OCTOBER 5TH, 9:25 AM
Thank you, Lord. Finally. I'm not shaking so much anymore.
Lang moved to the edge of the sheet-covered ambulance bed. He gradually slipped off until his feet hit the tent’s floor. How strange; even with a cushion of air under his backside and around his feet and legs, this entire movement felt completely normal, like this horrible stuff wasn't even around him.
He sighed, and stood still a moment, trying to grasp everything.
Hard to believe local authorities would actually set up this large tent a half mile from Park River's center, in the middle of Dan Henry’s ten acres of farm fields. But it was true and it was happening. Outside the tent, numerous fire department trucks and paramedic vehicles produced a low, humming chorus of running motors. He sniffed in a few times. How could that be? A slight hint of exhaust mingled near his nose, even though that seemed impossible.
His thoughts shifted to Evan.
He walked over to Evan’s bed, the encasing wrap, whatever it was, still allowing total freedom of movement. He glanced around Evan. "I still can't believe you were able to get your PSP and hold it like that." Interesting and mysterious it was; Evan had simply drawn his right hand inward, until he could place his hand by his chest. The encasing suit then no longer had a right arm sleeve. Instead it molded around Evan’s folded arm against his chest. Once like this Evan was able to slide his right palm along his football jacket’s surface until entering his jacket’s pocket and removing his PSP. And now he held it with both hands, over his chest, the encasing material only molding around this hands-PSP unit, with no arm sleeves, though his head, legs, and the rest of this body were enclosed as before. It seemed that as long as about an inch or so of air space resided from body surface to itself, the encasing suit was content. “And you really can see okay through both layers?”
“Well, yeah, Dad. Like we discussed already. We can both see through the part around our faces, like nothing’s there. I’m just really looking through the one layer covering my hands and the PSP.” He shrugged his right shoulder a little, but kept on pressing the PSP’s buttons, keeping Madden NFL continuing without a pause. “And I can see fine. But it’s confusing. It’s like I’m looking through thick plastic, but something’s wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
Evan stopped playing, got his typical perplexed brow, and looked at Lang. “Shouldn’t the thickness of this stuff cause things to look larger or smaller, or distorted, like magnifying glasses or prisms do?”
This was a good point. Carefully Lang stared all around Evan’s body beneath the encasing wrap. “You’re right. It is confusing. Even though this stuff is so thick, it’s like I’m looking through a thin layer of plastic, as thin as plastic wrap. I can see you with no problem at all, like it’s not even there. How about me?”
Evan glanced around Lang in a similar manner. “Same with you. I don’t notice any distortion at all. Very weird.” He went right back to the PSP again. “But yeah, it’s pretty cool I can play now.”
Okay. Evan’s giving alert he’s discussed this enough. “Yes, it sure is.” And thankfully his PSP was a good distraction. Lang reached out his encased hand to touch near Evan’s PSP. That repulsion still pushed back. “Darn. Thought it would be gone by now.”
“Yeah. No such luck.”
Lang breathed in sigh of relief. “Just so glad you’re okay now. I was so worried.” For some unknown reason, Evan’s terrifying symptoms all just simply vanished. His former pale face now had color and vitality. His strength was back and he could speak and move like always. His breathing was normal now too. And no one so far had any explanation. “Why do you think…the breathing, and the other, well…”
“I don’t know. I just remember being really frustrated and scared. And then I couldn’t breathe right…and my heart started beating faster…and…Dad, I don’t want to remember.”
Lang swallowed. “No, no. That’s okay. I understand.”
“All I know is I started feeling all right again. And I could breathe again. Everything seems fine now.”
“Had you prayed, for help?”
Evan frowned and shook his head slowly. “No, Dad. I didn’t even have time.”
“Listen. I’ve been thinking about it. We need to keep praying to our Savior, no matter what happens to us.”
“Yeah, but…do you think God is mad at us, or isn’t around for us now? Or is actually doing this?”
“No…no, I really don’t think God is mad at us. And I’m not sure what’s going on.” Lang thought a moment, trying to choose some better words. “But remember what Pastor Reynolds said? Sometimes prayer is all we have.”
“I guess so.” Evan laid the PSP on his belly, causing the horrible encasing suit to lower closer to his hands and the PSP. Evan watched it closely, his eyes intense, curious. “Do you think I can sit up now?”
“Remember. The paramedics said you need to lie motionless and rest for a while, with your head propped-up about forty-five degree degrees with that pillow.”
“Yeah, but I have rested for a while. My back kind of hurts. Can I sit up, please?”
