Copyright 2004 Keith E. Kimball
Approx. 3,213 Word Count

The Thing:

A Lonely Little Moment of Terror

by

Keith E. Kimball

Yes, yes, he'd done it, he'd done it, the singsong echoed in his head; echoed in his lonely chamber, echoed from his voicebox for only himself to hear.

And that was the point, wasn't it? Only himself to hear. Nobody else out here in the shed with him. Nobody at all. Humans, dogs, Things. Nobody but him.

Or was that "Nobody but Me"? That was a song, wasn't it? Part of a song? The chorus maybe? He pursed his lips, trying to whistle the half-remembered tune in a definitely half-baked state of mind.

Ah, who cares? Still work to be done. He wasn't quite out of the woods yet, not quite, no-no-no. He'd saved the world. Like Superman. No, Batman. Batman was cooler. Because Batman was all too human. Just like himself. But his hero was in much better shape than he.

He frowned at his reflection bouncing back at him from a little mirror he'd scrounged out of a bin. His little ring of remaining hair had gone gray. The prescription for his glasses seemed to get thicker every year. And he was getting fat, too. Gingerly, he grabbed the roll around his waistline with both hands. Batman would have a hard time fitting his utility belt over that, yes indeed.

He turned back to study his face some more. Big lines in it. Some of 'em laugh lines, creased alongside an expressive mouth or crumpled around his wise eyes. Or is that wise guy eyes? The others...he'd shared a lot of laughs with the others sometimes, despite how hard their work was out here on The Ice. The others... He released his gut to rub his face, noting the scratchy sounds of his palms rubbing against his chin and cheeks. Maybe he should've shaved before...the others...

He missed them. But thoughts like that were just the start of a trail. A trail that led from one event, to another, then another and another in an inexorable chain of logic. A teeny-tiny thread of logic that still remained in him somewhere. The one that was even now saying, yes, yes, you saved The World, Batman. Congratulations! We'll light the Batsignal in your honor!

Now he just had to save himself.

He'd switched to another song, he did, as he began looking around the shed for whatever might've been left. Left by the others, that is. Now, what were their names again? Hmm...

Again he paused. An onlooker might've thought him almost comical in his concentration. One hand grasping his chin, another made into a fist on his hip, he pondered the faces swimming fuzzily in his mind's eye.

No, no. He couldn't go there. That would lead back around to the things he didn't want to think about. Things! Hah-hah, that was the problem exactly!

He returned to rummaging through the bins. They'd tried to be thorough, his friends. Tried hard. But it was a tool shed they'd made. Made into his prison. They'd missed a few things...missed a few items, that is. Not heavy-duty stuff. He wouldn't be breaking out anytime soon, and he couldn't hurt himself either. Now that was a problem.

How else was he supposed to save himself if worst came to worst?

Now waitaminute. What kind of thinking was that, for the Savior of the Whole Entire World? He shouldn't just give in like this. No, no, that would make it too easy...for it.

In fact, maybe he shouldn't have...done the stuff that got him his own private room out here. His eyes widened and his face paled. He was the camp's senior biologist. He'd left his assistant, a young man who also happened to be a dear friend, all alone to try and figure this horrible puzzle out. Left the others, too, forced them to depend on his assistant to see things...to see stuff through and save them. Very, very bad form for a friend.

All of them...all of the others...were really his friends too. Weren't they?

Or were they? He giggled. It was high-pitched for such a big man, such an old man. Again he wondered, wondered how many of them weren't quite feeling like themselves nowadays. Maybe he hadn't left Fuchs behind after all...maybe there wasn't any Fuchs left to leave behind? Left to leave? That was pretty funny, he decided, roaring with laughter. But just for a minute.

Fuchs! Yes, yes, Fuchs! That was the lad's name! Or was he confusing Fuchs with Bennings? No, no, Bennings was even more bald than himself; and Fuchs had such a nice head of hair. Beard and a mustache, too. Kinda made him jealous, actually. Bright future for that boy, yes indeed. Because he is bright. Just temper him with a few more years' field experience and he'd be winning awards and prizes left n' right, yesiree.

