Strange events occur in and around the area of Covefax, Virginia.
If you ever wanted to experience an extensive rush of adrenaline, Clay Reynolds would have suggested that you steal a car. Where others may embrace hobbies such as biking or skiing, Clay might scoff and break into their garage, transforming their means of transportation into yet another prize on the shelf of his ego. He was quite convinced that there were a number of things that separated him from one of those common troublemakers, including but not limited to: an inquisitive mind, adaptive nature, and years of honed skill. Now, he may never admit it to any of us, but Clay used this distortive mental framework, like many criminals, to create a sense of justification. With justification, there was no guilt, allowing Clay to be blind to the distinct difference between grand theft auto and skiing that would be painfully obvious on any reasonable moral compass.
That’s why, as Clay accelerated dozens of miles over the speed limit in his newly acquired Honda Accord, he did so with a crystal clear conscience. Mother Nature wasn’t in the greatest mood, but it had no effect on Clay’s. He had always greatly enjoyed the sound of soft rains and the serenity embedded in its characteristics, which also contained a hint of personal nostalgia. He used to have a family, as much as he tried to forget. Clay would often remember pulling his bed covers up to his nose when he was a kid. He would always attempt to focus his hearing upon the melody of the rain’s pitter patter on his little window, while blocking out the two, raucous voices in the other part of the house. That pitter patter had potentially saved his sanity from years and years of indirect verbal abuse.
Clay hardly had an idea of where he was going, and hardly ever did after procuring a new addition to his collection. While he was proud of the tallied total he had come to reach over years of perfecting his craft, the only thing of value to Clay was the thrill itself, which he reveled in as he continued his journey down the slick, wet road to nowhere. The radio was off and Clay was relaxed, riding the high and staring intently at the straight road in front of him. Occasionally, he would glance off to the side and momentarily look at the trees and brush, slightly intrigued by the dark shapes the branches created when they moved in the wind and light, as if it were his own private shadow puppet show.
After a few more miles, he noticed a structure off to his right. In front of him, the headlights shone upon an old, rocky driveway that led into a parking lot that had not stood well against the test of time. The building itself was of moderate size but, at the moment, Clay could only notice the dim light gleaming within the interior and through the front windows. Above the windows and the main entrance, Clay thought he could read the word “General” painted crudely, by hand, on the paneling. He didn’t put much effort into inspecting further, as the aged general store would soon become a blur in the memory of an impassioned thrill. Instead, he diverted his attention to the pavement in front of him, already premeditating the complex execution involved in his next inevitable act of thievery.
It wasn’t long before Clay noticed a pattern in the trees that he had already seen before, a few miles back. He thought nothing of it at first, until he noticed another structure further down the road, which was also off to his right. This building also contained the same dim lighting that he had already seen. Confused, Clay attempted to spot the “General’’ sign to confirm that it was, indeed, the general store he had already passed. His eyes didn’t have enough time to focus, however, and Clay sped past thinking that it was probably just a neighboring business. That is, until he saw the pattern of trees, yet again. Shortly after, Clay sped past an identical general store, this time spotting the poorly made sign that decorated the front of the establishment. This happened a third time. Then a fourth. A fifth.
Irritated, Clay slowed the car down and began to scan the sides of the street, looking for any sort of dirt road or turn-off that he may have been missing. However, between the thick, looming darkness and the rain coming to a pour, it was practically impossible to spot anything that lay outside the radius of the Accord’s headlights. Irritation grew to frustration before Clay finally decided to stop at the store and ask for directions. Hell, he didn’t even know if the place was open. Nevertheless, on his seventh trip around, Clay eased the car into the general store’s parking lot, coming to a stop right in front of the entrance. Although he was much closer to the store itself, he still could not make out much of the interior.
The rain continued to fall heavily outside, as Clay sat in the car, biting his lip and debating how to go about the situation. Being lost wasn’t unfamiliar or scary to Clay, as he had done nothing but wander for most of his life, stealing cars and living in them. Being stuck, however, was an entirely different beast. Shifting his vision, he squinted at the front door and saw a very small sign that read “Open”. Relieved, he hopped out of the car quickly and jogged a few steps up to the door in an attempt to avoid the downpour. Once there, he pushed the door open and stepped inside, eager to begin the process of finding his way back onto the open road.
