Whatever Happened to Ned Malone?
Standard Disclaimer: All characters herein are the exclusive property of Telescene, Coote/Hayes, St. Claire Entertainment, and anyone else who has a stake in 'Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World'. No copyright infringement is intended.
Absolute silence reigned. No screech of birds, no monkey chatter, no dinosaur roars, no trickle of water, not even the gentlest whisper of wind. The only sound was the muffled crunch of his own footsteps. In the lush, vivid jungle, the quiet was anomalous and sent an eerie chill racing down his spine. A sudden, loud crack--so intense he could feel it in his bones--reverberated across the plateau.
Malone awoke with a start. The coals of his campfire were burning low, providing a soft heat in the cool night air. He looked around. Darkness and absolute silence.
Weird, he thought. Slowly he reached out and picked up his rifle, and rose to his feet. If it’s so quiet, what woke me up?
He’d been on his own for several months now; his instincts were sharp and he’d learned to trust them. Right now, they were telling him something was wrong.
There was a sudden shuffling sound off to his right. He spun to face it, rifle cocked, and froze.
Nothing there. What the hell?
As if the small noise had been a signal, life began to return to the jungle. Light wind rustled the high branches, insects buzzed, a night bird called. Malone shivered. I hate that bird, he thought. Even after three years on the plateau he still thought the strange South American avis sounded like a tormented soul crying in the jungle.
He shook his head at the image. I’ve heard too many of those spooky radio dramas. How did that one describe it? "It is a restless spirit with one eye, and it is looking for someone to inhabit." He shivered again. Stop it, Malone. You’ll only give yourself nightmares. It’s just a little bird with a big voice.
He lowered his weapon. Whatever had woken him, and whatever had caused the unnatural silence, had passed. Cautiously, he lay back down next to the remains of his fire. Holding his rifle a little closer than before, he fell into an uneasy sleep.
Malone’s day hadn’t gone as planned. Not that it had been a bad day; it just wasn’t the day he’d intended. He’d meant to head northeast this morning in hopes of a bit of bartering with the Indrani. They were a matriarchal tribe, friendly and open to trade. He’d met them and learned as much a few months back, having been fortunate enough to take shelter with them when a meteor had struck the plateau, heralding a bizarre, but blessedly brief, ice age.
Malone had planned ahead for the trading visit when he’d shot a juvenile raptor a few days ago. After roasting as much as he could use for the next day or so, he’d smoked the remaining meat in anticipation of trade. When he’d risen this morning, however, he’d turned west. No reason, really. It was simply the direction he needed to go. Intuition, premonition, whatever the source, he knew better than to question the unconscious decision.
It was an uneventful day of walking. He’d had no need to hunt--I’m going to be sick and tired of raptor jerky by the time I get wherever I’m going.--but he made sure to collect some fresh fruit when the opportunity presented itself. All in all, he’d had a reasonably good day. He just wished he knew where he was going and why.
The only sound was the muffled crunch of his own footsteps. In the lush, vivid jungle, the quiet was anomalous and sent an eerie chill racing down his spine. A sudden, loud crack--so intense he could feel it in his bones--reverberated across the plateau. He turned, instinctively knowing where the sound had originated. Terror grabbed his stomach as he muttered, "The treehouse," and took off in a dead run.
Ned woke abruptly. Damn, he thought. I am having the weirdest dreams these days. He’d had the recurring dream for the past six nights, and he was no closer now to remembering what it was about than he had been the first time.
There was more tonight, something in his mind told him. But more what?
He hadn’t even been asleep long enough for his small campfire to burn itself to embers; there was a pleasant low flame flickering against the rock face beside him. Malone sat up and stared into the fire, thinking.
If I don’t know what I was dreaming, how can I know there was more? How can I know it was even the same dream? But he did know. Before, he had always woken with feeling of fear nearing panic. This time the fear had been focused. A destination? he wondered. I was going somewhere. All right. Where? He shook his head in frustration. If he couldn’t figure out where he was going while he was awake, how on Earth was he to know where he was going in his dream? He decided it was a puzzle to be pondered in the morning.