He took a great deal of comfort in imagining his friend's bright future. One that involved the younger man far, far away from here; safe and sound in both mind and body.

But he couldn't quite dare to imagine himself at Fuchs' side. Not quite that crazy yet, not me, he mused to himself, old Blair's still got a few marbles knocking 'round his skull, I know better than to think about that this early in the game.

He paused again in his search of the bins. Blair. Yes, that's right. His own name. It had been a good idea. A really good idea. To stop eating the food provided by the others...the doctor. Sedatives. Doctor Sedative? No. That's just silly. Get a grip on yourself. Doctor Silver? Cooper? No, Copper! Like a penny. Yes, Copper.

So. No more of his friends' well-meaning but drug-laced food. Cleared up his mind, it did. Except for the insanity still clouding things for him. Hee-hee, there's that word again. Thing. Things. Thingee. Hah! It was almost funny, really truly funny it almost was, to think of the alien as a Thingee. Maybe a Thingamabob? No, better yet: Bob the Thing!

He laughed after all. Laughed uproariously until tears streamed down his cheeks, fogging up his glasses. He pulled one of the spare blankets from the pile and wiped the lenses clean. Then, shivering a little, he thought better of replacing it and threw the blanket over his shoulders instead. The others had left him a portable heater and it was doing a pretty darn good job. But still...the machine wasn't meant for keeping out the bitter Antarctic winds howling outside for long.

The winds...sounded hungry, somehow.

How long had he been out here already? Oh, crap, they'd taken his watch. Now that was silly of them. What did they expect him to do with it? For a moment he stood there, simply being incredulous. His friends had left him a few basic tools. Probably Palmer left them, the lazy ass. Surprised, surprised that Childs hadn't checked up on his own assistant when they'd made the prison.

But perhaps Childs had other Things on his mind.

So even that cute little light hammer could probably bash his own brains out if he kept at it enough. Or maybe shatter the portable heater, maybe he could electrocute himself with the wires or bore his own eyes out with sharp pieces or something gruesome like that...hey, wait! Some rope in the bin! He could make a hangman's noose, make it quick and clean and hopefully painless. If he had to.

But they didn't let him keep his watch.

That was pretty funny too, come to think of it.

What were his friends, crazy?

Oh, wait. There was his watch. On the workbench table they'd left him, shining a little in the lonely lightbulb's glare. He bumped his head on it, dangling from its wire affixed to the shed's roof as it was, as he moved to retrieve the watch. He glared at the instrument's face. Yes, some things...some thoughts were coming back, some reason, a few lights still going in the windows of his brain's apartment complex somewhere...yet he found the watch's symbols meaningless.

Figures. After all that effort to find it, too.

Maybe he wasn't so crazy, not anymore. If he could appreciate irony.

Again the search of the shed started. Maybe he should. Ask, that is. Next time somebody came to feed him. They wouldn't be insulted, would they? So insulted just because he didn't want the actual food anymore...that they wouldn't let him come back into the outpost? And he'd apologize, apologize to Windows most of all. Shouldn't have banged the poor kid up, sure he was a slob and a fool and lousy at his job. Windows made Palmer seem competent, calm, cool, collected, and every other good word that started with "C" he could think of.

Actually, Palmer wasn't too bad a mechanic. Lousy jailmaker; good mechanic. He wasn't too sure about Palmer's half-tested piloting skills. He wasn't crazy enough to go up with Palmer instead of....Who? Anyway, he wasn't that far gone, he wouldn't go, thank you very extra specially much.

Yet both those men were still friends. Moreso than that Thing, anyways.

