I was awoken late one night due to a consistent ringing sound very close to my left ear. While at first I swatted at my alarm clock, I soon realized that it was a Saturday night or Sunday morning. Floating higher into aware consciousness, I recognized the ringing as my phone. Curious at who would dare call at such an ungodly hour, I swiped my phone from my nightstand and held it up to my ear.
“Hello?” I mumbled sleepily.
No sooner had the words left my mouth, the person on the other end of the line began speaking rapidly, “Evan, it’s Trevor. Meet me. Now.”
“Trevor…? What’s going on?”
“I’m waiting at the diner on Sixth Street. Hurry, there isn’t much time.”
“Trevor, you’re scaring me. What’s going on?” I asked, before realizing that Trevor had hung up. I was a bit frightened at the call, but nevertheless, I found myself getting dressed and climbing into my car to go to the diner. I had seen the place before, it was a small family-owned business called “Iron Rock”.
A few minutes later, I pulled up to the diner. Through the windows, I could see a bored-looking woman behind the counter, two men sharing a meal, and Trevor, sitting and drinking from a coffee mug. His dark eyes were constantly watching out the diner window, and I could see them light up slightly when they finally spotted my car.
Climbing out, I could feel him watching my every move. I raised one hand in a wave before putting it back in my pocket to keep it warm from the chilly October night. I could hear sirens down the street, but there was a feeling of calm in the air. The moon and streetlights illuminated the night enough for me to find my way to the diner's front door, and I walked inside.
Inside the diner was completely different, being well-lit and warm. On an impulse, I unzipped my jacket. Trevor motioned me over to the table he had chosen. Once I sat down, a waitress hurried over to take my order. Deciding against coffee in these earlier hours, I ordered a small glass of water. Trevor stared at me, sizing me up, it felt like. I noticed that he was still making subtle glances out the window.
"So what was so important that you had to drag me out here so early?" I asked him, skipping a greeting to get to the point.
"This is about my work, Evan," Trevor began. Despite my quiet frustration with my friend, I was now curious. I knew that Trevor worked as a guard or janitor at a government research facility located close to the outskirts of town. Such a job piqued my interest, but Trevor never wanted to talk about it. He would only shake his head whenever I'd bring up his work and change the subject. If he had called me out of bed to talk about his job, I knew it must have been important.
"I have to tell somebody," he continued, "they're rounding up everybody who was involved with the project. Evan, I..."
He looked out the window, "I think they're coming for me."
"They were working on a project," he interrupted, talking quickly, "Project Alius. I was there during the whole thing, I watched them get closer to discovering the secrets of it!"
He anxiously began tapping his finger on the table as he continued to stare out the window, avoiding my gaze. A few awkward moments of silence went by, interrupted only when the waitress brought me a glass of water. I was no longer thirsty.
"Trevor, what was Project Alius? What happened?"
"It was something that was never to be spoken of," he answered, never meeting my eyes, "we took an oath never to speak of it. They had a... a thing locked up in there. They were researching it, said it could help humanity as easily as it could destroy it.
"I asked one of the scientists, 'Hey, what do you mean by destroy humanity?' and he told me that the creature 'could reduce an average person to ashes in less than a minute', that the creature was not of this world. He told me that they had found him in a small town someplace in... I don't know, Arizona maybe.
"The town was a farming community, Evan. Nobody knew it existed, there was only about... 50, 100 people living there. The creature had shown up around there, just... popped into existence, I guess..."
There was a pause.
"They're all dead, Evan," he whispered, meeting my eyes for the first time, "everybody in that town. Men, their wives, their kids... innocent people who lived the last moments of their lives in one of the worst nightmares imaginable. It was all because of Alius... and they still decided to take it alive."
I was beginning to worry for my own safety, and wondered if Trevor was a bit dangerous.
"During his first week at the labs, Alius incinerated one scientist," Trevor continued in a tired voice, "I remember running over there when he screamed. Alius had grabbed his arm and... and zapped him or something. I can't explain it, Evan. I just remember listening to him scream. H-he was so scared... it wasn't right. I know what a terrified grown man sounds like now, Evan, because of Alius. The scientist's feet began to burn and disintegrate, and then it slowly worked up his body until finally he was just a head. His eyes melted and evaporated into the air, his hair burned, and then he was gone."