There was no time to ponder dreams next morning, however. Signs he’d not seen in the darkness became clear in the dawn light. Great. Cannibal country, Malone thought acerbically, examining what remained of a human head hanging from a tree. Without knowing how deep into their territory he was, he couldn’t know if it was safer to go on or head back and circumnavigate the area.
A voice in his head told him to go on. The spear that split the dangling skull and embedded itself in the tree agreed. Ned ran.
Unintelligible shouts followed him as he ducked and wove his way through the jungle foliage. Why did I play baseball instead of football? he asked himself. Then he remembered why. Ahead was the edge of the cannibals’ territory; he recognized the warning sign at its edge. He dove, sliding head-first beyond the boundary as another spear whistled over his head. Just like sliding into home plate--only a little more dangerous. Quickly, the reporter rolled to one side and took cover behind a heap of boulders. He knew the cannibals wouldn’t follow him, but that wouldn’t stop them hurling artillery at him.
Malone looked around, seeking cover that would conceal him until he was out of the range of their spears. A smile crossed his face. There was a ravine not ten feet away, and it was open to the west. He just had to get to it.
He listened. There was no sound from his pursuers, but he knew full well they were still there. The question was, had they seen where he’d hidden himself? There was no way to be sure. Malone was patient, but he couldn’t wait all day; he had somewhere to be.
Yeah. Somewhere, he thought briefly.
He drew his war surplus Colt .45. He didn’t want to use it, but equally he didn’t want to be unprepared. Keeping in a low crouch, he sprinted to the ravine and over the side. There he froze, waiting.
Nothing. The jungle was eerily silent. Then he heard a noise like a great wind. Malone looked around, but there was no sign of any atmospheric disturbance where he was. He checked his gun and, deciding it was worth the risk, he cautiously rose up enough to peer over the top of the ravine.
At first he figured it was a mirage. The air was rippling like a puddle of water in a breeze or the optical illusion one sees over a flame. No. The distortion is too big for that, Ned thought. And it isn’t nearly hot enough today, either. Puzzled, he continued to watch. Abruptly, the distortion moved. The noise grew louder as the wave shifted location, sweeping across the ground. The cannibals who had been hunting him leapt from their cover, shouting in alarm and trying to outrun the wavering air. They were too slow. Without warning, the cannibals and the distortion vanished.
Malone’s eyes widened in astonishment. Whatever that was it cannot be good. He quickly checked that he still had all his belongings, holstered his gun, settled his pack more comfortably on his back, and headed westward along the ravine--away from where the strange disturbance had been.
A sudden, loud crack--so intense he could feel it in his bones--reverberated across the plateau. He turned, instinctively knowing where the sound had originated. Terror grabbed his stomach as he muttered, "The treehouse," and took off in a dead run. With every step the feeling of dread grew within him. "I have to get to the treehouse."
Malone sat up sharply and looked around. There was little to see in the dark cave where he’d taken shelter the previous evening. That dream again! he thought.
He quickly stoked up the small fire. Then, hoping to capture something of his dream, he fished out his journal and pen, and began two write.
After ten minutes frantic scribbling, he paused and looked at the pages. Images, feelings, but nothing concrete. Why can’t I remember more? Trying to force the memory would only make it retreat further, so he let it go. He heaved a heavy sigh and resignedly returned the volume to his pack.
Maybe tomorrow. There would be no more dreams tonight if the previous nights were any indication. He laid back down and was soon asleep.
Uh-oh. Malone stopped in his tracks. He could hear a low rumbling like a strong wind coming his way. He turned a slow three-sixty, trying to find the origin of the sound. Over the past two days, he’d gotten quite good at avoiding the strange, rippling distortions. He didn’t know what they were or where those who vanished into them went, and he wasn’t particularly eager to find out. He did know the odd distortions were getting bigger, faster, and more numerous.