Lang thought a moment. “You could try. But if you start feeling worse, lie back down again.”
“Thanks, Dad. I really need to. I feel fine now anyway.” Yet holding his PSP, Evan swung his left leg, and then his right leg, over the side of the bed, and sat up. The encasing stuff still was armless, domed out slightly around his hands and the PSP. "And why were those paramedics so afraid of us?"
"I know." Lang recalled their wide eyes, trembling hands, stuttering speech, and hesitancy to approach."Not so encouraging, that's for sure. Hopefully these other ones will be more professional."
"Can't blame them, I guess." Evan now sat on the bed’s edge with his legs hanging down though not touching the tent’s floor; these beds stood tall on their wheeled-legs. He pressed his knees together. The encasing material quickly changed form, fluidly molding around his legs in one unit. “You see that?”
An eerie, unsettling feeling traveled around Lang’s innards from just watching it. But he needed to keep trying to be positive for Evan. “I sure do. What if you move your knees away from each other?”
Evan slowly spread his knees apart. The encasing substance gradually did the same. Once his knees had enough distance for both layers of the substance to form, both legs were mostly covered separately, and quickly.
He brought his legs back together again. Now his legs were covered as one unit once more. He looked all around Lang. “Dad. You see how you have your arms resting against your sides?”
Lang looked down. Evan was right. Both his arms hung loosely, their entire length and even his hands resting right up against his clothing. “I…I didn’t even notice.” Lang pinched a small clump of his khaki pants, yanking it out slightly. “I was wrong. This isn’t like some clear, plastic spacesuit.”
Evan smiled. “Is that what you thought?”
It felt great to see that smile. “Yes, believe it or not.” Curious, Lang quickly swept his arms outward until at ninety degrees from his torso.
Evan pointed at Lang’s right side. “Did you see that? It was quick, but I saw it. You’re right Dad, whatever this stuff is, spacesuit or not, it’s intelligent. It knows exactly the right way and the right moment to split apart or come together. And what could this stuff be made of to do that?”
“I don’t know, Evan.” Lang slowly lowered his arms. But he consciously thought about resting both encased arms on top of his encased sides. And, oddly, it occurred.
“How did you do that?”
Lang inhaled deeply, the air surrounding him as refreshing as outdoor air, though strangely yet harboring a bit of that exhaust smell. “I simply thought about resting my encased arms on my encased sides, and that’s it.”
“So think about putting your arms next to your clothes again.”
Lang did. But the encasing stuff didn’t allow his arms to fall through now. “That’s odd. Now it won’t work.” He lifted his encased arms outward again, until about sixty degrees from his sides, and then slammed them back down. He succeeded, unfortunately. He slapped his sides hard. “Owe!”
“Yeah, I guess.” An unnerving thought entered Lang’s mind. “Yikes, Evan. Why do I get the feeling this stuff is allowing us to breathe, and otherwise stay comfortable, but wants to mess with us?”
Evan swallowed, and Lang instantly wished he hadn’t said that. “I don’t know. But I think it’s protecting us from some sort of problem with time. Why else would our earlier ghost selves join with us?”
“I know what you mean, but…but I just don’t know.” Lang’s gaze drifted away from Evan’s worried eyes to the sheet-covered mattress beneath Evan. Something looked very wrong; Evan’s weight wasn’t depressing the bed for some reason.
“What is it, Dad?”
“I…” Maybe don’t say it. But Evan will eventually see it anyway. “Umm…tell me if the mattress sinks in when I sit on my bed.” Lang walked over to his bed and climbed upon it, his encased hands pressing in the mattress. “Weird. My hands pushed it in.” He sat on the bed. He glanced around himself. No depressed area at all. “What the…” He looked at Evan.
Evan stared carefully at Lang’s bed. “You’re right.” He inhaled deeply and frowned. “But I still say something’s wrong with time.” He stared intently into Lang’s eyes. “And this stuff is just protecting us from it.”
“You’re implying God is protecting us from time? But why us? We’re just average people, nothing spectacular.”
Evan shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“How are you two feeling?” The voice sounded muffled, enclosed.
Lang looked in the direction the voice originated from. A man in a HAZMAT uniform was approaching from the tent’s entrance. Each step he took his legs ruffled together like two bags of potato chips.
“I didn’t even need to ask that,” the man said. “You two are sitting up and talking to one another.” The man wore an olive-tan plastic poncho that covered his head and upper chest, with a clear plastic shield over his face that had a circular dark piece in front of his mouth, maybe a speaker. The rest of his underlying suit was blue. He wore thick green rubber gloves and boots that were tightly Duck-taped to the blue suit. Whoever he was, he was protected extremely well.