As Clay stood in the doorway, he saw that everything to his right would have been typical of any generic small town convenience store, except for the fact that those things were mostly destroyed. Shelves and racks were cracked, broken, and toppled over onto one another, old cans and bottles were sprawled about, and the place smelled like rot. Rain was leaking steadily into the building, serving as a catalyst for production of even more deterioration. In the back, he could see where coolers may have lined the wall. However, the doors had been knocked off their hinges and shattered, indicating that the floor in that area was probably littered with sharp shards of glass. What Clay saw to his left, though, far outweighed the sheer devastation and trauma the store seemed to have experienced.
He first noticed the counter, which matched the rest of the store with its horrible condition and rundown stature. However, it seated a working electronic cash register that appeared to be manned by a metallic humanoid figure. It was staring at him through small eyes that were both backlit by two tiny, but powerful, light bulbs. Clay gazed back in complete surprise, as he realized that that pair of expressionless eyes had been the source of the dim light he had seen from the road. Below the figure’s head, there appeared to be the continuation of a steel chassis, which produced the visual of an anatomy similar to shoulders and a torso. Clay also caught a glimpse of its’ arms and hands from where he was standing, and accepted, denied, and then accepted again that what he was seeing was some kind of robot.
There was also a man behind the counter, standing next to the intimidating machine. He was bald and remarkably skinny, and didn’t look like he had eaten in a very long time. From what Clay could tell, the man was wearing nothing but overalls, and he couldn’t help but notice how defined his collar bone was, even in the darkness. His body was sickeningly frail. The man’s face, while wrinkled and old, did not look tired or exhausted. On the contrary, he held a very blank expression and made absolutely no movements.
There were a few moments of uneasiness in which Clay pondered over his well-being and the outcome of this incredibly strange scenario he had driven into. He was locked in their unforgiving gaze, while the typhoon whirled around outside, setting the rhythm and tempo of this extraordinary encounter in which the seals of various realities seemed to overlap. After Clay’s mind had become even remotely grounded once again, he managed to mutter a single word.
Neither of them provided Clay with the relief of hearing any sort of response. However, Clay wasn’t interested in allowing the one-sided conversation to end before it had hardly even began, only to sink back into a passive state in which both parties waited for the other to make the first move or fulfill social conventions. So, Clay continued, while cautiously, but steadily, approaching the front of the counter.
“I was wondering if you guys could help me out. I think I’m a little lost, do you know where I could reach the highway fro-“
He was interrupted by the frail man, still staring at him with unrelenting eyes.
“Relative location sensors report grid coordinates as ‘STAR 13 19 30 -10 50 88’, the city of Covefax. Established, 1897.”
Dumbfounded at the statement, Clay’s jaw slightly dropped upon hearing the man. His confidence and intentions were momentarily derailed by the bizarre sentiment. While struggling to construct a reply, he looked to the left of the man and saw that the robot was looking down to the floor, shaking his head while displaying a disturbed demeanor. The machine looked regretful, filled with contempt even.
“This little town is nice and all, but uh, I’ve got other places to be, you know?” Clay chuckled, trying to play it business as usual.
Without hesitation, the man processed Clay’s sentence and deftly determined his answer.
“I am not programmed or authorized to provide tourists with information regarding Covefax’s geographical features, landmarks, or anomalies. I exist only to serve as the keeper of the Perennial Loop.”
Upon sorting out what was just said to him, Clay placed his hands on the counter and sighed, looking down and closing his eyes. He had to hold back from laughing at this ridiculous set of events. He was wasting time, and this clown in front of him thought it’d be more entertaining to play a joke on him than to actually help. It was immensely frustrating. As Clay pulled his head back up to look the man in the eye, he saw the robot in his peripheral vision. It was standing in a nearby corner with its’ back to the two men. The upper body of the metallic frame was slightly bobbing up and down, as if the machine was sobbing.
“Look, cut the crap, guy. It might be funny to you, but I need some help getting out of here, alright? I don’t really care what you and your buddy HAL 9000 over there do, or why you enjoy talking like a speak n’ spell, but I need to be gone, sayonara, bon voyage. Do not mess with me.” Clay firmly stated. He was proud that he was exercising assertion, now the guy would know that he wasn’t in the mood to kid around.
Nevertheless, for a few moments, the man said nothing and continued to look at Clay. The machine was still in the corner unleashing unheard sorrow. Taken aback at the fact that no solution was being reached, Clay’s stomach tightened, and as he was about to explode into another rant, the frail man cut the air.
“No results in database for term “speak and spell”. That man is not named HAL 9000. That man is named Clark Cooper. He is my creator. Abathon brought him to Covefax and, therefore, I exist. Praise Abathon.”
