I awoke. Or rather, I emerged from my previous state. Heavy, thick, and dark. No dreaming. Only barely being.
I tried to open my eyes, but congealed sleep residue had sealed them shut. I picked at them until I could force them open, letting in a harsh wash of light. I cautiously squinted at my surroundings.
I seemed to be in a small log cabin. There was an unlit hearth on the far side of the room, and in the middle, a rough table made of split logs. The scent of stale wood smoke hung in the air. The floor was hard-packed dirt.
I was lying naked on a bed of sorts, but it was a crude thing. There was no mattress. Just a hard wooden plank packed with dried grass and covered with a piece of animal hide that stuck to my sweaty skin. Confused, I lay there and listened intently, but only heard the steady gurgling of flowing water from somewhere outside.
I had no idea where I was or why I was put here. I had no memory of the cabin, nor much of anything else. My thoughts were sluggish. Foggy. I had difficulty recalling who I was or where I was from. But I knew the knowledge was somewhere in there, deep within the fog, so I focused my thoughts. I needed to pierce the mental gloom and remember. Who am I? Why was I here?
Slowly, my efforts paid off. Bits and pieces of memory trickled into my muddled brain. I have a son, Alex. And a wife. Her name is Pam. I have a house in the suburbs of Indianapolis, and my son and wife live with me. An image of the house came into my mind. I thought about my bedroom. I could see Pam lying in our bed, with the lamp burning and a book in her hand. Yes, I have a wife and a son. But, where are they?
More memories came tumbling in and I began to regain a fuller sense of who I was. I remembered my name—Charles Beck. And my job—sales manager for Ricoh International. Other aspects of my life began to resolve in my mind.
Though much started coming back, I still could not remember the cabin. Or why I was lying in it. And there was something else lurking in the fog, something troubling. Something I wasn’t sure I wanted to remember. And then, with abrupt clarity, it came to me.
Strange events had happened in the world. All communications had gone down—cell phones, internet, even network broadcasts. And then there was that sound. A strange, piercing, unpleasant sound that came from everywhere and nowhere at once. For two days it had sounded every twenty seconds—a series of sharp noises, each one like the clack of billiard balls colliding. And always in the same pattern. Eight clacks, then a second’s pause, then eight more.
I didn’t know what it was. And without communications, there was no news. No explanation. Where did it come from? The sky, perhaps? But the strange, sharp noises followed everyone everywhere and their loudness never diminished. And it put everyone on edge. Eight clacks, pause, then eight more.
We couldn’t work, so everyone went home. My wife and my son greeted me at the door. They were freaked out. Hell, the whole neighborhood was.
In the two days that followed, everyone stayed home, waiting on news. But there was no communication of any kind. And the weird sound continued unabated. I remembered standing on the front porch of my home. People were milling around the neighborhood, talking nervously and glancing up at the sky with anxious grimaces whenever the clacking repeated. I found my neighbors’ worried prattling pointless and did not join in their conversation. I just stood on my porch and watched.
Like everyone else, I had not slept since the clacking noises started. They pierced into one’s mind and would not let one rest. So desperately did I crave sleep, that even standing up, I would immediately begin to drift off during the pause—the sweet twenty seconds of silence between each sequence of clacks—only to be awakened abruptly by another round of the penetrating noise. It had reached the point where each clack seemed to resonate within my nervous system. It had become disruptive, even painful.
But then, without fanfare, the noise stopped.
After a quick glance around them, the neighbors who had been standing in their front yards just lay down right where they stood. I watched them with amazement, but also felt overwhelmed with the need to sleep. So much so that I lay down on my porch, resting my head upon the wooden boards. I knew what I was doing was odd, but couldn’t stop myself.
Now, lying quietly on this rustic bed in an unfamiliar cabin, I reviewed these memories urgently in my mind and became sure that lying down on my porch was the very last thing I recalled doing.
Despite a sense of foreboding, I had to get up and figure out what was going on. I felt physically weak, but pushed myself up into a seated position. The exertion caused my head to start throbbing, so I hesitated a moment, sitting on the edge of the bed. I made a move to stand, but was unstable. I grasped the log headboard as my head swam. I wanted to lie down again, but I couldn’t. I had to find my son and my wife.
Hanging on the corner of the bed frame were two pieces of stiff buckskin. As I looked closer at them, I realized one was a pair of trousers with a thong belt and the other was a buckskin shirt. They smelled funny, but as I was naked and saw nothing else in the cabin to wear I put them on. I found a pair of leather moccasins on the dirt floor next to the bed. I had no idea who they belonged to, but they fit my feet pretty well.
