Anthony Self: Vector 13

“I had a dream that you left me,” she said.

There was a burst of static, followed by other staccato noises and then, just as quickly as it arrived, her voice was gone. I figured that I must have been getting closer to the source. Back at base camp I heard faint whispers being produced from the walkie-talkie and knew that she had been trying to communicate, but that had been three days ago, when there were originally five of us on the expedition.

Now I was the only one left.

I ache to hear her again, but I know that I cannot linger here. There is a disturbing sense of foreboding in the village, and as I survey the uninhabited houses with their varying stages of ruin, I make my way down the road. The panorama ahead had thinned into a street scene and in spots I could see collapsed brickwork and black gaping windows of deserted hovels. Pervading everything was the most foul and nauseous fishy odour.

We had all been briefed on the risks involved with visiting Vector 13. The small town and its neighbouring woodland once had a name, but such formalities had long ago been abandoned. The Professor in our expedition had been taking samples from plants back at basecamp and theorised that the environment itself was systematically releasing pheromones into the atmosphere, which we all had been exposed to. I guess that was his way of coping with the anomalies.

I found his body on the second day of the mission. He’d slit his wrists.

Furtiveness and secretiveness seemed commonplace in this village of alienage and death and I could not escape the sensation of being stalked, of being watched by eyes that would never shut. The air of desertion and smell of fish was almost insufferable but I was resolved to let nothing deter me. She was waiting for me and I would find her. I had to find her. Each of us had volunteered to enter Vector 13 for our own reasons.

We were the seventh official expedition into Vector 13. My wife had been in the sixth. She had never returned.

It was almost night by the time I reached the lighthouse. The sound of whispers amongst the clipped static bursts of the walkie-talkie was palpable here. This was the source. I looked past the lighthouse toward the malodorous sea, glancing out at the waves as they crashed against the reef. Imperceptible shapes seemed to be undulating amongst the water, as if it was teeming with hordes of bobbing heads swimming towards the village.

Up close, the lighthouse confirmed the impression of having been converted into a fortress. Jagged shards of glass had been attached to the sides of the tower and barbed wire had been fixed to the penultimate level. Somebody had gone to great lengths to keep something out of this mouldering and pestilential building. The door to the lighthouse was ajar, the darkness inside all consuming. Fear and trepidation shook at my very core and for a moment I hesitated at the entrance. I could always turn back and radio for extraction at the basecamp. Malevolent forces imperceptible to man’s senses seemed to seep into every pore of my body, primal instincts were screaming for me to turn back, to venture away from this place of chaos and death.

My mind snapped like a knot exploding in a fire. There was no other alternative, I would go through this door and find the truth.

I entered quietly as possible. There was no sound, no suggestion of life beyond my own. Stairs led upwards. There were bloodstains on the greying interior walls. As I ascended, evidence of a skirmish on the staircase became apparent; spent rifle magazines and bullet casings littered the steps; but more disturbingly the charred remains of a small teddy bear filled me with anxiety. The narrow steps led to the lantern room. A table sat to the side of the beacon glass, itself dormant and inactive. On the table were five metal boxes, all of them identical, each one displaying a small handwritten label. I noticed that written on each label was a person’s name. I felt my face drain when I saw my own on the third box. With trembling hands I lifted the lid. There was a thick binder inside. The pages were old. I leafed through them, recoiling at the contents.

‘We argued the day she went into Vector 13’ read one of the passages. ‘I never told her about the month long affair with the graduate at the University,’ read another. I thumbed through several other pages, each an autobiographical account of my life. ‘I had a dream that you left me.’ I tore my eyes from the binder.

I had never written these words. I had never kept a diary.

You could see for miles at this vantage point. I needed fresh air. Opening the sliding door that led to the circular ledge, the wind whipped at my clothes. The fishy odour, dispelled for a moment by the merciful breeze, closed in again with maddening intensity. The walkie-talkie clipped onto my belt crackled to life and I heard her voice.

‘Now we’ll be together. Forever.’

Some kind of instinct made me look down to the beach, where I witnessed a form emerging from the sea. I could see her plainly now, shambling towards the lighthouse with a sub-human gait. From the tips of her fingers, rat-like claws extended. Her eyes were a deep jetty black, in hideous contrast to her snow-white hair and flesh. Even from this distance I could see that her eyes were deeply sunken into their orbits and were entirely destitute of iris. Mortified and transfixed, I could only watch on in despair as she disappeared under my line of sight.

I could hear a faint noise from downstairs as she ascended the steps to the lantern room. I slowly went back into the room and left the gun on the table, for it would be of no use now. The wet slaps of her bare feet padding up the stairs grew in intensity as she came nearer to me. Voices started whispering in my head, telling me softly that this was the only choice…that soon I would be in bliss. Past transgressions would be forgiven, they seemed to echo. I would not be able to look at her, that much was true. I turned and went out to the ledge again, gripping the rails.

I had come to Vector 13 to find my wife.

The sound of the lantern door opening. I closed my eyes.

As I felt her hands curve around my waist, she whispered something into my ear. I become calm and in that instant gave myself entirely to her. An overwhelming sense of euphoria filled within me. Yes, we should fly, fly away from this place.

I had come here to find my wife. We’ll fly and be together forever. I found myself hanging from the railings. Yes, this is the way of things.

I let go.

black tree

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