield was gone and Kenny realized his eyes were shut. His eyes cracked open and he saw the doctor at his side, applying a bandage to the inside of his elbow. His heartbeat sped up and his eyeballs roved around, eventually landing on the rolling tray with a spent syringe.
“What did you give me?” his voice a sluggish growl.
“Something to help you sleep,” she said. She stepped back and turned to the tray. She picked up the syringe and discarded the needle in the biohazard bin on the counter.
“I didn’t need that,” he said. “I can sleep just fine.”
She snorted and stripped the latex gloves off of her hands. “You told me not three minutes ago you don’t remember the last time you got a good night’s sleep.” Kenny held his tongue and stopped himself from yelling he didn’t know what day it was—even his jumbled mind realized that would end badly.
“Fine,” he sighed. “Can you tell me your name at least? I don’t think we were introduced.” She had a strange look on her face that Kenny couldn’t place.
She took a step towards him, stopped, and then smiled. “That’s fair. Fontaine introduced us a few months ago and we’re on different schedules. Paula McIntyre.”
The name meant nothing to him. He smiled nonetheless. “Am I free to go home, doc?”
“You’re staying here for observation.” Kenny opened his mouth to argue but the space inside the infirmary warped, swimming downward and upward, destroying his equilibrium. He felt his mouth form syllables, the ceiling arc into his vision, and the padded table shift upward to meet his back.
Sometime between a minute and a day later, voices dragged him out of sleep. Kenny kept his eyes shut and listened. It sounded like the speakers were near the infirmary door.
“I checked the tapes. It was him.” That was Mouser.
“Are you sure?” Fontaine’s voice was tense.
“Positive. I saw him go into the equipment room and everything.”
“Then why wasn’t he wearing the parka when we found him?”
Mouser sounded frustrated. “I don’t know, boss. The videotapes got… weird. All of this static and jumping around. The timestamps are wrong or missing entirely.”
Kenny’s eye cracked open. He didn’t see them in the infirmary—they were probably outside. He had to run. He had to find the thing under the ice. If they locked him up, he would be haunted until the day he died.
“Can we talk to him, Paula?” Fontaine asked.
“Not yet. I’d like him to wake up naturally. God knows how sleep deprived he is. I’ll let you know when he’s awake.”
Kenny shut his eyes and slowed the rise and fall of his chest. He heard Paula’s sneakers pad over the linoleum, pause nearby, and then continue further into the lab. He counted his breaths and then risked opening his eyes. The door to the infirmary was open and empty of onlookers. He heard the wheels of Paula’s chair clack as she scooted towards the desk and mechanical taps as her fingers poked the keyboard.
He knew she faced away from him. There wouldn’t be any better opportunity to escape. Kenny sat up by degrees, unwilling to have the squeak of synthetic leather give him away. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and sank to the floor in the same movement.
His bare feet whisked over the linoleum. His thighs ached as he hurried to the door in a crouch. Paula’s typing never wavered. Kenny slipped over the threshold and scurried to the left so the wall would hide him from the doctor.
Time was hemorrhaging. Kenny licked his dry lips. Anxiety tightened over his neck and shoulders and he felt his adrenal glands secrete chemicals. Had to get onto the ice. His toes squeezed into little fists. First, shoes.
Kenny straightened. He walked towards the corner, listened, and then peered around the edge. Empty.
He hurried down the hallway. The heartbeat murmured comfort and reassurance. He was doing the right thing. Soon he would be able to see it though.
Not far to the equipment room now. Kenny paused at another corner. He heard muffled voices further down the hall and a splash of light from an open door. He licked his lips again, calculated the route to the equipment room in his head, and decided he could avoid detection if he went back to the previous junction and took a right.
The heartbeat was urgent, a tempo mirrored in his quick footsteps. He could make out the equipment room’s door at the end of the hall. Kenny’s feet slapped against the ground as he closed the last few feet and opened the door. An automatic overhead light flicked on. Kenny shoved parkas aside until he found his buried in the middle of the rack.
Kenny’s ragged breaths mingled with the thunderous heartbeat and drove his dry lips to the point of cracking. The wind-resistant material hissed as it rubbed against itself. Kenny stepped into his boots, tightened and locked the plastic clips, and shoved his arms into the parka as he left the room. He clomped down the hallway as he fastened the heavy jacket. He had no more time for stealth.
Kenny reached the facility’s main hatch in a matter of minutes. He gripped the wheel and strained to turn it. A gurgle came from his throat and the veins in his neck bulged as he struggled. Heartbeats in brain and chest labored together. Feet reset themselves. He twisted again.
The door gave way at last. Its hinges shrieked through the facility. Voices raised in alarm and doors slammed open.
He didn’t know how far he had to go, the heartbeat would guide him. It grew with every footfall until it sang through his body, shivering his bones, squeezing his heart. He didn’t notice the cold seeping through his clothes and stiffening his extremities. He had to keep going. He was so close.
The world lurched and Kenny was on his knees. His fingers dug into the snow and he felt it, a soft rumble in the earth. The vibrations grew in strength. A crack appeared at one horizon and rushed past Kenny with a snap like the planet splitting in two.
His body pulsed in time with the heartbeat. It swarmed through his blood down to his molecules, consuming his being until he was only noise.
A mass surged upward from the crack, covering the expanse of sky. Kenny felt a wash of satisfaction. He found the source of his troubling dreams and lost time.
The heartbeat flat lined.
K.A. Sutherland is a speculative fiction writer with a lifelong love of storytelling. Born on Florida’s Space Coast, she grew up watching shuttle launches from her backyard. She lives in New York and participated in AWP’s Writer to Writer Spring 2018 mentorship program.