Before the end of this year I’ll be releasing Unearthed, the second of my stories from Innsmouth. In readiness for that event, I thought it would be appropriate to reduce the price of Fearless, the first story from Innsmouth. For the month of December you can get Fearless (the ebook) for a mere 99p.
This is from the second chapter of the book, where we’re getting to meet our antagonists:
“Watch,” Robert said firmly.
He paused, about to press play and show the recording to his modest audience, when the wail of sirens cut through the air. They were in a lecture theatre on the uppermost floor of Legrasse, with blackout blinds across the window, shutting out the impenetrable darkness of night over the campus. The sound of sirens, whooping and baying like a stampede of animals that had escaped from a dystopian future, grew slowly louder as the vehicles approached.
For one insane moment Graham wondered if someone had heard about the experiments. His pulse rate quickened and his cheeks turned the brazen hue of a guilty blush. He could see a similar blush colouring Robert’s cheeks and was thankful that the lights in this laboratory had been dimmed so such embarrassment could be disguised whilst they staged this demonstration.
Graham took a moment to glance out of the window. “There’s shit going off outside,” he muttered. “It looks like police cars and an ambulance.”
“We’re not looking out of the window,” Robert reminded him. His voice was sharp with forced patience. It was the didactic tone he used to control unruly first years and to get his own way at board meetings. “We’re watching this recording.”
Graham scowled, his expression momentarily mutinous. Nevertheless, he remained silent.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Robert began, his tone theatrical and commanding. “Thank you for indulging me in this late-night demonstration. I hope, once I’ve finished, you understand how potentially rewarding this could be for all of us.”
There was a murmur of noncommittal agreement from the four figures sitting on the front row of the lecture theatre. From left to right they were Colonel Abraham Smith, a friend of Robert’s from the local army base; Moira Holmes, the Assistant Dean; and Karen White, a business entrepreneur responsible for most of the local sweatshops.
The fourth figure, a wan-faced man in a dark suit, hadn’t given a name. He clearly knew Robert, but he didn’t bother to introduce himself and no one in the room pressed him for the information. Of all their guests, Graham thought this man was the most sinister. He was the one who looked like he had attended other midnight demonstrations of covert technological advances, and Graham had the idea that he was used to being in control during such demonstrations and their subsequent negotiations.
Robert hit play and the first short video clip was projected onto the lecture theatre wall behind him.
The screen showed a man with a shock of ginger hair sitting, bare-chested, in a sterile laboratory. His physique was not quite scrawny, but he lacked any true muscle definition. His complexion was the whiteness of sour cream, broken only by a rash of orange freckles. There were wires attached to his chest and skull and the readings from these wires were displayed in a bar down the right side of the screen.
“This is Patient A,” Robert explained. “He suffers from ailurophobia, or felinophobia, as it’s sometimes called.”
“He’s scared of cats,” Graham explained from the back.
Robert stiffened and Graham could see his colleague was forcing himself not to frown. His grin was broad and brittle and his eyes were glassy. “Yes,” Robert agreed. “Patient A is scared of cats.”
Seemingly to prove his point, on the screen, Robert was walking towards Patient A holding a wicker basket. The wicker basket contained a kitten.
Down the side of the screen the readings all lurched. The heart rate accelerated from a steady 68bpm to a frightened 102bpm.
“As you can see,” Robert began. “Patient A’s response is typical for someone who has a phobic reaction to cats. You’ll notice that his heart rate is accelerating. You’ll notice that his cortisol levels have increased because of the adrenaline he’s releasing.” He pointed at the reading which showed that a figure of 5 mcg/dL had leapt to 10 mcg/dL.
“It’s all hairy,” Patient A moaned. He was struggling to remain seated. His arms and legs moved vainly as though he was trying to distance himself from the creature. “You never said it would be all hairy and full of claws. Take the fucker away.”
The kitten meowed. The sound was weak and pitiful.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” spat Patient A. His eyes were wide. Beads of sweat glistened on his forehead. His upper lip had curled back in a sneer of distaste. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” he repeated.
“As you’ll notice,” Robert said. “The patient is using more expletives.”
“It’s an interesting phenomenon,” Graham said from the back of the room. “There’s been a lot of work done into the analgesic qualities of swearing but no one seems to have said anything about the way some subjects can self-medicate with a virtual overdose of taboo language.”
One of the four figures, the Assistant Dean, Graham realised, turned to glance at him. The others kept their backs to him, studying the screen and ignoring his contribution.