Did their current rescuers really have to go to such lengths to be protected from him and Evan? That queasy, unsettling feeling in Lang’s innards intensified. “Yes. We are both all right now, so it seems. But we’re very baffled and surprised by all of this.”
“Believe me. That is very understandable.” The man raised his glove-covered hands higher, so Lang could see that he held several small electronic devices. “I’m Sergeant Lou Odegaard, from the Dover Plains fire department. We need to check both of you for radiation or possible…”
Lang couldn’t hear anymore. “I’m sorry. Can you say your last words again?”
Lou walked over and placed all of the devices, except one, on the foldable plastic table near the tent’s yellow wall, around six feet away from Lang. Lou noisily walked back. The device he carried was about the size of a hand-held calculator with a small LCD screen and a few buttons and knobs. “We need to check for radiation,” Lou said louder, “and possible harmful gases. You may have to speak louder too. It’s hard to hear both ways in these suits.”
“All right,” Land said louder. He pointed at Lou’s device. “Is that a Geiger counter?”
Lou nodded from behind the plastic shield. “Yes.”
“A lot smaller than I remember them.” Lang looked over and smiled at Evan, hoping to lighten things.
But Evan only kept his eyes focused on the game under that encased domed area near his chest.
Lou walked over to Evan and glided the small Geiger counter all around the encasing substance. Lang listened carefully. Thankfully, the tick noises were spaced well apart and random. Lou stepped over and did the same to Lang. Again, the noises indicated no radiation. And Lou confirmed this.
With the second device, about the size of a larger hand-held calculator, Lou mentioned about optical detection of chemical substances, liquid, solid, or gas. Lou needed to hold the device close to both of their encasing wraps. He had Evan lie down. Once zigzagging the device around Evan, Lou said nothing was detected. He did the same procedure to Lang, and again, thankfully, nothing was detected.
Some hope arose in Lang. Thank you, Savior.
Lou brought over the last device from the table. He also carried a thin syringe with a cap top and some cotton swabs. “This is quite amazing,” Lou said loudly.
“What is it?” Lang asked.
Lou swabbed the surface of Evan’s encasing substance, and did the same to Lang. “It used to take twenty-four hours on up to several days to get the results, for microbe contamination.”
“Microbe contamination?” Evan asked, his voice elevated.
“Bacteria, viruses, even microbial-sized fungi and parasites.” Lou dipped the tip of the swab into the syringe. Once placing the cap back on, he shook the syringe. “But now it only takes fifteen minutes, to find any of up to twenty-five hundred viruses and a thousand bacteria.” He smiled under his plastic shield. “Makes our work a hell of a lot easier.” He squirted a liquid from the syringe onto a clear plastic area on the device’s flat, black surface. “We’ll let you know the results when done.” He turned to leave.
“Wait.” Some troubling thoughts had popped up in Lang’s mind. “If whatever is surrounding us requires all this checking, then how is Ron, and the sheriff? Those paramedics? Or those other people, like the reporters who were nearby?”
“That’s one of the reasons I wasn’t too worried about radiation levels. We didn’t pick up anything off Ron or the others. They all went through the same testing as you two, even the microbe test. And they’re all fine.”
“Thank you. Glad they’re all okay.”
“But the doctor and other emergency personnel will continue to wear HAZMAT suits. A precaution, for when they remove the unknown material surrounding you two.”
“Oh, I see. Hopefully we’ll all be safe.”
Lou smiled at Lang. “That’s the plan. And I’m sure we all will.”
Lou walked over and stood near the white canvas flaps of the tent’s entrance. He spoke to another man just outside the tent. Though Lang couldn’t hear everything, their voices muffled, he did hear ‘fire department’, ‘paramedics’, and more disturbingly, ‘National Guard’, ‘Homeland Security’, and ‘Department of Defense’. What was going on here? Could this bizarre event be terrorist related?
After talking a few more seconds, Lou left the tent.
“At least there’s nothing bad surrounding us,” Lang told Evan.
Evan glanced away from his PSP. “Yeah, even though I say it’s protection from time, we still don’t know for sure why we’re trapped in this stuff and why we don’t sink in these beds.”
“Right. I know what you mean.” Lang inhaled and sighed. “And it’s weird how we can hear so well in here.”
“I know what you mean, Dad. It is weird.”
The tent’s flaps swept open. Lou returned, carrying a large, black plastic suitcase, about two feet by three feet in dimension. He placed it upon the table near the tent’s wall.
