The Lights He Followed

by Jon Fenton

Copyright© 2021 by Jon Fenton

Time Travel Story: This is a sci-fi story about a hermit who is being harassed and wants to find out why. The harassment escalates until he finds a note warning him that this is a matter of life and death. He begins this journey going deeper into the woods. Where is he bing led, and what will he find there that is so crucial.

Tags: Science Fiction   Time Travel   Mystery   Pulp Classic  

I

In an isolated ranch house, deep in the Appalachian Mountains of Penn’s Woods, Paul Stone went from corner to corner of his warmed home trying to find his lost toolshed key. This key had been missing since sometime in the morning, and he’d looked for it for hours. His thorough search, however, had proved fruitless. He had no clue where this key could have been, though he usually kept it on a special hook in his bedroom. Of course, he did check there and what do you know, it’s missing. He remembered using it this morning, right after he’d woken up, and was almost sure he returned it to its proper place afterward. He checked everywhere throughout his house; up and down, over through, and around each corner, but no sign of the key turned up. He also checked every drawer, pants pocket, cabinet, and tabletops, but still, no sign of it was found. He couldn’t think of a way somebody could have taken it, being that he lived in the middle of nowhere, and there was not another neighbor for at least five miles.

Paul made his way outside to look for the key; he wondered if he’d dropped it while he was at the shed earlier that day. He pulled a Camel cigarette from the pocket of his blue and black checkered flannel shirt; lit it with the matchbook from his pocket, then closed the door behind him. It was a cold, dark, and dreary night in October, and he felt the bitter breeze bite against his wrinkled face; the wind blew around the salt and pepper hair on his head.

He continued forward and shuffled through the damp grass with his large hiking boots; he kicked around the brown, orange, and yellow leaves that lay near the shed. There was no key there. He went around to check the side of the shed, where a window allowed him to peer through, but there was too much in the way to get a good look. The toolshed almost looked like a small barn, made of good oak wood. It had been painted recently with a maroon red color around most of it but highlighted with a white square and an x on the front door. The lock on the door was a normal one, not a padlock, so he needed to find this key. And he also didn’t want to break it open and risk damaging his door.

Paul stopped for a minute and rubbed his hands together to warm them. While he rested for a moment, he stood and admired his house. He’d moved out here a few years ago after his wife died of cancer and just finished painting some parts of it last week. Most of it was covered with stone veneer siding, cut from natural quarry stone. The windows had wooden side panels painted turquoise green and he enjoyed the sight of it all. Suddenly then, while he was looking at his paint job; a loud thump could be heard, that’d come from the other side of the shed. He rushed over to that side but didn’t see anybody or anything.

Paul placed both hands beside his mouth and shouted, “Hello, is anyone there?” But no one answered.

Being that he lived so far from civilization, it couldn’t possibly have been teens making trouble. And it wasn’t usual for him to have visitors out here, especially at this time of night. He wondered if a burglar might go so far out of their way for what little he had here. It didn’t seem likely though. He tilted his head toward the air to investigate the woods but couldn’t see much of anything in the twilight of the countryside. At this point he decided to just forget about the noise; deciding it must have been an animal that made it, so he turned around and made his way back to the house.

Paul walked up the stairway to his back porch then to the door and went back inside the house. He decided he’d give up on looking for the keys for the time being now. Believing they would have to turn up eventually. Nothing in the toolshed was needed right now anyway, but he did value every item it contained and would continue searching later.

He then went about his daily routine, cleaning up the dishes and mopping the floors of the dining room. Nothing exciting ever happened out where he lived. You would even say it was boring most of the time and he had every intention to keep it that way. It’d take someone of extraordinarily brave fortitude to mess with him. Especially since he stood so tall and broad, a true mountain of a man. Of course, tonight would be an exception to his usual boredom, because soon he’d get his call to danger.

While he washed the dishes, Paul heard a loud knock that’d come from the backdoor. Who is it now at this hour, he asked himself? Then after he’d walked over to the window, he peered outside but could see nothing out of the ordinary in the area. At this point, Paul even considered getting his rifle ready; just in case this person who’d been harassing him meant trouble. The sort of man Paul was, he never put up with any nonsense from anyone. And no one he knew dared mess with him.

