Sunday, 30 June 2013

The staff at the base made me stay in bed, even though I felt a lot better. They took my blood, and injected something into my arm. I asked what was going to happen to me, but I only saw medical staff, and they didn't know much. One doctor told me someone was coming to speak to me tomorrow. He waited until the nurse had left the room, and then whispered that, whatever happened, I wouldn't be going back to the station.

This is a real blow. I don't know why Ludwig gave me a pill to make me sick, or why I took it. I suppose I was just caught up in the excitement of discovery. It looks like my adventure is over now, unless I can persuade whoever comes to see me tomorrow that I wasn't sick from the mal, but from a pill given to me by another researcher. It doesn't sound convincing. It sounds like a lie concocted by someone desperate not to go home.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

I'm too tired to write much. I woke up in the night with terrible stomach pains and sickness. Val and Ludwig called in an emergency medical evacuation. I'm in a bed at the military base. I feel better now, washed out and tired, but not nearly as sick. I don't know what happens now.

It must have been the pill. The Sick Land hasn't made me this ill for months.

Friday, 28 June 2013

I decided we would show Ludwig the cave. He doesn't seem to have any bad effects from exposure to The Sick Land, and I'd like to get some idea of how strong his resistance is. We drove out to the cave, and all three of us went in. It was a breach of protocol, but no harm was done.

The cave seemed undisturbed. Ludwig was fascinated, taking photos and making notes. We carried armfuls of stuff from the cave and into the Jeeps. I was standing staring into the darkness when Ludwig came up behind me. He asked me if I wanted to explore the cave. I said I did, but I knew it wasn't safe. I told him I wanted to know how deep the cave went, whether there was anything living in the depths. He nodded his head and said he felt it too, the need to know. He said he thought we would work well together. I said we were getting on well, but I got the impression that wasn't what he meant.

Val came in, and said we ought to get going. She seemed mildly peeved that we were standing at the edge of the cave instead of helping her. When she left, I started to turn, but Ludwig grabbed my arm and told me to wait. He reached into his pocket and passed me a small, silver square. It was a packaged pill. He told me that if I really needed to know, I should take the pill tonight, just before bed. If I decided I didn't, I should give it back to him. I asked him what it was, but he just shook his head and said I should take the pill if I wanted to know.

I want to know. I've taken the pill.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Ludwig appeared this morning, and asked if we could go out into the Yellow Zone. I asked him if he felt okay; he said he was fine. He's eager to get out and start exploring. He said he'd been okay yesterday, that it was nothing he couldn't handle. On one hand, it's great to have someone so enthusiastic and resourceful on the team. On the other, his reaction to The Sick Land is very different from others I've seen. Different to my own early reaction, too.

We went out, past where we'd gotten before, and into the Yellow proper. Ludwig showed no signs of any ill effects. Maybe there is something in the theory of strong, early exposure. We only went back because Val wasn't feeling too well.

Back at the station, Ludwig suggested that we should start searching for Victoria. Now that he's acclimatised, we've got three reliable researchers. I agreed, because he presented the idea so enthusiastically, but I still have some misgivings. I don't even know what we do if we find it. Surely it's too dangerous to explore?

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Ludwig stayed in his room all day. I guess he wasn't feeling well. When we discussed it before, he said he wanted to be exposed as frequently as possible to build up his resistance; I wonder whether he'll still think that now he knows what exposure feels like.

Val and I had a chat about recent events. She asked me if I thought the drawing she'd found was something to do with Howard Phillips. I said I thought it was. She thinks the symbol on the paper is one of Phillips's attempts to take down the carvings from the stone block in the cavern. I agreed with her that it's a possible explanation, but I shared my view that Phillips might have fabricated the whole thing. I could tell she didn't agree with me. She asked if I knew what we had tracked. I said I didn't. She nodded, and said she was a little scared by what might be out there. I wanted to reassure her, but I couldn't. She's right to be scared.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Val and I took Ludwig out today. He rode in my Jeep and Val drove the spare. We'd agreed that we would go as far into The Sick Land as we could, stopping when Ludwig became too ill to continue. It was his idea to do it like that.

He made it much farther than I would have guessed. He said he was starting to feel sick when we got into the deep Green. I'd been waiting for him to tell me to stop for pretty much the whole journey, and I asked if he wanted to go back. He waved me away and said to go on. We were almost in the Yellow before we turned. He was holding his stomach and looked miserable, but he wasn't sick, and he hadn't lost colour, which I think was a positive sign.

When we got back, he locked himself in his room. Val and I joked with each other about our first experiences here, and I could tell she was impressed with Ludwig's attitude and his resilience. I'm impressed too; he'll be a valuable addition to the team.

Monday, 24 June 2013

They dropped off the new researcher. His name is Ludwig, and he's a physicist from Germany. He started explaining his area to us, but stopped when he saw we had no idea what he was talking about. He does something with high-energy emissions. He seems friendly, and well informed about The Sick Land. I got the impression they've started briefing the new recruits for longer than they did with me.