Lang looked up and around the large tent, probably fifteen feet wide by twenty feet long. The tent was mostly yellow plastic-like fabric except for its arched white ceiling and white canvas entrance flaps. He kept staring up, the encasing material not hindering his head and neck at all. Sunlight rays beamed in at an angle through thin slits and tiny holes in the white ceiling, their brightness a welcomed friend now.
His gaze followed along the length of a few sunlight beams until noticing them lightly touch along the encasing material’s surface just above his forearm. He held out his right arm. Immediately his throat tightened; a normal, transparent material would reflect sunlight and, or allow its passage through. But this material did neither.
His heart sped up.
He looked at Evan. Fortunately, Evan was only watching Lou.
Lang slowly lowered his arm.
Two more HAZMAT people hobbled into the tent, their moving legs making that same rustling potato chip bag noise like Lou. One person was shorter, a woman, and the other, taller, a man.
“I’m Dr. Bohanek, from Dover Plains Med Central,” the man said loudly from within his suit. “This is my nurse assistant, Peggy.”
Lou walked out of the tent.
“Hi,” Peggy said, smiling, giving a quick wave of her gloved-covered hand, making more rustling HAZMAT noise.
“I sort of have some good news.” Dr. Bohanek glanced at both Lang and Evan. “I want to tell you two something up front, right away, in regards to Evan’s earlier respiratory incident. Whatever this material is that surrounds both of you, it is obviously quite permeable to the outside air.”
Lang felt surprised this hadn’t occurred to him sooner. “By gosh, you’re right.” His heart rate began settling and he realized something else. “And when I blow air out, I don’t feel it coming back on me, like this material isn’t even there.”
“Yeah, that’s so true, Dad!” Evan lowered his PSP to his lap. “It’s like this stuff isn’t around us at all. We can breathe, without any trouble. Feels like there’s a lot of air in here too.”
Dr. Bohanek stepped closer to Evan. “And you’ve been breathing well, doing good in there kiddo?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Evan picked up his PSP again. “As long as I don’t think about it.”
“Oh, of course. I’ll let you be for a moment.” Dr. Bohanek walked over to Lang. He studied the encasing material from Lang’s left side. “Seems to be about three to four centimeters of air space in there.” Beneath his HAZMAT shield, Dr. Bohanek’s expression became perplexed, like Evan’s earlier. He moved his head around at different positions and angles. “Hmmm. And the optical views for concave and convex formations of this transparent material don’t seem to be occurring.”
“You mean you don’t see my body’s surface as magnified or distorted?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Evan and I noticed it too. Why is that?”
Dr. Bohanek studied the material for a short time more. “I’m not exactly sure. I’ll check later. And…no condensation perceptible. Warm in there?”
“No, it’s not,” Lang answered. “It’s weird. I don’t feel the heat of my breath blowing back on me at all.”
“Yeah, me too,” Evan said.
“The air around me is not hot at all,” Lang continued. “It feels like…we’re right inside this tent, with all its air, except this stuff, whatever it is, surrounds us.”
Evan nodded. “Like this stuff isn’t even here. I don’t feel hot or stuffy at all.”
“Good, very good,” Dr. Bohanek said. “You can live without food for weeks, without water for days, but you can only live minutes without air. And good quality air I might add.”
Evan smiled, and his overall expression became less dour. “True that.” He stared up at the tent’s ceiling for a moment and then dropped his gaze to Lang. “Hey, Dad. Remember that teenage girl in her speeding car, before she crashed?”
Odd. Evan wouldn’t normally bring up something that had been so disturbing. It must be the stress from all of this. “Yes. I remember. Why?”
“Those look-alikes of us, when they were in that other Suburban. For some reason, reminded me of when the sun shined on that girl’s face, so I could see her better. I’ll never forget that. Weird, huh?”
“Uh, yeah, it is.”
Oh Lord, Deidra, my beautiful Deidra.
The memory of earlier this morning, before any of this science fiction insanity had occurred, when Evan had raced out of the house, late again, and scrambled into the Suburban, streamed into Lang’s mind. Late or not, Lang had to tell Evan about the call from Mrs. Lindele and her request that Evan cease his disrespectful behavior to Freddy during class. And then, of course, another one of those overwhelming, sad incidents burst forth. Evan, as a baby. Deidra, his beautiful, loving Deidra holding baby Evan in her arms.
No. Why remember this now? No. Please. Not now.
