Dr. Mackland Luther is a man driven to find answers, no matter the cost. As lead scientist on the Frameway project, he tries to solve the mysteries linking unlimited energy and quantum physics, and he is making
But one step too far down the wrong path can be disastrous, and now an experiment gone terribly wrong has suddenly thrust Mack along with his friends and co-workers Billy and Sean, into a world populated by monsters from nightmares and mysterious individuals that could turn out to be friend or foe.
Now with time running out, Mack and the others must battle enemies on all sides, and find a way back to their world or risk being stranded
forever in another universe.
By E.M. McDowell
Copyright © 2013 by E.M. McDowellAll rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Mackland Luther shifted his grip. Wedging his fingers into a small fissure, he clung to the side of Blanca Peak and took a moment to look out over the Colorado landscape. The verdant green backdrop of the San Luis Valley in the distance contrasted the bright blue of Lake Como below. Mackland marveled at the variety of terrain visible from his perch. Grasslands, lake forests, tundra, and mountains all merged to create the spectacular vista before him. "Enough daydreaming, Mackland." He thought. "Focus or you'll become part of the pretty landscape." He turned his thoughts from the beautiful scenery to the sharp unyielding rock beneath his hands and feet. Swinging a hand up and over to a stone lip above him, he blinked away stone dust as it drifted down in small puffs, although he still got a good nose full with his next breath. The rock face here jutted outward from the vertical wall, forcing Mackland to pull himself up using only his arms and upper body, leaving his legs dangling in open space as he scaled the thirty-foot ledge. Ignoring the fact that his hands were now all that kept him from an abrupt and messy return to their base-camp below, he pulled himself along the rock shelf. His intense mental focus matched the visible strain of every muscle in his arms, chest, and shoulders as he pulled himself across the rock face. He shot a quick glance back towards his two fellow climbers, Sean Flannigan and Billy Roland, just below him. "Come on you slackers, step it up!" he cajoled the two younger men with a laugh. At thirty-eight, Mackland was not old by any means, but his two co-workers were both in their early twenties, so he felt the need to make sure they knew the "old" guy could still lead the pack. He knew it was a throwback to his Marine Corps days, where everything was a testosterone-fueled competition for superiority, but he couldn't help it; he simply thrived on competition and difficult challenges. It didn't matter if they were physical or mental; he had to win.
His friends responded with short barks of laughter punctuated by their next gasp for breath as they continued to climb. Billy piped up as he looked for his next foothold to get him to the overhang Mackland was pulling himself over. "I guess experience does count for something, if an old guy like you can stay ahead of young bucks like us." He groaned as he reached up for a handhold just out of reach, and with a grunt began to pull himself along. When he didn't say anything else, Mackland knew that Billy was struggling and focusing on his climb, since he typically didn't shut up for more than a few minutes at a time unless something forced him to.
Sean on the other hand, climbed as he did most things, with minimal communication or elaboration beyond an occasional grunt of exertion as he pulled himself along. Where Billy was outgoing and extroverted, always willing to crack a joke or tell a story, Sean was quietly focused and preferred to keep to himself unless others drew him into conversation. Their complimentary personalities are what Mackland liked best about his two friends. Ever since the accident that had taken Carla from him, they gave him a sense of balance he couldn't seem to find on his own.
Thinking of his friends brought a small grin to Mackland’s face. There was nobody he would rather have with him today than these two. It seemed that every adventure he could remember had one or both of them involved, and today was no different. The three men continued to climb toward the top of the rock face nearly fifty feet above them as the afternoon sun moved toward the west. The waning sunlight painted brilliant reds and golds across the rough canvas of the mountainside, throwing shadows across the boulders interspersed with scrub pines and sparse vegetation. Mackland pulled himself over the lip of stone at the summit, flopped down and took several deep breaths to gather himself after the strenuous climb. Billy was the next one up, and when his fingers thrust above the ledge, Mackland reached over to give him a hand up. Billy pulled himself up the last few feet with Mackland's help, and then sat down heavily to catch his breath.
“You think Sean is gonna make it?” Billy gasped with a grin.
Mackland looked over the ledge and saw his friend about six feet below him preparing to move to his next handhold.
Sean looked up, grinned at Mackland, and placed his fingers into the crack in the rock, but his expression suddenly changed as he shifted his weight and tried to pull himself up. He should have come up almost even with the shelf where Mackland and Billy waited, but instead the rock between his fingers broke away with a crack, and Mackland yelled out as he slowly fell away from the cliff face. Without a safety harness, he was facing a deadly plunge to the desert floor far below. His fingers scrabbled for any ridge, crack, or outcropping within reach, but Mackland knew it was too late. Flashes of the accident that took Carla threatened to crush him. "I can’t watch someone else I care about die!" He saw the realization in Sean's eyes as gravity pulled him out and away. Mackland’s heart raced as he watched his friend falling away from him, and he dove forward in a desperate attempt to save him.
Mackland grinned as the wind rushed over the windshield of the convertible, surrounding them in the smells of springtime in the Georgia Mountains. Glancing over at Carla’s blonde hair blowing wildly as she leaned back with a contented smile in the warm sunlight, he couldn’t help but smile at how lucky of a man he was.
He throttled back slightly so they could hear each other over the wind. Reaching over to put a hand on her knee, he shouted, “Hey beautiful, you wanna stop and stretch our legs pretty soon?” Not bothering to yell a response, Carla simply gave him a thumb-up and nod of agreement. Mackland began looking for somewhere they could pull over for a break, but he knew it would be awhile before they found something this far into the mountains.