After a short period of silence, Paul heard the sound of glass breaking following a loud crash that came from the window of the kitchen. He went over to that same window and saw that it had been shattered; broken glass lay scattered all over the finished wooden floor below it. Paul then found the brick that had been thrown through it. He strolled closer to get a better look outside, but no one was in sight. He then made his way over to the back door, which was in the same room, so that he could look around outside the house for whoever this was. On his way over someone started to knock on the door again. He tiptoed over to not make a sound. He then reached for the brass knob and turned it slowly; he wanted to surprise whoever this was and catch them off guard. He swung open the door as fast as he could and jumped through the doorway. He looked and could see that no one was in sight. He stepped outside to look around the property. He wanted to find the person doing this to him and teach them a good and proper lesson. He made his way over to the left side of his house, finally getting a glimpse of someone running towards the front.

“Hey, wait, come back here,” he shouted. Then he said under his breath, “I’m gonna beat you good for breaking my window.” Then he started to march briskly toward the direction the figure had run to. By the time he made his way around to the other side though the figure had vanished. “Where are you hiding?” He shouted. But he still got no response.

After waiting a few seconds, he tried going through the front door, but it was locked. This seemed strange since he didn’t remember locking the door in the first place. There was never any reason for him to lock it, so it puzzled him greatly. He then turned around and headed back to the other side of his house. He went inside, then closed and locked the door. He thought it’d be best safe rather than sorry. Then he made his way to the bedroom to get his rifle. Now, this was serious, and Paul felt his life might even be in jeopardy. He opened the closet and checked inside, but the rifle too was gone. Not this too, he thought. This can’t be real.

Then he decided to check his safe. He believed that if someone were stealing his property, surely, they would take his money too. He opened it with the combination and found all the money intact. But also found a folded note there as well. He picked the note up and unfolded it. It read.

“if you want to live, you must follow these simple instructions:

1. Go to the kitchen and look out the window after reading this note.

2. Then follow the lights you see.”

Usually, he didn’t like to take orders from anyone but made an exception in this case. He wanted to make sure he found these people and get his hands on them. Nobody could take what belonged to him, break his window, harass him, and get away with it. Not if he could help it.

Paul got up and stormed into the kitchen. When he got there, he peeked through the window of the backdoor and saw a masked shadowy figure holding a flashlight in the far section of his backyard. The light stayed on for a short time, then turned off. Facing the possibility that there may even be an armed intruder in his house, he decided to do what the note said and get away from the house until he could determine it was safe. He then grabbed a flashlight from one of the kitchen drawers and stepped outside.

By this time, it was pitch black out, so Paul turned on his flashlight then headed in the direction the light came from earlier. It appeared that it may have come from the start of the forest area just beyond the left side of his backyard. As he headed closer, the light shut off again. The shadowy figure could be faintly seen as they ran further into the woods.

“Hey, you, get back here, Paul shouted!” He ran towards the figure into the backwoods, which was about three hundred yards beyond his property. The land was a fall-like meadow, with plenty of overgrown weeds and grass. When he finally arrived at the start of the woods, he found another piece of paper, folded in half, and pinned to a tree. The note read:

There is a path of lights, lying on the ground ahead. follow the lights.

He looked ahead and could see a path of ground lights almost buried by the leaves. He stepped forward then made his way further into the woods, following this new path of lights. It seemed to be an endless, winding, and turning maze, that went on forever. The lights provided an insufficient amount of visibility for him, but he pressed on anyway, determined to find a reason for tonight’s strange events. With a flashlight as his main light source, he moved through the forest; constantly being tripped by downed tree-branches and tree-roots. Finally, he reached the end of the path of lights and looked at a large tree with a new note attached.

It read:

Ok, great Paul. Now take your flashlight and point it to the right. You should see a trail opening among the trees. Follow it.

Paul thought it was strange that this person knew his name but wanted to keep pressing on to find what this was all about. He pointed his flashlight to the right, and downwards. He could see the path now and moved onward. The new path appeared to be a dirt road between a line of trees; one he had never seen before, that was no longer used. He felt the freezing wind bite against his face, but he continued anyway. The sound of branches crunched under his boots obnoxiously as he marched through this narrow path. The sound of the wind blew violently in his ears. His ears stung from the autumn wind. The legs beneath him began to tremble from fear. He couldn’t remember ever in his life being afraid ... until now.