The three of us had a discussion about what to do next, and Ludwig said he was eager to slot into the team. Val started telling him about Victoria, and the cavern, and he seemed excited. He said we should drive him deeply into The Sick Land as soon as possible; apparently, rapid, early exposure is associated with good adaptation. I'll be interested to see how he copes.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Mo wasn't any better this morning, so I radioed the base for an emergency medical evacuation. They came in a beaten old ambulance, put Mo on a stretcher, and took him away.

The base contacted us a few hours later. They said they were very concerned about Mo, and had taken him to the airport to be flown to a proper hospital. He won't be coming back. After a reaction like that, they don't let you near the mal again. Luckily for us, they've got someone waiting to come in as a replacement. The new recruit is already flying in, and will be here tomorrow.

I feel sorry for Mo; I hope he recovers. I'm beginning to wonder whether I'll get much opportunity to go into the Yellow before my own stay is up. I'd like to do some decent research.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Not a good day.

I decided we should go to the edge of the Yellow; if we're looking for Victoria, we need to know that everyone is adapted to the mal. I was most worried about Mo.

We drove out the way we'd gone before. When we were roughly between the two zones, I radioed the others. Both of them reported that they were fine, and we drove on. I began to feel queasy about ten minutes later, and pulled over to check again. Val said she felt sick, and had a terrible headache. Mo didn't respond.

I could see his Jeep in my mirror, but couldn't see Mo. I turned around and drove back. I found him on the ground, clutching his stomach and retching. He was shaking and wasn't responsive. We loaded him into my Jeep, Val towed his, and we raced back to the station. Mo wasn't getting any better, so Val injected him with a sedative and we left him to sleep. I checked in on him before I came to write this, and he was unconscious, still curled up and shaking.

It's better this happened now than if we were two miles into the tunnel with Val in a Jeep outside. If we're lucky, Mo will be better tomorrow. If we're lucky.

Friday, 21 June 2013

We had a long meeting to discuss what to do. Mo and Val had obviously been talking before we met, and they presented a united front. They think that Phillips's diary makes is obvious that Victoria, the huge crater where Phillips made his discoveries, must lie behind the region where we found the cave. The cave must join up with the crater, and is most likely where Phillips emerged when he was rescued months later.

They want to explore the cave, and around the hills. I can tell that Mo thinks the cave will link up with the place Phillips described, and that we'll make the greatest discoveries of our careers in there. I'm less sure. Phillips was insane when they found him; who knows if anything in that book is real.

The cave gives me a bad feeling. Mo and Val won't be put off, though. It seems that the cave and the rocky hills are the order of business for the time being. No matter what I think.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Diary of Howard Phillips


June 20th ‘06

We made camp at the edge of the great crater I have named Victoria. Her sheer size is difficult to fathom. If she is the outcome of some titanic impact, I shudder to think of the damage that must have ensued from that great conflagration. No. I think Victoria is what remains of an inland sea. One of the goals of our expedition is to prove or disprove this assertion, and I hope to find some evidence to that effect.
The native guides we hired at the last village abandoned us last night, thankfully leaving our supplies and pack mules intact. The locals are superstitious, and terrified of the region we call The Sick Land. In a way, I can understand their trepidation. Without the comforting blanket of science, the strange creatures and occurrences here must be terrifying. I suppose it is yet another burden of the advanced civilisations to explore this land, and to help the locals understand the fascinating region in which they live.

June 21st ‘06

We begin our journey into Victoria tomorrow. Today, we searched for the easiest descent. The sides are sheer, and difficult to scale; we have the equipment and expertise for a full climb, but I argued that it should be avoided if possible. The risk is unnecessary given the ease of finding a simpler path. Due to her enormous circumference, it was impossible for us to find the easiest route down. Instead, we spent three hours hiking clockwise around the rim, returned to camp for lunch, then hiked for three hours anti-clockwise. We returned to the camp at dusk with a reasonable way down the crater. I had to defend my method against Hodgson, who vouchsafed that we should circle the entire crater to find our path. Hodgson quickly withdrew his complaint when I pointed out that the best outcome of his plan would be that we spend months dragging the mules in a circle, before returning to our starting point and descending there. If the optimum point proved to be on the opposite side, we would have to spend months more returning.
Satisfied with my triumph, I treated myself to one of the cigars from our dwindling supply of tobacco.

June 22nd ‘06

We have made camp on a flat, rocky outcrop halfway down our path into Victoria. The mules are secured to a piton driven into the ground at the centre of the camp. The beasts are loyal, but they are also stupid, and we can’t afford to lose any more: one perished today. It took with it one of our tents, a cask of water, and half our supply of quinine. The hapless beast also pulled my assistant Edgar to his demise. Edgar was a passable technician, but he had no real insight for archaeology. He once thought he’d found the missing link between man and ape whilst on a dig in Borneo; how we laughed when I pointed out that he’d merely found the skull of an orang-utan!
I shan’t mourn Edgar. Had he been more adept at guiding his mule, it would have stayed the path, and he would be sat with us around the cheery camp fire, smoking the pipe of which he was so fond, under the strange stars that orbit this peculiar part of the Earth.