So far, the trip had been everything he imagined, and he couldn’t wait to get to the cabin tonight. After two years of dating this fantastic woman, he wanted to make this something they would both remember forever. He glanced over at the woman he planned to spend the rest of his life with as he absently patted the pouch holding the ring in his pocket.
The steering wheel suddenly jerked violently to the right and Mackland snapped his gaze back to the road in time to see the shoulder had dropped away, catching the right front tire just as he was approaching the next curve. His split-second of inattention had caused him to miss the damaged road, and now he was fighting to bring the car back onto the asphalt as he tried to slow the vehicle without losing control further.
The right rear wheel dropped off the shoulder as he fought the steering wheel, further pushing the car toward the edge of the approaching curve. Whatever had damaged the shoulder had also destroyed any guardrails, and Mackland realized there was nothing to prevent them from going over the edge. Fear and adrenaline combined to rob Mackland’s fine motor control, and he slammed on the brakes, putting the car into a slide that carried them off the road completely.
The convertible tumbled countless times as it dropped down the mountain, alternating sky and trees in Mackland’s view before his head struck the door pillar and everything went dark.
* * *
Mackland woke to a crushing pressure across his chest and sharp pain in his head. He cracked open eyes caked with blood to check on Carla. The sun had dropped low in the sky, and although he couldn’t tell just how long he had been out, it had to have been at least an hour. The car tilted onto the passenger side, leaving Mackland hanging from the driver’s side seatbelt, which explained the pressure on his chest. He turned towards Carla— or tried to, as agony shot through his right arm at the movement. He glanced down to see the arm caught by the seatbelt and bent completely back at the elbow, with pieces of bone sticking through the skin. His eyes watered as the pain threatened to knock him out again, but he sucked in a deep breath and struggled to remain alert long enough to check on Carla.
As his vision cleared, he turned just his head towards Carla and the pain from his shattered arm disappeared as he fought for breath at the scene before him.
Either Carla had taken her seatbelt off, or there had been a mechanical failure, but Carla was no longer in the car next to him. The car was resting on a ledge, propped at an angle on a pine tree that had finally stopped the car’s fall. From his vantage point, Mackland was looking down to a clearing about fifty feet below the tilted car, and his heart stopped when he saw the yellow fabric of Carla’s sundress peeking out from the pile of rubble they had knocked loose as the car crashed down the mountain. “Carla!” he screamed, praying for any response, no matter how small. Birds singing and crickets chirping were the only response. He saw no movement and heard no sound from Carla so far below him. “Babe! I’m gonna get help! Stay with me!” he yelled.
Every movement was searing agony, but Mackland was finally able to get his cell phone out with his left hand, only to find what he had already guessed, they were out of any kind of cellular coverage. He tried to remain awake, but the combination of blood loss, pain from his broken arm, and hanging nearly upside down for so long pushed him towards unconsciousness. As he passed out, his last thought was that her yellow sundress looked like the sun, forming the center of his whole universe.
His chest slammed onto the ground and he shot his arm as far as he could towards Sean's outstretched hand. Their fingers locked, briefly halting Sean's fall, but Mackland was too far over the rim; the extra weight began pulling him over the edge. He yelled, "Billy! Grab my feet!" as he dug the toes of his hiking boots into the dirt, barely slowing his inevitable slide.
Hands grasped Mackland's ankles and Mackland looked back to see Billy throw himself backwards on his butt and dug in his heels. Between them, Mackland and Billy stopped the sliding and Sean swung back towards the mountain. Panting and straining with exertion, Mackland was able to work his way back a few inches with Billy's help. As soon as his center of gravity was back on solid ground, he and Billy were able to shift positions and begin pulling Sean up towards the relative safety of the ledge.
Sean dangled at the end of Mackland’s arm as they pulled him up and gasped, "I think I can get that one there," pointing his chin towards a fissure about two feet to his right side. Timing his next swing, he stretched his left hand towards the small crack in the rock. The movement increased the strain on Mackland's arms, causing him to wonder if his arm would simply pop free from his body before they got Sean to safety.
"Anytime you want to do your part would be great!" he ground out at Sean without loosening his grasp. Sean’s fingers found the edge of the fissure, and he pulled himself up, relieving the strain on his friends somewhat. A few minutes and several strained muscles later, Sean was able to pull himself over the lip and lay there gasping next to Mackland and Billy.
After catching his breath and slowing his racing heartbeat, Sean cleared his throat and looked at his friends. "That was pretty damn intense...I don't know what I would have done if you guys—"
Before he could finish, Mackland reached out and smacked Sean's shoulder and said "Hey, don't sweat it. That's what we do; we watch each other's backs, right?"
Billy choked as a laugh forced its way out between gasps for air. "Riiigghtt, we have each other's backs.” He pushed himself up on his elbows and looked at Mackland with one eyebrow quirked up. “You do realize we wouldn’t need to worry so much about our backs if you didn't drag us into all these crazy "adventures" of yours, don’t you?' He nudged Sean lying on the ground next to him. "Like our trip to go running with the bulls in Pamplona? My arm was in a cast for three weeks!" He held a hand out to Mackland as he got his feet under him, "I could do with a little less "adventure" sometimes, chief. I think our backs might be able to use the rest." His grin put the lie to his words as Mackland tugged him the rest of the way to his feet.
All three laughed and Mackland mumbled something about them being pansies. They took a few minutes to drink some water and collect themselves before beginning the descent to the canyon floor. If they were lucky, they would make it back down to the base-camp before nightfall. If they weren't lucky, they might have to spend the night on the mountainside. Mackland thought that would probably be just another "adventure" for the three of them to survive, together.