Ahead in the distance, he saw what appeared to be a gray bricked, multi-story building. The construct was rectangular and appeared to be derelict. Is this what I was supposed to find, he thought? What could be in here that will keep me alive? He slowly made his way to the building. Treading his footsteps lightly.

Paul never knew about this building before today, but why should he? It’s totally out of the way of anything close to him. He did hunt and fish back in this forest all the time. But still had no idea where he was now. He must have been miles and miles from home by this time.

He continued to walk down the long path when suddenly, he heard a rustling coming from a tree, just a few feet away. “Hello,” he shouted. But again, whatever it was wouldn’t respond to him. He once more dismissed it and continued onward; realizing that this person or thing wasn’t or couldn’t answer him anyway. At this point though, every noise seemed to grab his attention. He was very vulnerable and defenseless in this situation; the legs beneath him trembled wildly. Maybe this sudden fear came from being so far from his home and without any protection. Or maybe it was the cold damp night finally getting to him. Or this mysterious figure that followed and harassed him.

Paul then arrived at the mysterious building he had originally seen from a distance; up close now. Paul walked the whole way around the building studying it intensely. No windows could be seen around any of its beat-up walls. There was a door, but it looked like it had been removed at some point and covered with bricks. No back door, side door, or anything that would allow him to enter. Not a soul was seen or heard near his current location at all either. Then again it was almost pitch black. Maybe there was a window here, the only ones he saw though had also been covered by brick. He just couldn’t see much detail in the extreme darkness. Something of interest was finally found a few feet from the building, which of course was another note lying on the ground. Seeming as if it had been placed there just moments ago; possibly by whoever it was he saw run into the woods earlier.

The message on the note was too smeared from the wet ground to read; but it didn’t matter now, because he saw how he could get inside the building right in front of him. A rusty old lid was sitting just a few feet away from where he was standing. He lifted on the lid with a crowbar he had found nearby and opened it. The cover unveiled a ladder leading down to a room below. He hesitated for a few moments, then slowly made his way down.

The ladder led to a small room that was pitch dark, and he could barely see anything. He turned his flashlight back on, then made his way around the room to look for something that may be of interest here. He came upon a door sitting behind the ladder. He tried to open it, but the door was locked. He couldn’t see anything on the other side because it had no window. So, he had no way of knowing what was behind it. He kept looking around the room and found another door on the opposite side of the first one. This one had a window and he could faintly see what appeared to be a room on the other side. No lights were on inside so he couldn’t see anything there at all. He tried to open the door but this one was also locked.

The sound of a doorknob turned behind him and got his attention. In fear, he dropped his flashlight and turned around ready to defend himself. A silhouette of a figure suddenly popped out from the door and attacked him. He wrestled with the man with little success. The man seemed to be around the same size and strength as Paul. Otherwise, he could see little of the man. He could only tell that the man wore a ski mask.

During the struggle with the man, Paul felt a sharp blow to the back of his head. After this, Paul fell to the floor backward and was completely unconscious now. His body was then dragged by the masked figure, into the next room, and placed on a bed to rest. The dark shadowy figure then left quickly, climbing up the ladder and disappeared into the woods.

II

Paul awoke after being out for a while. He rubbed the back of his head from the throbbing pain of the attack. He was still groggy and disoriented but looked around the room and saw that this was the room he had seen earlier, and it was dimly lit now. Everything looked run down, in an abandoned fashion. Cracks and broken cement lie scattered on the ground. The gray cement walls were also cracked and broken badly. A few light fixtures hung precariously from the ceiling. Materials were scattered all over the floor. The only thing else he saw in the room was the bed where he lay, a cabinet, a desk and that’s about it.

Who in their right mind could live here in this godforsaken room; he thought? Maybe it had been abandoned years ago. He could see that the elements started to gain a foothold, but the building looked like it most definitely was abandoned years ago. And only recently had someone decided to vacate it.