June 23rd ‘06

We completed our descent into Victoria an hour before sunset. The scenery, while not conventionally beautiful, is possessed of a stark majesty that reminds me of the great deserts of Africa and North America, or the mountainous regions of Asia. The land is far from verdant; there are no animals here that we have seen or heard, and the few plants visible from our camp by the crater wall are thin and scrubby.
Hodgson was chipping pieces of stone from the crater all the way down. The high-pitched sound of his rock hammer is my only source of annoyance. I am inestimably grateful that the weather, if not clement, is at least tolerable, and that there does not seem to be the abundance of insects that so torments one on trips to the rainforests or swamps. In fact, as far as I have noticed, there is no insect life here. Perhaps the absence of water is the explanation. We have brought plenty, even with the loss of the cask yesterday, but unless we find a spring, our expedition will be cut short.

June 24th ‘06

The rocks here are encrusted with salt! I do not know how I missed this fascinating detail yesterday; perhaps I was mesmerised by the brutal scenery, or by the incessant sound of Hodgson’s hammering. There are layers of crystallised salt on many of the larger boulders: a clear sign that where we stand was once under salt water. My theory is greatly supported by this finding, and I fear I may have been somewhat uncharitable to Arthur, Hodgson’s assistant, who is a great proponent of the celestial body theory. No matter; Arthur will soon arouse himself from his sulk, as there are new discoveries around every corner of this exciting region.
As I sit by the fire drawing on my pipe, I cannot help but be reminded of the strength of opposition that was levelled against me when I first proposed to lead a new expedition into The Sick Land. The survival of explorers in this area is worse than in darkest Africa, and there had been talk of banning all expeditions. When I present my findings to the Royal Society, I fully expect a new wave of researchers to journey here, and for The Sick Land to reveal its secrets to the irresistible strength of the scientific mind. This shall be my small piece of immortality!

June 25th ‘06

We have located a spring! Around noon, as I led the expedition, I spotted a glittering reflection. I have always trusted my eyes, which are keen and practised, but The Sick Land can be tricky. Illusions and mirages are as commonplace as they are in the desert, and the madness that afflicts the locals and the weaker-minded Englishman can trick an unwary traveller. I led the group forward, and soon it was apparent that we were approaching an oasis. In the absence of any hired natives, Arthur tried the water. It was fresh! We refilled our canteens and casks, and marked the location on the rudimentary map Hodgson is making. He is no cartographer, but it will do until the land can be properly surveyed.
With our water supply secure, we are free to explore this unknown land and retrieve whatever secrets it can be made to divulge. I think we shall aim to stay for six months; there must be food somewhere in this wilderness, but if needs be, we can subsist on the hard rations we have brought with us. It will not be easy, but the joy of science will sustain us!

June 26th ‘06

Hodgson has fallen ill. The old fool spent yesterday drinking what seemed like gallons of the water from the spring, and even soaked his biscuits and dried beef in it. He has been complaining that the rations are too hard for his teeth since we embarked. I doubt that the water caused his illness – the rest of us have been unaffected – but it may have contributed to the general effect this place has on more fragile minds. Hodgson has spent the day curled in his blankets, shivering and sweating, convinced he can see some sort of giant creature. It would be next to no use to explain to the feverish buffoon that there aren’t any creatures here, giant or otherwise. I hope he recovers for tomorrow. Today’s delay has left me itching to begin my investigation of the area, and I’ve already spotted a likely site for us to begin our dig. If Hodgson hasn’t fought off his illness, I’m of a mind to leave him here. Arthur would be loath to abandon him, but I think the lure of scientific investigation would overcome his misplaced loyalty.

June 27th ‘06

Success! My persistence has reaped a reward greater than even I could have imagined. Hodgson was able to sit on a mule today, while we travelled to my chosen site to begin the dig. He was next to useless as an archaeologist, but I have come to expect that. We passed a pleasant day digging in a flat area of red clay. I chose it because it looked easier to dig than the darker earth elsewhere.
With dusk fast approaching, it looked as if our day’s searching had been in vain; no one had discovered the slightest trace of anything interesting. With the light waning, the others spoke of returning to the camp we had made next to the oasis. I knew better though; my instincts are well honed for this type of endeavour. I made a final, valiant effort in a virgin corner of the area we had staked out. My fast, experienced spade work paid off: I uncovered bones! We left shortly after, secure in the knowledge that we shall return tomorrow to uncover what lies beneath.

June 28th ‘06

The bones belong to a whale! My theory is vindicated! The whale is of a species with which I am unfamiliar: its cranium seems vastly out of proportion with its body, which is relatively small. Uncovering the whale yielded another discovery: the leviathan’s last meal had been fossilised within its stomach! The belly contains a plethora of skeletons from fish, eels, and other sea creatures. Many have features that are not seen outside of The Sick Land, such as unusual proportions, or oddly shaped appendages. This haul will win me the acclaim of the Royal Society, and set the study of this area forward in a great leap!
My mind boggles at the thought of the great sea that was once here. The presence of creatures like the whale suggests that it was linked, at least originally, to the ocean, for such things could not, presumably, evolve in the confines of Victoria. What other bizarre fauna might have swum in those dark depths? I pray they left fossils as complete as that left by the whale.
When we returned to the camp, our hearts filled with joy at our successes, we found Hodgson dead. We had left him when his illness grew worse, and he succumbed while we were away.