Now attired in these strange clothes, I took a step toward the table and grasped its edge. I stood there for a while, just getting used to standing up.
I tried once again to piece things together. Where am I? How did I get here? Maybe I had been put into this cabin for a good reason. Maybe my family was nearby and they would explain everything. But the fact that this was a log cabin and not, say, a hospital room was unsettling. Something wasn’t right, and I had to get out there and find out what.
I took a wobbly step toward the solitary window, and leaned on the sill. The daylight was painfully bright, so I shielded my eyes with my hand and squinted.
About ten feet away stood another cabin, and a few more beyond that. I saw grass and woods, and a small creek just a few steps away. I didn’t recognize anything, but saw nothing obviously threatening.
I felt a tingling sensation in my limbs as the circulation to them increased. I began wiggling them back and forth, vigorously and rubbing my arms and shoulders as if to warm them up. My joints were stiff, but my legs were feeling stronger by the second. I tried to stand again, and seemed more stable. I paced back and forth a few times within the small space and managed to remain upright. Encouraged, I eyed the door.
I had no clear idea what I would find outside it, but I didn’t have a good feeling about it. I thought it best to be as mobile as possible, so I stretched and began doing jumping jacks. It was slow and painful at first, but soon my limbs felt warm and my motions became more assured. And while I exercised, my mind continued to race.
Perhaps I was silly to be concerned. In a few minutes, Pam or a doctor would walk through the door and explain everything. Maybe I had an accident and was suffering from some kind of amnesia.
But then I remembered that sound. That God-awful noise. I had lain down on the porch and fallen asleep. How did all of that connect to my current predicament?
Suddenly, my bladder screamed for release. I scanned the interior of the cabin, but saw nothing I could pee in. I could let it go in the corner. But what if I was worrying about nothing? Wouldn’t I feel foolish? It was time to step outside.
I lifted the wooden plank that held the door closed and stepped out quickly. Despite the pressure in my bladder, I took a moment to survey my surroundings. A warm sun shone. There was a light, fresh breeze and the sound of birds and insects surrounded me. There were cabins on both sides of the little creek, and beyond them was a larger building, roughly fifty yards away. Two crop fields were some ways distant. The place seemed like some kind of rustic agricultural compound, but I saw no one tending the fields. In fact, no one was visible anywhere.
The edge of a thick wood was around a hundred feet away. I considered making for it before relieving myself, but I was reluctant to cross the open space until I knew more about where I was. So I leaned on the side of my cabin and let it flow.
And boy, did it flow. I couldn’t remember ever having peed so much. I had just finished and was tying up my thong belt when I sensed movement behind me. Startled, I turned quickly to see a woman, her buckskin trousers at her ankles, squatting down and urinating by the cabin next to mine.
“God,” she said, looking up at me without a hint of embarrassment. “I’ve never had to pee so bad in my life!”
She was stocky and about sixty years of age, with grayish-black hair. She stood up, used the rawhide thong to cinch her waist, and smiled at me.
“Hi,” she said. “I’m Missy.”
“Charles,” I replied. “Where are we? What is this place?”
The woman looked around. “I don’t really know. A bunch of cabins in the woods. It looks like some kind of camp.”
“How did you get here?”
Missy shrugged. “I woke up here. Don’t remember coming to this place.”
Voices echoed a few cabins down.
We walked toward the source and found two men, standing by one of the other cabins and dressed in the same rough garments Missy and I were wearing. They were looking around, as puzzled as we were.
“Does anyone know where we are?” I asked.
“No idea,” one of the men said. “We just woke up here.”
More doors opened and more people, looking lost and confused, exited the other cabins. Most of them paused to urinate near their cabins and walked toward us. “What is this place?” asked a striking young lady with long, blond hair. The only responses were more shrugs and shaking heads.
I scanned the surrounding woods, which were mostly oak and maple hardwood with a scattering of pine trees. It seemed typical of most of the woodlands across the eastern United States.
More bewildered people joined us. Another young lady with shoulder-length brown hair. An older Hispanic gentleman. A wiry fellow of about thirty, with runaway freckles. A dark, dangerous-looking man, with close-set eyes. And a handful more. Sixteen of us in all. We were evenly divided according to gender, we all wore buckskin clothes, and our ages ranged from young adult to late middle age.
We looked at each other with puzzled expressions and more questions followed. We were all from the United States, though one woman had recently emigrated from Slovakia. Otherwise, there seemed to be nothing in common to connect our group, except that each of us, no matter where we lived, remembered the strange, clacking sounds. And the last thing each of us remembered was lying down to sleep immediately after noises had stopped.
Until we woke up here.