Then he spotted it off to his right. Gotcha! he thought. He took off running at an acute angle to the wave front. He knew he couldn’t outrun it at this stage, but he didn’t have to. He simply had to stay out of its path until it disappeared.
Ned was almost too slow. He could feel the edge of the wave tugging at him, trying to pull him in. He wouldn’t let it. Deep inside him was the fear that these distortions were coming after him on purpose, that they were directed by some malevolent force to yank him back into the spirit realm from which he’d escaped. That wasn’t a place he ever wanted to see again.
With a desperate surge of strength, he swerved to the side just in time to escape the wave’s pull before it vanished.
That was too close for comfort. Malone paused a moment to catch his breath. I bet Challenger could figure out what’s going on. He’d thought often of his friends during his long absence from them. Lately those thoughts had come even more frequently, this new and bizarre mystery of the plateau bringing them more and more readily to mind. I miss you, Challenger. I miss all of you.
Then realization struck. The treehouse. I’m heading for the treehouse! Ned smiled at the revelation. His heart warmed with memories of the place he’d come to feel was his home--more than London, more than New York, more than anywhere he’d ever been. I guess it’s time to go home.
He resettled his pack and resumed his walk, but now his feet felt lighter, his steps more eager. He walked faster.
I wonder how everyone’s doing? he thought. Challenger, Roxton, Marguerite... Veronica. Maybe Veronica’s made it home while I’ve been gone.
The huntress had disappeared not long before he himself had left on his journey of personal discovery. Caught in the high winds, she’d been swept away from them in Challenger’s balloon. Ned had no doubts Veronica was still alive, wherever she might be. And with her parents’ journal to guide her, maybe she’s found out something of what happened to them. Perhaps she’s even found them and all three have returned to the treehouse! It was wishful thinking, but he allowed himself to continue the train of thought. It’ll be an adjustment for everyone, of course, having two more people in the treehouse. But it’s a big enough place. I certainly wouldn’t mind sharing it with more people--especially if those people were Veronica’s parents.
Malone smiled again. Having her parents back would make Veronica so happy. He imagined her, beaming with joy as she introduced Tom and Abigail Layton to the others. And then his own return; the homecoming, the reunion. There would be hugs and kisses and tears. God, I miss you all! he thought wistfully.
Caught up in his hopeful thoughts of the future he was unprepared to be yanked into the past.
Too late he heard the oncoming rush of the wave front. It came at him from behind, and before he could take a breath the noise of the disturbance was overwhelmed by the crash of thunder. He found himself in the middle of a raging storm. The sky was black with clouds; rain poured down on him; wind blew madly in all directions. A bolt of lightning split the darkness just long enough for him to make out the shape of a medieval castle not five hundred yards away.
He recognized it instantly. Living stone. Instinctively, Ned looked down at himself. He gave a small sigh of relief to see that he was still fully dressed and in his own clothes. That’s a plus. Even if I am soaked to the skin. He knew too well what would happen if he entered the castle; it had happened before more than a year ago. But how did it get back here? he wondered. Challenger sent the castle away with that spell of Prospero’s.
Lightning flashed at the same moment thunder erupted overhead. In the brief illumination, he thought he saw two figures moving swiftly toward the centuries-old stone structure.
That looked like Veronica and Challenger! What is going on? Am I hallucinating?
Another roll of thunder masked the sound of the rippling air. Without warning, the reporter was back where he’d been moments before. The jungle was calm around him. The sun shone down through the canopy, casting a dappled light over the area where he stood. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Ned looked down at himself once more. He was soaking wet.
That was no hallucination.
Even more wary now, he resumed his hike in the direction of the treehouse.
Terror grabbed his stomach as he muttered, "The treehouse," and took off in a dead run. With every step the feeling of dread grew within him. "I have to get to the treehouse."
He was nearly there. He dodged under a low-hanging branch. But so focused was he in ducking the branch, he missed the root below it. It caught his foot and he fell.
This time Malone was ready. Waking sharply, he grabbed his waiting journal, opening it to the blank page marked by his fountain pen. He removed the pen’s cap and started writing, oblivious to the thick darkness that obscured the page.
