by Doc Quantum
“Hey! Abby!” shouted Chester Williams as he walked down the windy Houma street toward the hospital in his hippie-style suede jacket. “I finally connected with you! Liz told me you were here. I figured I’d come over.” He paused for a moment as she attempted a smile. “How’s things with your, uh, your ex-husband?”
“Oh,” said Abby as she walked with him away from hospital entrance, “well, he told me about the movies he’d seen, and we discussed politics, and he said he liked my outfit…”
“No.” Abby was silent for a long moment. “Look, I’m sorry. Since Alec died, coming here to see Matt, I just feel empty, like I don’t have enough to mourn both of them. Do you mind if we skip the eco-business tonight? I was thinking of driving out to the swamps.”
“You want to be alone?” asked Chester.
“Alone? Chester, for the last few months I’ve been stuck on an island where I had no chance of fitting in, where the kids are being trained to combat God-knows-what, and where I had only one friend, who happened to be in her mid-eighties but looked younger than me, and who couldn’t begin to understand my apprehension because of her own career choices. Before that I was working with old people, whose kids had stuck them in a home with a lot of people they don’t know, and, you know…? No… no, I don’t want to be alone,” Abby concluded as she walked toward her rented sedan. Chester followed her, saying nothing.
Flying through the clouds over the Southwestern United States:
“Any luck on the readouts, Prof?”
“Not so far, Red. It’s not — wait! Wait, I’m picking it up again! The energy trail looks like it landed somewhere in Louisiana. Ace, readjust your course west by twenty-three degrees.”
“Got it, Prof.”
“What do ya figure it is?”
“I’m not sure, Rocky. It looks like it could be some kind of energy life-form, though.”
“Not another energy life-form!”
“We mustn’t assume it’s hostile. For all we know, it could be terrestrial.”
“No, Rocky. E.T. means extra-terrestrial. Not of this Earth.”
“Wouldn’t extra-terrestrial mean really really from Earth?”
“Well, maybe we should bring a phone with us, huh?”
“‘Cause maybe our E.T. will wanna phone home, y’know?”
There was a pause.
“Or, uh, maybe a bicycle?”
“I’m moving back up to the front now.”
“OK… Psst! Red! Did you see the look on his face? He bought the whole story!”
“You tricky bastard! Ha-ha! You know, he’s gonna catch on to your stupid act one of these days, if he hasn’t already. Just be glad he doesn’t engage in practical jokes himself.”
“Don’t worry about it, Abby,” said Chester as they stopped in a driveway. “I’ll let Liz where we’re going. Be back in a sec.”
“Thanks. And take your time. I’m in no hurry.”
Chester rang the doorbell. “A-all right,” he heard Liz say from inside. “All right, I’m just coming.”
“Hi, Liz. How you doing?” Chester said as she let him inside. Although he’d gotten to know Liz since February, she was still quite awkward around everyone, especially men. She had gotten married to Dr. Dennis Barclay sometime after their adventures with the Swamp Thing, but Dennis’ mind had snapped. He had become completely paranoid and had infected Liz with his paranoia to such an extent that the television journalist had been reduced to the trembling woman she was now. It all came to a head when Dennis came after her with a shotgun in an act his diseased mind must have believed was the best thing to do. After all, they were hunted by the DDI. Was it not better for him to take his wife’s life and his own rather than become captured by the enemy? Abby had rescued her, and Dennis had died by his own folly in the swamps. Liz still cried at night over him.
“I’m OK. Uh. H-how… how are you?”
“OK, thanks. Say, Abby and I were just about to go out to the swamp. Uh, did you want to come, or…?”
“Oh, no. No, I couldn’t. Just couldn’t.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean–“
“No, no, it’s not your fault. It’s mine. I’m such a mess. Abby helps me out so much. You must think I’m pathetic. You’re right. I don’t help Abby out enough. I’m useless with…”
“Hey! Slow down!” said Chester gently. “You’re somebody who got head-tripped real bad, is all. It happens. I don’t think you’re pathetic.”
“Y-you don’t?” Liz asked, genuinely surprised.
“No way,” Chester said, smiling and looking at her through his granny glasses. “You’re beautiful. You just have to mellow out a little. Anyway, Abby’s out in the car. We’re just gonna head over to the swamp for a bit. You take it easy, OK?”
The telephone rang just then. Liz looked at it. It rang again. And again.
“You gonna get that?” asked Chester, walking back up to the step.
“I-it’s probably for Abby. I-I wouldn’t want to mess any messages up or anything, I–“
“It’s OK, it’s OK, I’ll get it,” Chester said, picking up the telephone receiver. “Hello? Yeah, she’s here. Can I ask who’s calling? The hospital? OK, I’ll go get her.” He smiled as he handed the receiver to Liz and said, “It’s a call for Abby.”
Liz stood there perplexed as she held the receiver and watched him walk out to the car. Beautiful, she thought. He said beautiful.
Abby walked in and took the phone. “Hello?”
“Mrs. Cable?” the voice said.
“Mrs. Matthew Cable?”
“Yes, this is Abby Cable,” she said. “What’s wrong? Did something happen to Matt?”
“Well, yes. We can’t explain it. He–“
“What is it?” Abby asked as the woman trailed off.
“Well, the thing is, he appears to have come out of his coma. Mrs. Cable, your husband is awake.”
Abby dropped the receiver.
Abby dropped to the floor in a faint.
“Mrs. Cable? Hello?”