As soon as that last word escaped the man’s lips, the machine pounced from the corner, turning around to face the counter once more. The robot locked eyes with Clay for a brief moment, just as he was jolting backwards in surprise of the humanoid’s sudden and remarkably fluid movement. Suddenly, the machine named Clark Cooper proceeded to slam its face repeatedly into the counter. As the chunk of steel connected with the thick surface, harsh sound erupted throughout the general store. Clay covered his ears and watched in horror as the machine rose up, one of its eyes still properly lit, while the other was merely hanging out of the socket by an old wire or two. Its jaw had been crushed, bent and completely disconnected from one side. The entirety of the metal piece dangled off of its cheek. Before Clay could notice anything else, the robot resumed its violent behavior, picking up such enormous speed upon each individual impact that shrapnel began flying in every direction, even when the machine was simply posturing back up after another devastating collision. Clay threw his hands up to guard his face, however, the frail man did nothing but maintain his gaze upon him. Still expressionless, the aeronautic steel would often find its’ way to the man’s face, cutting and slicing open the skin in various locations.
The last slam was probably the loudest. It took the longest to fade, as well. Clay’s ears were ringing and, as he slowly lowered his arms back down to his sides, he saw that Clark Cooper’s metal frame was slumped over the counter. The general store had become much darker now that the dim light was gone. The head that housed those distinct bulbs was nothing more than an annihilated mass of steel now. Clay realized he hadn’t taken a breath in quite a while, so he did, and shifted his eyes back to the man.
He choked when he saw that the man’s face was horribly scarred. Blood seeped from every single cut the sharp metal pieces had made during Clark’s irate frenzy. Yet, the man still made no movements, let out no shrieks of pain, nor did he ever take his eyes off of Clay.
“What in god’s name was that?! Who is Abathon?!?!” Clay exclaimed, wanting answers, needing answers so that he would know what to do. He missed the thrill. He missed keeping count of his collection and the excitement that came along with not knowing what was going to come next. In that moment, he even missed listening to the pitter patter of the rain, hiding in his bed in that hellhole he had once called a home. All of that was back when the world made sense but, right now, absolutely nothing made sense.
“Access to confidential information requires administrator privileges. Please state the password to continue.” the man explained, speaking through his crimson mask.
As the hopelessness of the situation began to sink in, Clay slowly lost his capability to continue the conversation. He had no desire to. Fight or flight was starting to kick in, and Clay rushed to the door, never looking back. His momentum cracked most of the door and it flew off of its hinges, Clay so surprised that he tripped and closed his eyes, falling forward into the rain and ruined parking lot. He thought that he may have scuffed his arm during the fall, but it hardly fazed him. In desperation, he crawled in the direction that he thought the Accord was in. The night was frighteningly dark now, to the point that Clay could literally not see. While his fear rose to panic, he quickly glanced back at the store in an attempt to use it as a frame of reference to find his car. It wasn’t there.
In fact, nothing was there. He still felt the stone of the parking lot beneath him and the rain falling from above; however, Clay was completely swallowed in darkness. He continued to crawl, feeling out for something, anything that would give him any sort of idea of where he was. He had the surface of the parking lot to guide him, but that was it.
Too afraid to stand and walk, Clay crawled for what felt like miles. The rain continued to soak him and his clothes began to feel heavier and heavier, weighing him down as he clawed desperately for an exit. The rock had dug into his palms and, although he couldn’t see it, he could feel his blood mixing with the falling rain. Even with the distance he had covered, he still felt the same, stony surface beneath him. Coming in, Clay had seen that the parking lot in front of the store had been awfully small, there’s no way he could have been crawling around in it for this long. He was still in Covefax, but it had utterly enveloped him.
Clay broke down as he tried to accept that he was stuck in a nightmare on loop. He couldn’t. He knew that there was a way out, even if the man wouldn’t help him.
The machine had shown him the way.
Remaining on all fours, Clay raised his neck up as far as he could, before quickly pulling away his arms to create leverage and force. His face slammed into the cracked foundation of the general store’s parking lot, breaking his nose and severely cutting its’ bridge.
Although the pain soared through his body, Clay was committed. The second blow knocked out two of his teeth, shattered most of his jaw, and tore his upper lip in half. The third gravely impaired his vision, although Clay couldn’t realize it in the darkness. The fourth dismantled both eye sockets and completely caved in the structure of his nose.
This went on until Clay’s face looked identical to the man’s in the store. He was on the verge of losing consciousness, but had enough power left in him for one last hoorah. He raised up a final time, his face aching, paralyzed with sheer agony, his blood leaking from his nose and ears all the way down to the stony parking lot that would take him away from this place.
It made a sound.
Pit pat. Pit pat.