Paul sat up; rubbed his face, then thrust himself off the bed, and onto his feet. He walked around the room to investigate it carefully. He wondered what the building was being used for and hoped to find the answer in this room. He was both agitated and distressed at tonight’s turn of events; the notes, his stuff being missing, and the attack from the mysterious figure earlier. He didn’t know who wanted him here at this location, or why, but he was determined to find out. He pulled out the cabinet drawers aggressively ... they were empty. Looked under the bed ... nothing there. Nothing he found in the room would provide any clue he was looking for, so he decided to move on.

Paul turned around then headed towards a door he saw on the adjacent side of the other; it led to what looked like a huge science lab of some sort. He turned the knob of the door then threw it open. This one wasn’t even locked, he thought. How strange is that?

He made his way into the next room, which was now brightly lit, and was awestruck by the machinery it contained. Large computer consoles along with monitors, reel to reel tape machines (used for storing computer data). Scientific formulas were written down on chalkboards. Items that were unfamiliar to him; machines he had never touched before. It looked like something he had seen in one of those nineteen fifties b-movies. Where a team of monotone, lab coat-wearing scientists, with dry personalities, go back in time or are on a strange new planet. Then they fight huge bugs or something like that. To him, it felt like he was on the set of a bad movie. He imagined he was the center and star of a cruel joke. One where a bunch of yuppie morons would be in the audience tapping their lap and laughing it up. Having a lot of laughs at his expense. Of course, they would also be sipping on a super sugary soft drink or latte that cost them ten dollars. Rotting out their teeth and liver. But all that stuff didn’t matter as much to him as finding out what was going on.

Of course, he had seen something somewhat like these lab machines in a data room, back at the military base, where he was stationed in his youth. He caught a glimpse of said equipment while on his way back to headquarters one evening, and this equipment looked remarkably similar to what he had seen that night. Of course, he never got to use any of it, because he was a trained fighter, not a technician or scientist. He had even served in the Korean conflict, about thirty years earlier.

Paul turned around quickly as a radio relay was heard, it’d come from the other side of the room. He walked over to answer the call from a small glass booth sitting in the corner of the lab. There was a small console in that room that read: “radio”.

He pushed the radio button to answer the call. “Hello! Who is this”? He asked.

A few seconds passed before he heard an ear-piercing squeal come from the line, followed by a grinding noise. What the... , he thought to himself. Then he dropped to the floor as a burst of neon green light flashed around him and filled the booth. A few moments passed. He stood up, then rubbed his eyes from the pain this flash had caused. The flash of light had blinded him for a few seconds, but he was able to recover quickly from it. Paul had no clue what just happened but walked out from the booth and slowly made his way up and down the lab to study it. He knew not the purpose this lab served and what he was supposed to find here. He also wanted to know what just happened in that booth. What secrets could he find here; just where would he get answers?

He went over to look at a computer console that sat in the center of the lab. Lines appeared, scrolling up and down the screen. None of which Paul understood. Little more than a bunch of jumbled words and numbers of nonsense to Paul. He remembered seeing some sort of computer at a previous job that looked sort of like this program but never actually got to work with it. More questions arose now with these discoveries, fewer good answers.

Paul moved on from the computer and stormed over to the door he came in. He wanted to get out of here now and head back home. There was no way he would find answers here now or put up with this nonsense any further. He felt someone was just screwing with him; just wasting his time. When he arrived at the door, he stopped, after he heard a radio-relay that came from that same console in the booth. He wondered if he’d finally get a chance to speak to someone and find out what this was all about. Unsure of who he’d talk to; he walked over and answered the call. Paul pushed the radio button again and this time started shouting.

“Hey! Who are you, and what-do-ya want with me?” He let go of the button and waited for a response. After a few seconds, a crackling sound came over the speaker.

“Do you see the blue door along the sidewall?” A voice asked. The radio static then stopped. He pushed the radio button to talk again. This time a little calmer.

“You must mean the one across the room, on the opposite side of where I’m standing.” There were a few seconds of nothing but static heard from the radio. A few more moments went by. Then the voice returned once more.

“Yes, that one. Go over and wait there. I will be down in a minute or two.”

“Okay but listen. You have a lot of explaining to do when you get here. Do you understand me?” Paul had asked this with some frustration still in his voice. He let go and the radio relay came back up.

 
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