But the memory forced its way into Lang’s mind without mercy: Deidra was sitting on the sofa, nuzzled against him, their baby son nestled in her arms. Lang wrapped his arm around her and drew her closer. He always wanted to be as close to her as possible. Gently she stroked baby Evan’s face and then gave a soft, kind smile to Lang. She was so beautiful, so full of life. But then her eyes became severe, worried. “Lang. Lang? Are you all right?” Of course he was all right. She was in his arms. How could he not be? “Dad.” His gaze dropped below, to baby Evan. “Dad?” Evan spoke. How? He’s only three months old.
“Dad! You need to stop this!”
Lang blinked several times, and the image of Deidra and baby Evan vanished. Twelve-year-old Evan, encased in that horrible stuff, and Dr. Bohanek, stood before him.
“I’m sorry,” Evan said. “I shouldn’t have reminded you about Mom.”
Great. Here it comes. Tears welled in Lang’s eyes. And his legs and the rest of his body began shaking. Here? Even here, now, in this bizarre situation?
“Lang,” Dr. Bohanek said. “How long has this been happening?”
“I…umm…” And now of course the memory-fade.
“It’s been about three months, since my mom died July tenth,” Evan said. “It comes and goes. This morning, after Dad talked to me, he saw Mom again. He just like…blacks-out. It takes a while, after you talk to him, before he breaks out of it.”
“Well, look, Lang,” Dr. Bohanek said kindly. “You don’t have to do much. I’ll be doing it all, working to get you out of there.” He looked at Evan. “But you, kiddo, let’s keep the topics light and distracting. Okay?”
Evan nodded. “Yes. Definitely. I should have known better.”
“Lang. I want you to take some deep breaths for me,” Dr. Bohanek said.
Trying to ignore his post-delusion tremors, Lang breathed in deeply, with ease.
And Evan was able to do the same once Dr. Bohanek asked him to.
Lang wanted to wipe his teary eyes, but didn’t feel like going through the trouble right now. It was the least of his concerns.
And more health checks and questions arose from Dr. Bohanek. Were he and Evan taking any prescription medications? No, neither of them, Lang explained. Fever? No, not that they could tell. Or were they too cold? No. Any pain? No, surprisingly, for both. Though Dr. Bohanek had a stethoscope, he didn’t want to use it yet, and asked if their heart rates felt too fast or too slow. Yes, too fast, for both he and Evan. But Dr. Bohanek just attributed that to anxiety and stress from their condition.
From what Dr. Bohanek could determine, their vitals were normal, considering everything going on.
After making it through all the questions and checks, Lang found his mind focusing better. And his tremors began diminishing.
Don’t think about Deidra, he told himself. Simply. Do. Not.
“Let’s get this mysterious material off of you,” Dr. Bohanek said, smiling. He eyed Peggy. “Remember. Mark the time for each attempt.”
She nodded and stared down through her HAZMAT shield at a digital tablet in her glove-covered hands.
“Why is that so important?” Lang asked, puzzled.
“Oh, uh…just in case I can’t determine what’s wrong, we need to record the time and steps for other doctors or emergency personnel, when they try to help you.” Dr. Bohanek smiled. “But I’m sure I’ll get this figured out.”
Lang didn’t want to create any doubts, but he had to let this out. “Really? But then why did I hear Lou talking about the National Guard, Homeland Security and the Department of Defense?”
“Yes. You’re right.” Dr. Bohanek’s expression drew serious from behind the shield. “The latest, that I’m aware…some people from the US Air Force, in conjunction with those federal departments, will be arriving here soon.”
“The US Air Force?” Evan asked, even lowering his PSP an inch or two.
Lang couldn’t believe his ears. “What? Why?”
Dr. Bohanek kept his eyes right on Lang. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to tell you two yet. But, you have to understand. The highly unusual circumstances leading up, to, well…I know they at least have to acquire your Suburban. I believe they’re taking all precautions, as a possible--”
“Terrorist threat?” Lang interrupted.
“Well, yes. Or else some type of international incident. But again, rest assured that we will do everything within our power to help you first.”
“Well, all right then.” Lang sighed, but tried not to show his building anxiety too much. “We should get this going.”
Dr. Bohanek smiled. “Yes, we should.” He looked at Peggy.
Peggy walked over and grabbed the table. She carefully dragged its plastic nob-covered leg tips across the tent’s fabric floor, until it was within a foot of Lang’s bed. She removed a white bundled-up towel from the black case and placed it on the table. Dr. Bohanek unwrapped the towel, revealing some scalpel-like instruments and a magnifying glass.
“Hold out your right arm,” Dr. Bohanek requested.
