Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 22: "The" Absence

by Jeff Rand

"What can we do now?" said Roger Horn, as he leaned against a large Pinus strobus.

"I am not sure. But, there is more at stake than just our future here at Winter Camp. We must find out was has happened," responded Doug Wilson.

Wilson and Horn had chosen to rendezvous at this spot to assess fully their current situation, and certain they were that no one else would find this obscure location called "Big Pine." So much had happened in recent hours, that they both sought some way to cope with such madness now prevailing upon Winter Camp. Their Winter Camp world had been shattered. Although something of Winter Camp still remained, these two veterans now felt isolated from their fellows.

In his usual methodical manner, Doug sought to analyze their situation relative to other humans, "Let me categorize our situation," he began. "Several of our members are gone. First we know that John Howey is for all practical purposes no longer alive. Then Dave Milon left after his own mishap and Steve and Jeff departed to find him. We've heard nothing from them in over two days. Even their satcoms don't respond. Either something real bad has happened or they have chosen not to return. Unfortunately, as I play it through my mind, I can not think of any logical reason where they would miss a night of winter camp. It makes one tend to conclude that some harm has come their way."

"Let's try to keep an open mind about it," interrupted Roger.

"I am. Now consider more recent events. We had a very trying morning, with two outsiders killed right here at D-A. Certainly it shook us all, and you would have expected Winter Camp to end at that point and each participant to return home. But curiously, nothing came of it and all remained until hours later, when we found four more campers missing. No one knows what happened to Bob, Tom, Ron and Alan. I can't believe my own son would leave with no explanation."

"What now remains is a totally splintered group. Our youth have harbored themselves in Clearwater's basement, seeming to want to escape whatever reality that now exists. Dave Woods and Lou Pezet have convinced most others that Winter Camp is being invaded and they must prepare to defend it. I really question their state of mind. And Mark Bollman has truly isolated himself in our museum, as if he seeks escape in a self-absorbing past. I think that accounts for everyone, except Belmont and Mr. Oatley, of course."

"Winter Camp will end tomorrow," said Roger. "Perhaps we should just return to our homes."

"Easy to say when your family is all accounted for."

"Doug, I don't mean to suggest that we don't act. I'm just not sure that it makes sense to keep this group together. There is something very wrong with Winter Camp."

"No, I don't think our real problem is Winter Camp. While we've long been absorbed in our self-importance, Winter Camp is just not that significant. For whatever reason we are caught in something that extends well beyond camp and I believe that one of our campers is largely responsible."

"What, you mean there is maniac in our midst?" asked Roger.

"Oh, perhaps several," said Doug somewhat jokingly. "I think Dr. Belmont has not been fully truthful. I can say that at first I was overjoyed to see Mr. Oatley again. But as I think about him, it just seems impossible that he could be alive."

"I'm not sure either, but how could Mr. Oatley be so convincing? Didn't he recall something that happened long ago that verified his authenticity?" asked Roger.

"It would seem so, unless..." Doug suddenly paused mid sentence, as if overcome by his own thoughts.

"Unless, what?" asked Roger.

"Unless, it is matter of telepathy. I can't help but think that we believe it because Belmont wants us to believe it."

"You mean Mick is some kind of spy out to destroy Winter Camp?"

"As I've said, I don't believe it has anything to do with Winter Camp. However, there is something he is after and he will stop at nothing to get it!" said Doug, as he further frightened himself by saying these words. "Perhaps he is really after Ron."

"Ron?"

"Yes. It makes sense. Aren't most spies connected with embassy staffs?"

"Doug I'm not sure what reason we would have to spy on Canadians."

"Roger, I hope I can trust you. I don't know where else to turn. I brought you to this obscure place to divulge a secret."

"You know I will not break your trust."

"I don't believe that Ron's title "Beast" is without merit."

"You're crazy!" said Roger.

"Please hear me out. You heard Dave Milon's ranting just before his accident. You of all people must have recognized this text."

"It sounded Greek to me," responded Roger.

"Actually it was Greek. He was quoting from "Revelation" using original text. He proclaimed "A day of reckoning for those who committed fornication with a great harlot!"

"So you believe that Ron was actually spawned of Satan?" inquired Roger.

"That would be too easy. No, I believe Ron actually represents an earthly power. He represents a uninterrupted monarchy spanning 2,000 years."

"Well, if memory serves right, Christ was crucified almost exactly 2,000 years ago. So do you speak of God's kingdom?"

Doug responded, "I speak of a dynasty established by Christ's beloved disciple, Peter. I believe that Ron is actually a spy for our pope. I further believe that his brother and Jeff had previously discovered this fact. Perhaps, even Dave Milon knew something of it."

Doug continued, "Mr. Horn, Ron is not to be feared. It is Mick Belmont. You can't imagine such secrets as have been held though a succession of popes. But a pope alone is vulnerable. He needs agents abroad to maintain his secrets. Who would be less suspect than Ron Donohue? Somehow Belmont learned of Ron's identity and has established such an elaborate ruse to pry these thoughts from Ron's brain.

"Doug, where is any evidence?"

"You recall "Project Orion?"

"Yes, but I hadn't thought of it until it was spoken yesterday," said Roger. "I thought it was just another of Jeff's crazy ideas."

"It was an ultimate plan to protect Winter Camp from forces beyond our consciousness. Our strange visitor with a phony eye spoke of it. It was no coincidence. Project Orion is now in effect and it is time for us to act."

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