Several minutes later, he was done. He blew a little on the ink to be certain it was dry, then tucked the precious volume carefully into his pack. It would have to wait until dawn. He couldn’t build a campfire that night, sheltered as he was in a tree. Certain he and his belongings were still securely bound to the ancient giant of the jungle, he closed his eyes and fell into the first peaceful sleep he’d had in a fortnight.
The treehouse? Ned stared at the page in wonder. His writing was sloppy, but the words were there. He’d been heading for the treehouse in his dream. Just like I really am. Very weird.
He torn off a piece of raptor jerky and chewed thoughtfully as he reread the page. Silence, threat, fear, defense. But what was the threat? And who needed defending? Clearly it was one of his friends. Why else would the destination be the treehouse? But which of them was it? What could he do?
If one of them really is in danger, surely Roxton can handle whatever the threat might be, he mused. Assuming it’s something in the physical realm. His own experiences had taught him not everything could be dealt with at that level--not even by a man of Lord John Roxton’s skills.
He thought about his friend. More like a big brother, he thought with a touch of melancholy. When Malone had first left the rest of the explorers, it was Roxton he’d missed most. He’d thought it odd at the time; he’d expected to miss Veronica more than anyone. But Veronica’s was a familiar absence by the time he’d set out on his travels; the absence of his other friends was fresh.
And after what Roxton told me about his time in the trenches... It had been a painful, cathartic conversation for both men, trading stories of the horrors of the Great War. He’d told John things he’d only just remembered himself; their talk giving him the chance to face the new-found memories in an environment where he felt safe and protected.
I wonder if he felt the same? Ned was sure he’d learned things Roxton had never told another soul, things so terrible Malone wondered how he’d kept it inside so long. Between the death of his brother and what he was forced to do in the war... He could only marvel at the older man’s strength and courage.
Malone shook his head to clear it of such weighty thoughts. He was in familiar territory now. He knew he was only a day’s hike from the treehouse. Still a whole day, he thought in frustration. And with these distortions growing, there’s no guarantee I can take the most direct path to get there.
Oh no. There it was again, the rushing sound that accompanied those very distortions. He looked around. As if drawn to him by his thoughts, the largest wave front he’d seen yet was coming directly at him. It’s too close! Damn it! There was nowhere to run, no way to go around it. He readied his rifle and waited.
The wave hit him and he felt himself yanked as if through some thick, viscous substance. When it had passed, he stood as before. His things were still at his feet, his weapon still cocked and in hand.
But where did the jungle go?
He was standing in an open field with a road running through it. Where am I? There was never a road like this on the plateau.
A sign several yards off caught his eye. He couldn’t read it from where he was, so he quickly collected his belongings, slung the rifle over one shoulder, and headed for it.
New Amazonia? Ten kilometers? What the--? A new noise in the distance caught his ear. It wasn’t the rumbling of the waves he’d grown attuned to, but something harsher. That sounds like an automobile. Malone turned toward the noise, eyes widening in incredulity. It was an automobile, but one unlike anything he’d ever seen. It was a dark, dirty machine of pipes and beams. Two men were inside it, and he could hear them shouting something. They pointed his way.
Time to go, I think. Ned turned and ran, heading for the nearest cover--the line of trees that edged the clearing.
This time when he heard the rushing of the wave front he welcomed it. He ran straight for the distortion--and nearly into a tree that appeared as if from nowhere before him. He stopped abruptly, one hand out to brace himself against the impact.
Ned listened carefully. Nothing but ordinary jungle noises reached his ears. In the distance, a pterodactyl screeched. That’s good. Though I never thought I’d be happy to hear that sound.
He took a moment to reorient himself. To his surprise and pleasure, he realized he was now closer to the treehouse by several hours walking. Finally, a little luck in my favor. Eyes and ears peeled, he quickly headed off.