Dr. Bohanek carefully held the encasing material surrounding Lang’s arm in his glove-covered hands and pressed his fingers against the material at various spots. “Feels solid, not penetrable or malleable.” He looked in Lang’s eyes. “Yet you can move easily?” He released Lang’s arm.
“Uh, yes.” Lang brought his forearm up and down, bending effortlessly at the elbow. “See what I mean?”
“Oh I do. Quite…quite interesting.” Dr. Bohanek pressed his glove-covered hands against other areas by Lang’s chest, his shoulders and upper arms. He even tried what Ron had done earlier, attempting to squash the encasing material around Lang’s hands between too strong palm presses. But nothing happened. “Now I see what the police chief explained. Pointless to even make an attempt.”
He reached for the magnifying glass and began holding it close, at about five inches distance from the material around Lang’s arm, and then farther back, at about twenty inches away. He repeated this close and far process several more times. “That’s odd. I can’t seem to get in focus no matter where I place it. The image is blurry everywhere.” He handed it to Peggy. “Ask someone if they have another.”
Peggy rushed over to the tent’s entrance, her pants making even more of that ruffling potato chips bag noise again. She talked to another HAZMAT person just outside the tent’s flaps.
Gently Dr. Bohanek picked a thin two-inch by two-inch square glass from the opened towel. A microscope glass, maybe? He also picked up one of the scalpels. “I’m going to try to take a sample. We need a material analysis to see what we’re dealing with. Then we can attempt to remove it.”
“Oh, okay. I see,” Lang said, and he glanced over at Evan.
Evan was still playing his PSP and seemed rather content. Good.
Peggy returned with another magnifying glass and placed it on the table.
After handing the square thin glass to Peggy, Dr. Bohanek began scraping the encasing material over Lang’s arm onto the glass Peggy held right beneath it.
Right away, things felt unusual. “That’s odd.”
“What is it, Lang?” Dr. Bohanek continued to scrape.
“I can’t feel any sensation of the scraping. I mean, no vibration, no reverberating sound sensation, nothing. I can see and hear you scraping, but that’s all.”
“But you’ve been able to hear ambient sound out here from within there?”
“Oh, yes. I can hear the trucks outside. And we can hear you. And Evan and I can hear each other.”
“And we can hear you as well. Interesting, no obstruction of sound waves.” Dr. Bohanek began scraping again. “I’m not really getting anything here.” He lowered his HAZMAT-covered head closer to Lang’s arm. He scraped harder. He paused. He scraped again. Peggy carefully held the square glass right up under the scalpel’s moving blade. He scraped harder again, and even dug the blade’s tip into the substance.
Like previously, Lang could hear the sound of the scraping, even the digging, but the sound was peculiar, almost fake.
After a few more minutes Dr. Bohanek told Peggy to bring the square glass with its sample to the table. They carefully lifted the table back to the tent’s yellow wall. Once the table was secure on the uneven floor, Dr. Bohanek removed a microscope and a laptop from the suitcase. He plugged in the microscope to an extension cord, at the tent floor’s bottom, next to the wall. So maybe one of those trucks out there had a generator? And now it made sense why he and Peggy needed the table by the wall once again.
Evan pointed to Peggy’s back. “Dad, what is that black cylinder thing tied to her suit?”
Peggy turned around. “That’s so we can breathe inside this suit,” she said quickly, before Lang could say anything. “Filters our air. Keeps us from suffocating.”
“Cool,” Evan said. “And I guess we have some sort of invisible version around us.”
“Good observation, kiddo,” Dr. Bohanek said. “And you’re probably right.”
Without really thinking, Lang drew in a deep breath once more. And again, the air was fresh, though slightly marred by exhaust, and lung-filling. He shrugged to himself, and shook his head, puzzled.
“What’s wrong, Dad?”
“I just don’t see how we could be getting all this air now.”
Peggy walked away from Dr. Bohanek and stood between Lang and Evan. She placed her gloved-covered hands on her hips. “It’s like you’re here,” she said, “but somewhere else.”
Evan lowered his PSP to his lap, the encasing material accommodating by moving its domed area lower. “Hey. Maybe you’re right.” He stared at Peggy. “We’re out of sync with time, so God is keeping us in another dimension. So maybe we’re surrounded by lots of air, but we just don’t know it.”
Lang smiled. “Could be, Evan.”
Peggy smiled too. “My. You are a bright young man.” She stepped closer to him. “My eight year old grandson loves his PSP too. And you can see it with no problem?”