June 29th ‘06

A strange finding today. We have begun mapping the interior edge of the crater. With Hodgson and Edgar gone, we have an abundance of supplies, and more time to explore than I had thought. Circling the inside of the crater is now a possibility, and a worthy one. We broke camp and loaded the mules before first light; without the weight of the two dead men, we can carry the bones without a problem. We trekked for an hour to reach the inside of the crater, and followed it around anti-clockwise, breaking for a quick lunch at noon before continuing. Around four, Arthur shouted for my attention. We had just passed an area where the rock face jutted out. Arthur happened to glance back, and spotted the curiosity.
The curiosity is at least a hundred feet high, and some forty feet wide. It is made of smooth, flat stone embedded in the otherwise rough and craggy side of the crater. It differs in colour from the rest of the rock in Victoria, being a grey that borders on light blue. I do not believe he is correct in any way, but the image may prove helpful: Arthur said that, upon seeing the curiosity, his first intuition was that it was a gigantic door.

June 30th ‘06

We made camp away from the curiosity, which I refuse to refer to as a door, despite Arthur’s persistence. Neither of us had any desire to sleep near the monstrous thing. When we awoke this morning, we were both afflicted with terrible lethargy and nausea. I pray that whatever has struck us down is not that which killed Hodgson. The symptoms seem remarkably similar. Arthur is worse than I, which makes little sense, as he is younger than me by two decades. I presume that the robust physique I have developed from a lifetime of rugged outdoor pursuits has made me more resistant to disease; Arthur is near-sighted and pale from studying with Hodgson.
I availed myself of a canteen of water that did not come from the spring in Victoria. Unfortunately, there is not enough for Arthur to drink too. I hope for Arthur’s sake that it is not the water causing our illness, as he has been trying to avoid a fever by drinking plenty. As I sit here wrapped in my blanket, I do not feel feverish; perhaps I shall feel better in the morning.

July 1st ‘06

Arthur and I were fully recovered when we awoke this morning. He made some show of claiming he was still ill, but I brushed his objections aside. The young and the working man alike, of which Arthur is both, will use any excuse to try and shirk the labour their station has assigned them. While he sat pretending to shiver beneath a sodden blanket, I warmed myself with some bracing calisthenics. I felt wholly restored following a good night’s sleep, and, indeed, stronger and fitter than I have felt for years. The fresh air and exercise must be doing my physiology a world of good. Arthur, though recovered to my practised eye, looked like he had slept poorly. I suspect he may have stayed up with his nose buried in a book, or maybe even helped himself to some of the gin from the bottle I keep in one of the saddlebags. I have often thought that Arthur has the look of a clandestine tippler. Tomorrow, we shall continue our journey around the edge of the crater, starting at Arthur’s so-called door.

July 2nd ‘06

By some infernal mechanism, the door stands open! This morning, we broke camp and headed off toward the edge of Victoria, Arthur complaining bitterly that he was still unwell, but looking healthy. As we approached the outcropping of rock that holds the door, I felt ill at ease; in hindsight, it seems that some instinct of mine, perhaps one I have developed through my years of experience in dangerous places, sought to warn me of what was coming.
As we rounded the outcropping, we saw darkness where the door had been. Racing ahead of Arthur, I found the great stone door open. It had swung back into the rock, and now stood at the beginning of a great darkness. I approached as closely as I dared, but could see nothing in the blackness beyond. Arthur, swaying atop a mule and still wrapped in his blanket came more slowly upon the scene. When he saw it, he took great fright, and was struck by a wave of nausea. When the wave passed, I helped him back to his mule and we returned to camp. Tomorrow, we shall pack appropriate equipment and explore the darkness behind the door.

July 3rd ‘06

A most fruitful day’s investigation! We roused ourselves early in the morning and embarked at daybreak. Arthur is still weak from yesterday’s episode, but I insisted he accompany me, to share in the scientific glory of this escapade. And glorious it was! We lit torches outside the doorway and entered the darkness with trepidation, but our boldness was soon rewarded.
The area behind the door resembles nothing so much as a corridor. The corridor is shaped as the door: high, and comparatively narrow. The walls and floor of the corridor are composed of the same rock as the crater’s edge, not the blue-grey stone of the door. We made it no further than the beginning of the corridor, though, because what we found there occupied us for the rest of the day.
The walls of the corridor are painted with crude pictograms, or cave paintings, much like those found on cave walls in central Europe. As well as the standard pictures of stick men hunting stick antelope, we found fascinating stylised pictures that might well represent the first attempts at fantastic art. By fantastic art, I mean pictures that represent no real situation, but are purely based in the imagination of the artist. It fills me with wonder to think of some primitive daubing the wall thousands of years ago in one of the earliest instances of the creative impulse in our species.
The same impulse that drove Shakespeare, Milton, and Dickens, provoked this savage to paint stick figures fleeing in terror from a disembodied mouth, and to render them as if they were flying through the stars to throw spears at the sun.
What we have found so far within Victoria would be enough to guarantee a lifetime of scientific papers, exhibitions, and books, as well as all the speaking engagements for which I could find time. But my mind grows excited by the thought of what might lie deeper within this fascinating tunnel. Perhaps something within will shed some light on what created this huge, regular chamber, and how the giant door came to stand at the end. Arthur seems reluctant to venture farther into the corridor, but I pooh-poohed his complaints as the customary lack of adventure of his bookish type. Tomorrow we shall travel deeper!