The Challengers of the Unknown, for that was what they were, disembarked from their flying craft and began searching the lonely Louisiana acreage situated in the swamplands. The only building on the site was a large, old barn that had fire damage.
“I hope this isn’t a fool’s errand, Prof,” said Ace Morgan, the crack pilot of the Challengers, after the team had been searching the area for several minutes. “I know we agreed that our search for alternative sources of energy was to be one of our top priorities, a way of giving back to the world, but if we’re going to go flying off after every blip on the radar–“
“This wasn’t just any ‘blip on the radar,’ Ace,” interrupted Prof Haley, the master skin-diver, oceanographer, and scientist. “As I explained to all of you earlier, the energy signature I picked up this time was very different from anything I’ve ever seen before. And it moved as if with intelligence. It was no accident that it landed here, I’m sure of that much.” Prof whistled with his fingers and shouted to his teammates, “We may have to start searching underwater. There’s no time to lose! That energy signature is fading fast!”
“That’s your field of expertise, Prof!” laughed Red Ryan, the Challengers’ circus acrobat and electronics expert.
“I brought along enough wetsuits for all of us, if need be,” Haley replied. “And it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to find anything on the surface. The energy seems to have dissipated.”
“Then why’re we still here?” asked Rocky Davis, ex-heavyweight boxing champ and wrestler.
“Well, I’m hoping that whatever intelligence was behind that energy is still here. My best bet is that it’s at the bottom of that bog.” Prof quickly began changing into his wetsuit while trying to keep from getting bitten by the many mosquitoes hovering in the air.
Terrebonne Parish Hospital, Houma, Louisiana:
Abby Cable’s heart was leaping a mile a minute as she walked through the hospital doors that had become so familiar to her over the last two years. Her mind was reeling as a sudden mix of conflicting emotions washed over her. Matt Cable, her husband, had awoken from his coma. She had resigned herself to the fact that he would never wake up again long ago. Or at least she had believed it was a fact. The doctors had told her so.
She had no idea what she would say to him. Things had been so difficult with him the last couple of years before the car accident that his slipping into a coma was not hard for her to deal with. Had she wanted him to stay in that coma forever? Had she wanted him to die? She wasn’t sure about that. She wasn’t sure about anything anymore.
Over the last year she had been waiting for her lover to come back to her. Not Matt, no — Alec. She had lost the two loves of her life within the span of one year, and she had hardly had any time to think about what she would do if either of them came back to her.
It was going to be difficult to face Matt, she realized. How could she look him in the eye? “Sorry, Matt, honey, while you were in a coma, I took a swamp monster as my lover.” It wasn’t quite that simple, she realized, but it was essentially the truth. She had failed her marriage vows to the man she had begun referring to as her first husband. Hadn’t she agreed to stand by Matt till death do us part?
No, she finally decided. No guilt. She had her reasons for doing what she did. Matt was gone; he had been distant from her for long before his coma. And Alec had never tried to pressure her into anything, ever. But it was only natural that the two were drawn together, despite their obvious differences.
As she walked through the hospital corridor, she wondered to herself what she would do now. She had been waiting for Alec to return to her for so long that she had denied the possibility that Matt would ever himself return. She had often thought about being granted a divorce, but she could never bear to do it. Matt — the real Matt — had always been good to her. But the horror of his body being used as a vessel for her own uncle was too much to think about. It had colored her very perception of her husband. She really had no idea how she felt about Matt any longer or what she would do now that he was back in the world of the living. She didn’t think she would know until she could look him in the face. She didn’t want to have to make any decisions just yet, but she thought to herself that, if she could only look into the eyes of the man she married, she would know exactly what to do.
Abby stopped in front of the closed door to Matt’s room. She thought it strange that she wasn’t crying. She only felt numb, as if none of this were real. Finally, after taking a deep breath and steeling herself for whatever she might face in this room, she turned the doorknob and began to push open the door.
“Any luck, Prof?” shouted Ace.
“No,” Prof Haley replied. “There’s nothing particularly unusual down here. It looks as if this may have been a wild goose chase, after all. It’s strange, though… there’s some odd-looking biomass at the bottom of this bog. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Ya think it could be the source of that energy-whatzit?” asked Rocky.
“No, this appears to have been forming here for quite a few years. Some chemical in this water, perhaps, has caused unusual plant growth. Hmm.” Prof paused for a moment, as if in thought. “Oh, well. I suppose it has nothing to do with our energy signature. We might as well head back home.”
“Did you hear something?” Red whispered. The others shook their heads. “I could have sworn…” He listened more carefully, and the others stopped and listened as well. After a few moments, it was apparent that something was moving.
“What do you suppose it is?” whispered Ace.
“Probably just a squirrel or something,” said Rocky.
“Shhh! There it is again,” whispered Red. “It’s coming from over there,” he said, pointing.
“What is that…?” said Prof. “Is that a grave?“
“Looks like,” said Red as he cautiously edged over to the grave, where the earth looked like it had moved. He waved the rest of them over to it, and they stood around it and watched as the soil was pushed up.
“Not another dead man coming back to life,” groaned Rocky.
“It could be,” said Ace, “or it could be something else entirely. I’d suggest we exercise caution, gentlemen.”
The team continued to watch for another few moments until a dark hand broke through to the surface. None of the Challengers batted an eye. This was familiar territory for them. In another few minutes, the rest of the body would be breaking through. And the Challengers would be ready for anything.