“Yes. Like Dad and I discussed. We don’t even notice the part in front of our faces. We can’t even see it really. And so I’m just looking through the layer over my PSP. It’s like thick plastic or something, but doesn’t distort things. And that’s weird.”
Dr. Bohanek nodded. “Yes it is, Evan. Same as we can all hear each other like nothing is around you two.”
“You’re right,” Lang said, and he looked at Evan. “Our breathing, sight, and sound…they’re all like before.”
Evan lifted his PSP closer to his chest. “Yes! Touch down again!”
“He really loves playing Madden NFL,” Lang said, smiling at Evan.
“I can see that,” Peggy said. “And I see Evan is quite the Eagles fan.” She was eying Evan’s reddish-brown Park River jacket, mainly focusing on the Eagles emblem by his left shoulder.
“Probably next year I’ll have him join,” Lang said. “It’s been rather…rather hectic this year.”
“Peggy.” Dr. Bohanek spoke urgently. “I need your help.”
Peggy didn’t respond to Lang and rushed back to Dr. Bohanek, her legs making even more noise than previously. Dr. Bohanek was handling test tubes and his hands moved quickly, shakily. He seemed frustrated. What was wrong now?
Lang inhaled deeply and tried to stay calm. But at least Evan was caught up in the game, not really noticing Dr. Bohanek and Peggy much.
Dr. Bohanek walked back to Lang. He was carrying some sort of instrument. “I’ll have to take a gander at your Madden NFL.” He gave Evan a brief glance. “And glad you can move your PSP around under there with no problem.”
“Yeah. I know what you mean. And sure, you can watch me play. It’s a really fun game.” He looked up briefly but then went right back to playing.
Lang ignored the HAZMAT shield and stared into Dr. Bohanek’s blue eyes. “There’s another thing too,” Lang said quietly. He looked down at the mattress, away from the encasing material around his right side. “Evan. And me. We’re not depressing the mattress. It’s like we have no weight now.”
Dr. Bohanek forced a trembling, flimsy smile. “We’ll get to that too. I think the problem with the microscope is I really didn’t remove a large enough sample.”
“You couldn’t see anything?”
“No.” Dr. Bohanek held up the instrument. “This is a hot knife.”
Lang eyed it. One end of the instrument had an inch wide metal circle, sort of like a small ice cream scoop with a large hole in its center. The rest of the device was a plastic handle-like part with an electric cord jutting out the other end. “That’s like no hot knife I’ve ever seen.”
Dr. Bohanek smiled again, this time more sincerely, calmly. “You’ll not feel anything of course. I’ll be very careful. Your right arm again, please.”
Once Lang held out his arm, Dr. Bohanek flicked the hot knife back some and then plunged the circular blade into the encasing substance on the side of Lang’s arm, ready to burn away a good scoop of the stuff. Lang couldn’t wait; on the one hand, Evan’s thought, that this was God correcting a time problem, presented awe and wonder. Yet on the other, he wanted this off him and Evan ASAP.
The circular blade sank readily into the encasing substance. Dr. Bohanek continued digging the blade around until he lifted it out. But it didn’t look the same; the hot knife’s circular blade was completely gone. Lang blinked several times, sharpening his vision. He stared down at the spot where the circular blade entered, just above his right wrist. Not a trace of the circular blade could be seen, by his wrist or in the encasing substance. He looked at Dr. Bohanek. “What just happened?”
“Very odd.” Dr. Bohanek held the white, plastic stub in front of his shield-covered face. “I’ve never seen a knife melt like that before. Maybe the current is too strong.”
“Or maybe you shouldn’t be trying to cut it?” Evan asked, placing the PSP on his lap, his attention now on Dr. Bohanek.
“Our goal is to remove the unknown material from around you and your Dad and set both of you free.” Dr. Bohanek walked over to the black case and he and Peggy began rummaging through it. “Besides. I’m sure it’s a heck of a lot easier to play your PSP with it off, right?” He glanced back and gave Evan a quick smile.
“You guys aren’t going to be able to do anything.”
“Evan,” Lang said. “Please. We need to be positive. Don’t say that.”
Evan flung his arms outward and the encasing substance immediately formed arm sleeves again. “Why else would the Air Force be coming here?”
“To help us.” Lang suddenly found himself trembling once more.
Evan noticed, and then picked up his PSP, pressing the buttons more vigorously than usual.
Dr. Bohanek trudged back, carrying a small, hand-held cordless drill with a bit resembling a miniature circular saw blade. “Lang. Have you and Evan tried touching again? And could you?”