July 4th ‘06

The discoveries continue! Today we travelled deeper into the corridor, past the cave paintings at the entrance, to the point where the daylight behind us was barely visible. It is interesting to think that the corridor continues approximately in a straight line, and without ascending or descending. I cannot guess how far outside Victoria it travels.
What we found today would have been most interesting to our amateur geologist, Hodgson, had he lived to see it. As we passed outside the range of the natural light, we found ourselves surrounded on all sides by blue crystal. The crystal is not polished and clear like a sapphire; rather, it resembles a thick, blue liquid bubbling up from some chemical experiment. The crystal glows faintly with an inner luminescence that is quite striking. It would not be practical to navigate by the light of the crystal, but it is beautiful in the darkness. I chipped a few pieces off to take home to London. Sadly, the light died when the crystal was chipped away, but no matter.
Arthur insisted that we explore no deeper, as the day was almost over. I, in turn, insisted that we break camp in the morning and move to the mouth of the cave. That way, we will be able to find every wonder that lies in this magnificent cavern.  

July 5th ‘06

After moving the camp to the entrance of the cavern, we travelled deeper. The blue crystal continued for half a mile before ending abruptly. The guttering light of our torches revealed that the ground in front of us was riddled with holes. The holes are almost perfectly circular, some six feet in diameter. They are very deep. The torch light is insufficient to see the bottom, and dropping stones down the shaft yields no sound of impact. Of course, they cannot be bottomless; such fancy is the purview of the primitive. They are, however, deep enough that the sound is inaudible. I briefly considered lowering Arthur on a rope, to see if he could make out the bottom of a shaft; his physical condition is not up to such an endeavour, I fear.
Arthur is worse today. His health appears to have deteriorated with his proximity to the corridor. The sound of the man’s sniffling and snivelling is almost intolerable. Unfortunately for him, I have determined that we must make camp within the corridor if we are to explore the depths. The distances are too great to continue travelling in and out each day. We shall return to the entrance, and move the camp to the area between the crystal and the holes tomorrow morning. Arthur shall have to maintain a stiff upper lip.

July 6th ‘06

Beyond the holes, I have made my greatest discovery yet. The corridor widens into an enormous chamber, so large that the torch light reaches not the ceiling or the walls. In the centre of this gigantic room is an enormous block made of the same stone as the door. All manner of bizarre symbols are carved into the stone. I attempted to copy down a sample, but I found that my eyes could not linger on the individual details. The symbols began to swim and melt away before me. I considered taking a rubbing, but none of the symbols were within my reach. Whoever carved them must have had access to some form of scaffold. When I was standing by the vast artefact, I could see that lichen was growing within the carved symbols. Again, I would have like to have taken a sample, but they were outside of my reach.
Arthur expired during the night, and I threw his body down one of the holes near our camp.

July 7th ‘06

I returned to camp after today’s exploration to find it in disarray. My equipment was strewn around and broken, the water poured away and the food smeared on the ground. The mules had been eviscerated in the most horrific manner. They had to be dragged into the cave, and trembled continuously once they were inside. Perhaps it is a mercy that they are dead. I suppose there is little chance that I will return to London now. The journey back to civilisation is long and perilous, and impossible without food, water, and transport.
Beyond the chamber of the stone block is smaller cave. This cave is noticeably colder than elsewhere, and icicles hang from the ceiling. It is dominated by a huge pool of inky liquid. I am unsure whether it is discoloured water, or some other substance. It feels silky on the hands, and denser than water. The liquid is warmer than its surroundings, and has a faint taste of rotted fruit. My head began to spin after I drank, and I found the second handful to have a much more refined taste, like an expensive brandy.

July 8th ‘06

I have spent the day drinking from the pool and staring into its mysterious depths. Whenever I begin to shiver from the freezing surroundings, I drink from the pool and it warms me to my core. Lights have begun to sparkle beneath the surface. I feel that I can almost see the faces of my parents and my beloved grandmother. The pool invites me to swim in its warmth, to release myself from the cares and troubles of my exhausted body. To be enveloped in that silken embrace would be to enter heaven.
As I stare at the pool, I can almost feel myself leave my body and soar to the ceiling. From there, I can see that the pool is circular, and resembles nothing so much as the pupil of some tremendous eye. What things would an eye such as this have seen?
I can feel my resolve to dive into the pool strengthening. The sparkling lights draw closer and beckon to me, like a lighted window on a cold winter’s evening. Soon, I shall finish writing and swim to my destiny. No one shall find this diary. I have gained some degree of knowledge from the pool, and I know the door to this strange place is once again closed. No matter. My life became complete when I found this pool. All that remains, is to dive.    

The small book we found seems to be a diary that belonged to Howard Phillips. I've transcribed the legible part, and will put it up on the blog.