It happened again. He couldn’t avoid it. This time he was transported back in time much further than before. He hid in a hollow between the roots a huge tree as a troop of what appeared to be Spanish Conquistadors marched past. Then, in a rush of space and time, they were gone.
And again. This time it was a group of brown-robed men. They were oddly familiar, as if he’d seen them once in a dream.
Monks? He heard them muttering something about a woman called Morrighan, and the name struck a chord of memory in him. No. They’re druids. He knew his second guess was correct, but before he could place why or how he knew it, he was swept once more into his own time.
And yet again. Unable to escape the oncoming front, he simply waited for it--with his .45 at the ready.
A part of his brain registered that he couldn’t be too far from his own time if there was suddenly a T-rex in front of him. That part of his brain was eclipsed, however, by the part telling him his Colt was useless and he’d better start running.
The beast roared and came after him. Malone leapt a fallen tree and made a mad dash to one side. The tyrannosaurus rex simply crashed through the jungle and kept on coming.
There! the reporter thought, spotting a cleft in the cliff face to his right. It wasn’t deep enough to be a cave, but it would offer some protection against the dinosaur. He turned sharply and flung himself into the opening. It was just big enough for him to turn around in. Dropping his pack, Ned unslung the rifle that hung across his back and aimed it at the giant lizard. He fired several shots, hoping the beast would decide he was too much effort and go off to seek easier prey.
He was reloading the weapon when he heard the noise again. That same rumbling, rushing sound he was beginning to hate with a passion. The T-rex heard it, too, and turned to look at the distortion. But instead of rushing forward and sweeping the beast away, this time the front stayed where it was and a single figure stepped through it.
It was a man. He had wavy gray hair and carried a pack over his left shoulder and a rifle under his right arm. Ned thought he recognized him but he put the sensation down to the man’s clothes, which were obviously from the same period as his own.
For a moment time was frozen.
Before Malone could shout a warning, the man looked up and screamed. His cries were drowned by the roar of the T-rex as it raced forward, head down, prepared to crush the man in its massive jaws. Ned aimed and fired again. It was a lucky shot that distracted the behemoth just long enough. The man, injured and bleeding but still alive, ran. Malone was reloading his weapon once more as another distortion took him.
At last! thought Ned.
There was the treehouse. It was so close. But he couldn’t reach it. All around the electric fence he could see the air rippling and wavering. The treehouse was surrounded.
He could see two figures through the distortions. Who’s th--? Veronica?! Clearly one of the figures was Veronica; the other was a smaller woman whom he didn’t recognize. But who’s with her? And where are the others?
He could see the women talking as they collected items from the supplies and paraphernalia stacked around the compound, but he couldn’t hear them over the distance and the noise of the growing storm. Veronica picked up a stack of books bound by a cord. My journals? he wondered. The other woman grabbed a small glass jar, but he was too far away to see what it contained.
Suddenly, light shot from the ground. It encircled the treehouse, enveloping it in a cone of impassable energy. He winced at the brightness, watching as the two women ascended in the elevator. Then it became too bright to see anything.
Malone held onto the tree beside him, willing himself not to be yanked out of time and space again. I have to hang on, he though fiercely. I have to get to her!
Thunder rumbled and crashed, deafening him. He buried his face in the rough bark of the tree as the light grew impossibly brighter. Wind lashed at him; it stole his breath away and he desperately gasped it back. He could feel the wave distortions trying to tear him from his reality.
No! I won’t let go! I can’t!! He held on for dearest life like a drowning man clutching a broken mast bobbing on a raging sea. Ned forced himself to open his eyes but immediately shut them again against the light. Still it burned at his closed eyelids, turning the internal darkness red.
No!! his mind screamed again. I won’t go! Veronica! But he was losing the fight. Veronica!!
The noise, the light, the power. It was all too much. He felt his last breath ripped from his lungs as the world turned inside-out.
[As the audience sits in stunned silence in front of televisions across the world, the three most dreaded words in the English language scroll across the screen:
to be continued...
Here’s to a speedy return to the airwaves for our intrepid explorers!]