Heh. Windows. Weird nickname. Wondered how he got it, what it meant. Have to ask him. Maybe, just maybe, if Windows brought the food this time, he could ask that first. Before they let him come back. They would, wouldn't they? Fuchs would, absolutely. Norris? Fellow scientist. He'd see why it had to be done. Sure, yes, Norris would side with him.

Bennings? Sure, Bennings, yes. A true friend. Or he would've...would've if...it hadn't got to him already. He'd heard it. Before, when his prison had been his own sleeping cubicle and his sentence voluntary. When he'd been trying, trying to screw up the courage to do what had to be done.

Anyway, he hadn't missed it. He'd just happened to have an excellent view too; right outside his lone window. It had been the thing...the incident that had finally made him take action. Before it was too late. Too late for Bennings. What had been left of him was gone now too. But not too late for the world.

In the end, he'd had to do it. Save the World. Think about something else, anything else...the others. Why had he been locked up in here? What kind of reward was that for saving them? Whose bright idea was that?

Garry? Hmm...Garry hadn't seen the need. The need to do...what he'd done. Argued about it. Didn't want to smash the copters, the snowmobiles; much less the radio.

Had to do it. Save the World. Nothing could get in, nothing could get out.

Probably Garry wouldn't want him back inside, then, probably not.

But maybe some of the others would side with him, override Garry. Mac? MacReady? Yes, that was his name. His full name. Hell, he chuckled, if he knew this guy as Mac, he had to be a friend. Mac would have to let him back. Get it? Mac? Back? Big Mac? God, he'd kill for one.

And once Garry saw he was okay now, the station manager would come around. Stiff, that Garry. Set in his ways. But if you could crack past his shell and get to the man, he was a surprisingly good one. He'd come around.

What was it Mac had said the last time they'd met? When he'd been locked up? It had been hard, hard to hear what Mac was saying, even though the other man was mere feet away. He sat now, taking a moment to rest old bones chilled deep.

For an instant it came to him in crystal clarity: Himself, sitting almost exactly now as he had been then, gazing up into MacReady's face and fighting the sedative Copper had just injected into him. It was hard to fight; injections stronger than pills, more immediate, more concentrated. Mac was looking faintly wary yet decidedly bemused at the same time. He could hear some of the others outside, hammering away, boarding up the windows. Yes, yes, they were still his friends after all. Didn't want him getting out into the storm. Wanted to keep him safe.

The winds were just starting to howl.

Was it then or was it now? He stared upward as he fingered the blanket half-slipped from his shoulders. Tears wouldn't come. Somehow, he was too scared, too alone, too desperate to cry. "I don't know who to trust, Mac," he told his friend. He could see MacReady standing before him, tall and strong. He could hear the voice, Mac's voice, responding with...what?

A layered tone. Genuine fondness; worry for himself, maybe a little bit of hope that Blair would get better...but underneath a trace of his realistic cynicism. "I know what you mean, Blair. Trust is a tough thing to come by these days. Tell you what, just trust in the Lord."

No; Mac wasn't there. Not now. Nobody was there. Even the windows were cold and dark between their covering boards. Night in Antarctica. Lasted for six months, give or take a couple weeks. And a blizzard had rolled in. Not even the stars to light the eternal ice now.

But his friends had been kind enough to leave a narrow slit in the boards. Just enough, once he pressed his nose to the cold, cold glass, to see a couple trail markers and other lights at the main compound. He wasn't totally alone; not quite.

But it wasn't enough. He knew who else—no, what else—had to be in that compound. Even now. Maybe looking out a window too, waiting, watching, looking right at him...Who knew? Alien eyes; could they see in the dark? Somebody knew, in that compound. Somebody knew for certain. Maybe more than one somebodies.

His face blanched. He was alone out here. Alone.

He should've begged. Begged Mac, Copper, anybody. Not to be stuck out here. Panic sent a scream scrabbling up his throat, but it didn't quite come out. It sent his arms scrabbling too, scratching at the door like a frantic cat. It wasn't a very efficient way of breaking out but he still had the door rattling on its hinges; he was so desperate. So eager. He pawed at the doorknob, heard it click open, heard the heavy-duty bolt lock a little further up the jamb draw taught. Taught from the outside where they'd locked it.