“We tried, before you came in here, but the repulsion is still there.” Lang took in a shaky breath, trying to subdue his trembling. But he shook even more. “Dr. Bohanek. W-what is…what is this stuff? Have you ever…ever s-seen anything like this before?”
“No, I have not, Lang. But let’s just focus on removing it.” Frustration mingled in his tone. He looked at Peggy. “Second attempt.”
She picked up the tablet off the table and entered the needed input.
“Are you all right Lang?” Dr. Bohanek stood before Lang, eying him carefully. “Are you breathing okay?”
Lang took in a deep breath. Air flow was absolutely plentiful. “Yes. My…my breathing is fine. Just…just nervous, I guess.”
But no, this needed to stop! He needed to be strong for Evan.
“Same with you, Evan?” Dr. Bohanek asked, lifting Lang’s right arm, readying the drill.
Lang looked at Evan. It was obvious; Evan’s obsessive game playing was masking his fears and worries. He didn’t even look up. “Yes. Same as my dad.”
“Good.” Dr. Bohanek nodded slightly. “Let’s get this done, Lang.” He turned on the cordless drill, so the tiny circular blade, probably only a quarter inch in diameter, spun like a very fast mini race car wheel. He lowered the spinning blade to the encasing substance near Lang’s wrist until it screeched on contact like a dentist’s drill.
Instantly, the screeching ceased and the spinning blade disappeared. Lang drew closer, blinking, squinting, but his eyes weren’t lying; only the drill’s stub remained.
“Well I’ll be damn,” Dr. Bohanek said. “Either this stuff is incredibly hard, or I’m having some very bad luck.”
“It took the entire blade off?” Lang looked everywhere around the encasing substance by his wrist, but he couldn’t see one speck of a trace of the blade. “But if this stuff is so hard, why weren’t there any sparks?”
“I don’t know. Let me get a much larger blade. That should do the trick.” Dr. Bohanek went back to the black case.
“Evan, maybe you shouldn’t be walking around yet,” Peggy said.
Lang looked at Evan. He had slipped off the bed, much to Peggy’s protest, and was walking over, his motion fluid, easy. He held the PSP in his right hand, the encasing substance surrounding his hand and PSP in one larger hand compartment.
Curious, Lang held out his left hand. He spread his fingers open. The encasing substance couldn’t go between his fingers; it only made one large transparent mitten around his hand.
“Dad.” Evan now stood about a foot away. “It won’t form around our fingers. I already tried.”
Lang eyed Evan’s face beneath the transparent substance. The view was clear, not bended, not warped, like they had checked earlier. Yet, how? But it didn’t matter now. Evan appeared calm, though worried. “Are you okay?”
“I’m all right.” Evan swallowed yet still gave off a calm front. “I can stand and walk fine. Nothing seems wrong.”
“You sure, kiddo?” Dr. Bohanek stood before Lang again. “Arm, please.”
Lang held out his right arm once more.
“Yeah, I’m sure,” Evan answered.
Dr. Bohanek had the same cordless drill but with a larger saw drill bit, about an inch in diameter and with numerous teeth along its circumference. “Peggy, third attempt.” He turned it on and lowered the whirling blade upon the transparent substance just to the right of Lang’s wrist.
Lang watched closely. The blade made contact, but that screeching drill noise stopped abruptly; in a strange whip of motion, the entire drill device, whirling blade and all, plunged into the encasing substance, leaving Dr. Bohanek’s gloved-covered hand in an empty grasping position.
Dr. Bohanek jolted back away from Lang.
Lang raised his encased arm closer, his hand trembling beneath. He couldn’t see one trace of the drill device anywhere. “Oh my God…oh my God.”
“Holy wow Dad! It’s like a portal!”
Lang’s breathing increased. “I don’t see any of it anywhere!”
Regaining his composure, Dr. Bohanek stepped back. “Lang. Are you…all right?” He was breathing harder too.
“Yes. I’m…I’m fine. Where did it go?”
“It couldn’t…have disappeared…into the material. It has to be an illusion.” Dr. Bohanek looked toward the floor and then stared down at his glove-covered hands. He took hold of Lang’s encased arm and stared around Lang’s wrist and along the length of Lang’s arm. “Peggy. Help me find the drill.”
Peggy searched below the bed and underneath the table. She searched all around the floor. She searched on top of both beds, around Lang and Evan and in other areas in the tent. She even looked up at the ceiling. She finally stopped. “I don’t see it anywhere.”
Dr. Bohanek turned to face her. “Get the chief of command. Hurry.”