I grimaced at the image Trevor had put in my mind. He put his elbows on the table and buried his face in his hands. When he put them down, I could see that Trevor was crying. The waitress didn't notice, and the two men were leaving.
"They kept it in some special containment room," Trevor sighed, "they monitored its vitals and tried to learn as much as they could about it. I think that the 'good uses for humanity' that they were talking about was for warfare. I can see that... no army in the world would be able to stand up to it. Can you imagine it? They kept that thing alive, risking the loss of millions of lives... just so it can take the lives they wanted it to."
Trevor chuckled a bit at this bit of dark humor. I kept silent. This was beginning to feel shady.
"Trevor..." I hesitated, "Why are you telling me this?"
"I told you," he replied, "I think they're coming for me. Something went wrong at the lab... something involving Alius. Scientists and guards were being rounded up, everybody who was keeping on eye on the Alius Project. I was one of them. Alarms went off, and I just panicked. I got out of there, ran through the halls. At one point, there was another guard who tried to stop me. He pointed his gun and yelled 'Freeze!'. I didn't listen, instead I went through a door and found myself in an empty lab room. Outside, I heard him shoot his gun. The bullet hit the door frame where I had been. He shot at me, Evan. The guy shot at me..."
I began to think Trevor was just rambling, but he didn’t seem to notice my reluctance.
Trevor shook his head in disbelief, "I closed the door and locked it. Lucky for me that it was some giant metal door. Those things could hold back explosions. Outside the door, I thought that the guard was going to try to chase me, but then I heard him scream. He shot his gun three more times, and then I heard a loud crunching sound and he stopped shooting. I heard loud footsteps outside, and then something slammed against the door to the lab I was in. The door almost broke open right there, and I felt my heart stop. I started pushing desks and chairs against the door to try to barricade myself in, but it wasn't working. That thing was still getting in. I thought for sure that I was a goner, and then I heard someone yelling. There were more loud gunshots, and then whatever was outside left to chase whoever had yelled. I waited for a few minutes, and then slowly took down the barricade. I opened the door, and peeked outside. The hallway was empty, the lights were flickering... it was a mess. The lab looked like a hurricane had blown through. I raced to the parking lot and climbed into my car. That's when I called you and... here we are."
"It sounds like something went very wrong."
"It did... its name was Alius," he sighed, standing up, "l-look, I feel like we're being watched. I'm going home."
"Yeah, you look like you could use some sleep," I remarked.
"Come on by tomorrow, alright?" he said, "Knock six times on the door... I-I'll see you then."
"Yeah... alright..." I agreed, shaking his hand. I started toward the door, pulling my jacket on as I went. I had my hand on the door when Trevor stopped me.
I turned around. He stood there, staring at me. A dark shadow fell over his face.
"Be careful, okay? And be weary of cars parked outside your house."
I wasn't sure how to respond to that, so I did an awkward nod in his direction before hurrying out of the diner. Just to be safe, I took a winding path home with lots of turns. For a while, I thought there might have been a car following me, but it was probably just my imagination.
The following day on the way home from work, I decided to stop by Trevor's apartment, just to see if his paranoia had stopped. I found my way to his door and, hoping he'd be calm when he answered the door, knocked three times. No answer. I knocked three more times, remembering he had asked me to knock six times.
Still no answer.
I tried the doorknob, only to find that it was unlocked. Closer inspection saw that the doorknob had been broken, as though someone had forced their way inside. I slowly opened the door and cautiously peeked into Trevor's messy apartment. Clothing littered the floor around a small suitcase, as if Trevor had been trying to get packed quickly. There was a faint buzzing sound from under a shirt.
"Trevor?" I called out. I waited a few seconds, and then tried again, "Trevor? You in here?"
The buzzing sound was getting annoying, so I scooped up the shirt to reveal a small radio underneath it. Picking up the radio and dropping the shirt, I noticed the name of Trevor's workplace on the back of the radio. On the front was a speaker, microphone, and dials. Being unfamiliar with radios, I tried a few to see if anything would happen.
Slowly, a small voice came through the static when I twisted one of the dials. I kept twisting, and the voice became clearer until no static remained. I listened to what the voice said, and let the radio drop out of my hand as I stood there, stunned and frightened. I thought about everything that Trevor had said the previous night, and I became even more frightened.
The radio was a robotic voice, repeating the same message over and over again.
Project Alius has escaped.
Project Alius has escaped.
Project Alius has escaped.