The diary excerpt I've posted begins on today's date, 107 years ago. One of those unusual coincidences, I suppose, like Shakespeare dying on his birthday.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

It's been hiding in the cave.

We took three Jeeps with full kit out to the plain where I'd tracked the thing. The footprints were fading, but still visible, and we followed them toward the rocky hill, where they vanished into the cave. We parked the Jeeps in a circle around the entrance and shone the headlights in. They lit the interior of the cave, and we could see shapes inside.

I went in first and Val followed. Mo stayed in his Jeep with the engine running, in case we needed to make a quick escape. We explored the cave. The roof was low, just over six feet, and the shapes we'd seen from the outside were piles of old, broken equipment: smashed water barrels, torn leather bags, smashed instruments. None of it looked recent; everything was outdated and worn.

In the centre of the cave was a pile of five disintegrating books, four larger books and a smaller one that looked like it would match the cover I'd found when the thing first came. All the books were damaged: we'd found the source of paper.

There was no sign of the thing. I tried to explore the rear of the cave, but it continued farther than the light from my torch could reach. I might go deeper another time. We carried the books out to the Jeeps, and as much of the rest as we could fit in.

We'll start sorting through it all tomorrow.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

I found more footprints.

I drove back to where I'd last seen a trace of the thing. I went alone. The others offered to come with me, but I told them I didn't want to waste their time. I was in low spirits, and didn't expect to find anything. When I checked the ground with the camera, though, there were fresh tracks.

I followed the tracks for half an hour, until I came to a huge, flat plain. I could see them crossing the plain toward a rocky hill. With binoculars, I thought I could make out the tracks heading to an opening at the base of the hill. When I put the Jeep back into gear, it made a thin grinding sound, and the engine started to struggle. I wasn't sure where I was in terms of the mal, and it would have been stupid to go farther in a single Jeep. The tracks, and the hill, would still be there later. I turned the Jeep around and drove back to the station.

Tomorrow, we'll go out together and follow the tracks. I know the thing has been hiding in the cave at the base of the hill. I know it.

Monday, 17 June 2013

We took a pair of Jeeps back to where we'd tracked the thing. I checked the ground with the camera, but it hadn't been back. I felt my shoulders drop as I scanned the surrounding area. I hadn't realised how much I'd invested in finding the thing. I've been focused on it since we came to the new station, and losing the trail now is terrible. I wonder whether it knows we followed it here; if it does, will it come back?

I'll return tomorrow and check again.

I think I've lost it.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The thing came last night, and it left a trail.

I checked the webcam when I got up, but there was nothing there. When I checked the paint, though, I found footprints going away from Val's window. The prints were shaped like a 'V', just like the first one I found. I got Val and Mo together, and told them we'd be going out to track something. They seemed excited, and we loaded up the Jeeps and headed out.

The footprints were visible for a couple of miles, but began to fade after that. We followed the fading prints to a sheltered patch behind a boulder. Torn, soaking paper was piled up there. The footprints disappeared, and it was impossible to tell where the thing had gone.

I painted the ground in the area with the tracking paint. If the thing uses this place as a way point, maybe it will come back and leave another trail. The others were interested in the paper, and I told them I thought we might find a stash. I could tell they were curious about the thing we were tracking, but I kept quiet. We'll come back tomorrow to see if we can pick up the trail.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Last night, I slept without dreams. I spent the day productively, helping Val in the lab and reviewing a paper for a journal. After dinner, I planned to revise the review. My eyelids started to droop almost as soon as I'd begun, and I found it difficult to focus. I wasn't surprised I felt tired: I'd missed so much sleep. The last thing I remember was sitting on the bed.

Then, I was sitting by the fire. Snow fell gently, the flakes hissing as they drifted into the flames. The old woman shivered, but I couldn't feel the cold. She seemed older and frailer than before. She spoke, and her voice rasped and whistled. She said that the land took people, and it changed them, and sometimes it sent them back. It took her son, and it changed him, and it sent him back. And when he came back, he destroyed her people. In the end, only she was left, and the tundra was empty. Tomorrow, she said, he would return, and he would kill her; or worse, he would take her. She held her prehistoric tool, the tool that looked newly carved, and drove it into the earth. She buried it, and then she stood. She told me to stalk my prey tonight. Then she walked away. I watched her until she was hidden by the snow.

I woke up and checked the time. I'd been asleep for less than two hours, but I felt like I'd been awake for two days. I took the pot of tracking paint and covered the concrete under every window.

Friday, 14 June 2013

I'm worried about Val. I was chatting with her while she worked in the lab, and she asked me if I'd fetch a printout she'd left in her room. 

The floor, bed, and desk of Val's room were strewn with torn-off sheets of paper. Each sheet was covered in pencil. Mostly, the pencil marks were scribble, as if they'd been put there to hide a mistake, but on a few sheets, I could see circles and lines. I counted ten stubs of pencils lying around the room, and there may have been more. From the sheer amount of paper, it looked like Val had spent every spare hour of the past week drawing, and then scribbling out what she'd drawn.