His shoulder rammed against the door, smashed with all the strength he could muster. It wasn't enough. He slipped, fell squarely on his butt. He stared at the door. Whatever happened, he wondered, to the proverbial strength of a madman? Had he used it all up on sabotaging the vehicles? The dogs he'd axed to death? Was that it?

Yes, that was it, he realized with a deep dark stench of finality. Maybe it was a sign of sanity returning? Or just because he was fat. But he wasn't breaking down that door anytime soon.

A wave of terrible exhaustion swept over him mixed with resignation. He was just so very tired...

Maybe, just maybe Mac's idea was a good one after all.

He knelt, fresh tears adding their tracks to the ones nearly dried on his jowls. How long had it been since he'd done this? A child? A very young child. Turned his back, followed science instead, despite his parents. Forget his friends here in the icy dark; could his past actions be forgiven by someone in a higher authority?

His hands clasped together, pressing his glasses even harder against his nose, in the customary fashion. He knew he should've closed his eyes in supplication, but he couldn't help it. He stared instead, stared up piteously with all the repentance a fresh rush of terror would allow. The words caught in his throat. He settled for rocking back and forth on his haunches, moaning out the prayer in his mind.

Please, please, please, didn't I do it for your world, didn't I save your world after all, keep this Thing here, how could I—(how could anyone?)—deserve being taken by that Thing...save us, please, save us all.

Amen.

The door opened.

He hadn't heard. Too busy; hadn't heard the bolt get undone. Hadn't heard the doorknob turn. But he was so close to the door he couldn't miss it swinging open. Or the door couldn't miss him; it was the shock of its touch more than its light momentum that knocked him onto his side. Once again he found himself on his buttocks, trying to scrabble back to his feet.

"Mac, is that you?" His voice was hoarse.

The figure in the doorway was wrapped in thick outerwear and blowing snow alike. He couldn't see the man's face, caught betwixt the cold darkness outside and the mild light inside. All he could see was the outline of a down-lined parka's hood drawn up tight around the head.

But it was okay. It wasn't MacReady. No giant hat somehow maintaining its place atop the parka hood as was Mac's wont, but it was still okay. Because he was just standing there. Not attacking. Watching. The opposing man was still clothed in shadow, still just watching him silently from the doorway.

He smiled nervously at the outline in the doorway just the same. "What—what do you need? I'll help you. I'm okay, you know. Okay now. Just—just tell me what you need."

Still just watching. Still just silence. Another shape behind the first, even more indistinct, holding the door gently open as the two surveyed the shed.

He moaned again, trying to move backwards on legs that somehow refused to work. Fight or flight reaction, it should've kicked in, but it was just another part of his brain misfiring on him. He could only stare at the figure framed in the doorway.

For an instant, a burst of light appeared from the newcomer's face, made the man a silhouette in the ice-encrusted doorway, a silhouette with a beacon in place of his features. Washed away the details of his clothes; just left him a cold outline against a colder night.

Yes, he hardly dared to believe it, he'd been wrong to be afraid, yes, he'd been heard, better yet he'd been answered....

Saved.

He couldn't recognize the man. The face was splitting, blood streaming, reshaping itself in a way hardly pious. His own moan was the only sound. The man said nothing; the only sound besides the man's skin ripping, the man's last step free of the crunching snow. Inside the shed now.

With him.

The other one, the one outside, gently swung the door shut.

The wind was still hungry. It swallowed the screams, the other sounds.

After all, that prayer had hardly filled it up.

The End

Text and original events Copyright © 2004 Keith E. Kimball.
This is a fan work and not for profit.
All characters, other events mentioned, and trademarks Copyright © their respective holders, including but not limited to: The estate of John W. Campbell Jr., Universal Pictures, John Carpenter, etc.