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Confidential Report on the Disturbance at Big Echo-Fiction by William Squirrell
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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Art by John Thompson 2017

Confidential Report on the Disturbance at Big Echo


William Squirrell


Most Holy Father,

The trucker, Baptiste Turcotte, saw the deer first, dozens of them, leaping from the darkness into the glare of his lights; then the wolves and the foxes, streaking across the gravel road. The moose: that he hit. He stopped his vehicle, and a wave of mice, martens, snakes, rabbits, all manner of creeping and crawling things, swept up and over the road. Some things, he did not know what they were, and he had been trapping and hunting in those parts his whole life.

Turcotte said he felt unaccountably nauseas while he watched the remarkable transit. When it was over he opened the door, climbed out of the cab, and made sick. As he crouched, a black bear galloped by, in the same direction as the rest of them.  Baptiste told this to me when he phoned the parish office from Lynne Lake, and then he reported it also to RCMP constable in that town. After he talked to the RCMP he went to his hotel room and hung himself from the showerhead.

A crew working on the tracks at the McVeigh railway point three miles to the south also told the RCMP a similar story so they could triangulate the origin of the disturbance. They determined that on the north shore of the lake known as Big Echo, 45 minutes above the 56th parallel, something had happened in the dead of night, June 6th, 1983.

Consequent to this event was a massive exodus of birds, mammals, and reptiles, from an area with a diameter of about five miles. It has been impossible to tell for certain if all the wildlife fled, because all who venture within that circumference become immediately too sick and anxious to carry on. These first unfortunate investigators, even after they returned to Lynne Lake, suffered from despair, mood swings, and bouts of terror.

Within hours of shutting down the road and the railway the rumors began. By the time the government officials, their scientists, and the press flew in, the mood in Lynn Lake was hysterical. The churches, bars, and other gathering spaces were full of frightened people trying together to make sense of the situation. Most believed either a US cruise missile had crashed at Big Echo, or a radioactive meteor had struck.

The initial working theory of the investigative team was that someone had set off a salted bomb. Such bombs are not meant to create big explosions, but release huge amounts of fatal radiation over a long period of time. But who would plant such a device in the bush? And why? Besides, there had been no flash reported or recorded, no seismic activity, nothing of the sort. And while such a device might kill, it would not compel animals to flee, or drive humans mad. Certainly something at Big Echo is emitting a great deal of gamma radiation, enough that the American’s Vela satellites can detect it from space, but none of the scientists can say more than that.

A team equipped with protective gear attempted to hike into the disturbed area. They did not get far before they too were overcome with anxiety and fear. My source told me they panicked and scattered. The first two members made it back to the base at McVeigh station. The third fled north towards Public Road 396, right through the epicenter of the radioactive storm, and remains hospitalized in Winnipeg. I have not yet been able to arrange an interview with him.

The most recent attempt to penetrate the site was an act of insubordination. A PR man, an atheist and a sensualist whose behavior had become increasingly erratic over the weeks, told the chief investigator the copious amounts of cannabis he had been smoking made the nausea and fear manageable, and might make possible a longer expedition. He was told to pack his bags and take the next flight south. Instead he stole a radiation suit and a radio and marched into the bush. He did indeed make it farther than the first team, all the way, in fact, to Big Echo. He arrived shortly after sunrise. A transcription of the last words he spoke into his radio follows:

“It is beautiful here: pristine; empty; sterile. The sun is sparkling on the water; more than sparkling, ricocheting in dazzling bursts. It makes it look hard – the lake, like a crystal, like a diamond. The scalpel glare cuts at my eyes.”

“And the strangest thing; impossibly I keep hearing a bird; a burbling sort of a warble. I just heard it again.”

“It’s like laughter. And wait…there! Did you hear? Something is here. I thought I saw something on the ridge. Something darted behind a tree. Hang on. I’ll scramble up.”

“Not something, someone! It’s laughter, the most cheerful laughter.”

“I see him now. What’s he playing at? It’s a child; naked as a jaybird; a beautiful child; a boy with golden curls. He’s laughing. He’s delightful. He’s laughing. It’s music: glorious music.”

The transmission ended. He did not return. The public know nothing about the PR man’s excursion, or his odd soliloquy. His contacts among the press were told he had killed himself. And I suppose, in a sense, he did just that. I was shown the transcript in the strictest of confidence; the scientists have written the entire episode off as drug-addled hallucination, but my confidante among them is a man who once had faith, and is now learning that doubt is a knife which can cut in two directions.

The investigative team squabbles over what to do next; the government sits tight in the hope that the problem will go away; the journalists produce nothing but cynical and unimaginative conjecture. The people here are troubled: they do not trust secular authority, and they begin to cast about for more convincing reassurances than skeptics in their white coats can provide. This is a great opportunity for the Church.

Your holiness’ most obedient and humble servant,

Fr. Carl Vogl, OMI

William Squirrell lives and writes in western Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, On Spec, decomP magazinE, Drabblecast, and other venues. More information can be found at blindsquirrell.com and on twitter @billsquirrell.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2017