I don't know whether this is a manifestation of her obsessive compulsive disorder, or something else entirely. I took Val the printout she'd asked for, and mentioned that I'd seen a lot of drawings in her room. She said she was trying to capture the symbol from the sheet of paper she'd found, and couldn't quite get it right. She told me she was close, and it was just a matter of time. I left her in the lab. I need to decide whether I contact the base and try to get Val relieved. If The Sick Land is affecting her mind, she should leave as soon as possible. I don't feel confident in my decision making at the moment, though. Mo seems to be the only one of us who isn't struggling mentally.  

Thursday, 13 June 2013

I barely slept last night. I feel like I'm being pulled in two directions at once. I'm finding it difficult to focus on day-to-day tasks, like checking the webcam, or seeing if the thing has left a trail. I spent most of today reliving last night's dream.

This dream was different from the others. There was a sea the colour of flint under a black sky. The sea thrashed and bubbled, and under the sound of the crashing waves, I thought I could hear something else. The other sound was as if something vast, and cold, and strange, moaned as it slept uneasily. I couldn't bear to look at that terrible sea, and stared at the sky instead. There were no stars, just black, and I felt I could plummet into that sky forever, and never stop and never die. I could fall into that endless sky, or plunge into that dreadful sea, or stay suspended between them, always knowing what was above me and what was below me.

I woke drenched with sweat, screaming.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

I haven't slept with the prehistoric tool for a few days. I didn't last night. I dreamt about the tundra anyway.

The old woman sat in front of the fire. A gust of cold wind blew a shower of sparks into the night, and she pulled her animal skin tighter around her shoulders. I showed her my empty hands and she laughed. She told me you can drive a deer through the scrub, but once the path is there, it will walk it of its own accord. She laughed again. Then her face returned to a scowl, and she began to speak.

She said the land despised them, and it would take them. If the cold didn't kill you, or the hunger, or a beast, or a man, or a sickness, the land might take you for itself. Her grandfather had told her that the land took no one when her people first arrived. In her grandfather's lifetime, no one was taken. His grandfather had known someone who was taken, but that was many, many years before the old woman was born.

The land took no one until the old woman's thirtieth winter. It took her son.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Mo went through his research into Howard Phillips, the scientist who found the snake skeleton.

Phillips led several expeditions into The Sick Land in the early twentieth century; the 1906 expedition was his last. According to Mo, Phillips and his team set off in the summer to investigate an enormous crater Phillips had found on the previous expedition. The prevailing theory was that the crater was the result of a meteorite impact, but Phillips was convinced it was the dried-up remains of an inland sea.

Phillips and his team went missing. Their supplies were inadequate for a long stay, and several rescue parties failed to find them. Three months later, Phillips was found wandering in the Green Zone, alone, malnourished, and insane. He was naked, and dragging a makeshift sled loaded with the things he'd found in the crater. When they rescued him, they hoped he might recover and explain what had happened, but he died almost immediately. No one has ever found the crater.

Mo thinks we should look for Phillips's crater. He's studying all the old papers on the topic, to try and pinpoint the location. It would be an amazing discovery.

Monday, 10 June 2013

I had a fairly disturbing experience today. I went to the lab to get some printer paper, and saw Val. She'd been in there all morning running experiments. Or so I thought. When I opened the door, I saw her standing in a lab coat by the fume cupboard. I could see the bottles of chemicals on the bench, and the rocks she was going to work on. It was obvious she hadn't started yet, though she'd been in there for almost three hours. She was switching the fume cupboard power on and off.

I stood and watched her for minutes; she flicked the switch hundreds of times. I suspect she'd been standing there almost the whole morning. I coughed loudly from the doorway. Val turned and smiled, said hello. I asked her if she was okay, and she said she was fine, but had a lot of work to do. Then she started setting up.

I'd thought Val was adapting well to The Sick Land. I hope her obsessive compulsive disorder, or whatever it was I saw today, isn't going to develop into something more serious. I've lost too many colleagues here already.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

We took two Jeeps into The Sick Land. I drove with Mo, Val followed us in the second Jeep. We headed to the hole where the old station used to be, and drove alongside the furrow that led away from it.

We stopped several times to collect samples from the churned earth. Some of the rocks had a residue on them that Val plans to study. The furrow continued in a rough line toward the Yellow Zone. I wanted to follow it, but we had to stop because Mo got sick. He hasn't adapted well to The Sick Land, and I think it'll be a while before he can go into the Yellow. I walked him back to Val's Jeep and told them to wait for me. I followed the furrow. I wasn't entirely sure when I passed into the Yellow Zone, but I thought I could feel the difference, a very slight sense of dizziness as I drove.

After a quarter of an hour, I decided to go back, as the furrow carried on as far as I could see. I was about to turn when something white caught my eye. It was far ahead of me, and I had to use binoculars to see it. I didn't drive any closer to get a better look, but what I thought I saw was this: a field of small, spherical, white fungi.

I felt bile rise in my throat. I turned the Jeep around and fled.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

I dreamt about the old woman and the fire. She was eating something, something black, chewing on it while clear juice ran down her chin. She didn't look at me; she concentrated on her food. When she finished, she coughed wetly and spat into the fire. She told me her people lived here, on the tundra. When she said 'here', I knew that wasn't quite what she meant. Her people lived poorly, and often went hungry, or died in the winter cold. Her grandfather had told her that once, they'd lived on green fields, but they'd been driven away by a stronger people. Now they lived here. Before he died, her grandfather had been the oldest man of her people. She was much, much older than he had been. She'd seen the grandchildren of babies she'd delivered die toothless and frail. Life was hard for her people, but harder for her, because she was their eldest elder, and because she would not die.

And harder still, she said, because the land itself despised them.

I jerked awake when I heard those words. She said them venomously, with a bitterness so raw it woke me, exhausted and sick. I put the prehistoric tool back into the tub. I'd promised Val and Mo we'd go out into The Sick Land tomorrow, so I need all the sleep I can get.

Friday, 7 June 2013

The thing came back last night. Val found a sheet of paper outside; she was sitting in the kitchen staring at it when I came in. I couldn't tell what it was at first, as the back of the sheet is covered in black mould. Every time Val moved, dust puffed from the paper and caught the light. She noticed me after a while and showed me the paper. There's a dirty, faded symbol scrawled on it. I don't recognise the symbol; it doesn't look like anything I've seen before, and it has an unnerving gestalt shift. Val fiddles with the paper every two minutes, so I don't think it'll last long. She says she's close to working out what the symbol is - she's spent hours on the internet trying to find similar shapes, with no success.

I didn't mention the thing. I don't see any reason to worry the other two; I'll have a lot more information later. The webcam got nothing, and the paint under the windows hasn't been disturbed. It's promising the thing has come back, though. Once it gets bold enough to go to a window again, I'll have it.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

No sign of the thing yet, but I'm confident it will come back.

I fell asleep with the prehistoric tool in my hand; then I was on the tundra, by the fire. Holding a burnt stick, the old woman faced me over a pile of ashes. She began to speak, and as she did, she drew, and the pictures became part of the dream. Here's what I remember:

In the beginning, all was water. The land was water, and the sky was water, and the plants were water, and the animals were water, and the men were water. Water was everything, so water was nothing. Fox and Snake grew tired of being water. They wanted to hunt. So Fox made his tail the sky, and Snake made his skin the land. Now, there was sky and land, and the plants and animals didn't want to be water, and they changed, and became what they are. The sky and land grew full, and Fox and Snake sent some plants and some animals back to the water. That is why the sea hates the sky and the land. Because once, the things of the sea lived in the sunshine, and flew through the air, and ran on the hot ground. But now they lurk in the cold and the dark, waiting.

The dream was vivid, and I saw Fox's tail become the sky at sunrise, saw Snake's skin become the cracked earth of the tundra.

I woke up tired. These dreams make me feel like I haven't slept at all.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Mo's burst of research into the skeleton we found hasn't yielded any new information. He spent twelve hours looking at figures in an archive of papers on mal fauna. The only one with any resemblance to the skeleton is a pencil drawing of the snake Howard Phillips found in 1906.

Mo thinks the key to identifying our skeleton will come from Phillips. He asked me whether I knew much about him. I said I didn't, apart from that he'd found the skeleton inside a fossilised whale after an earthquake. Val said she thought it had been a sink hole, rather than an earthquake. Mo is going to research Phillips extensively.

The webcam didn't show anything last night, and there was no evidence the thing had walked on the paint. Luckily, it doesn't need to be repainted frequently, so I can maintain my surveillance without too much of a problem.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

I put the prehistoric tool in a plastic tub and left it outside my door last night. It sounds stupid, but I'm not ready for another creepy dream. I was tired yesterday, and I thought a good night's sleep was more important than exploring my subconscious.

The webcam showed nothing again, but Mo told me he'd dreamt something was trying to get into his window. In his nightmare, the mate of the skeleton we'd found was trying to reach the body of its dead partner. He'd woken screaming, thinking that a half-skeletal monster was about to break into his bedroom. He thinks it was all a dream, and he's started researching the skeleton again. I think he heard the thing, and I'm determined to track it.

I found something for that in the lab, a kind of paint used for following animals. You paint it on a surface, and it sticks to the feet of whatever walks over it. You can follow the trail with a special camera. It's only good for a few miles, but the land is so bare around here that I think it'll be good enough - the thing can't come from too far away. I painted the cement under each bedroom window just before dark.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Last night, I went to bed holding the prehistoric tool. I fell asleep quickly, and I began to dream of the tundra.

I was staring into the fire and the old woman spoke. She said she was surprised that I'd finally done as she wanted. I asked her what was happening, what this was. She stared into the fire for a long time. Then she told me that if you follow a tiger, you might find the herd and eat for a season. But it might eat you. I think she said tiger, anyway. The word wasn't clear to me. I asked her what she meant. She furrowed her brow, and I got the impression she'd said as much as she could. She stared back into the fire, and began chewing on a stick. She said the seasons come and go, the herds come and go. The mountain remains. I turned to her to ask what she meant by that. She was facing me, smiling, showing her cracked brown teeth. She said: in time.

The thing didn't come last night. I'll get in the lab tomorrow and start looking for useful equipment. If it does come back, I'm going to follow it.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

The thing came last night. The webcam filmed it creeping toward the window. When it got within ten feet or so, it spotted the webcam. The thing looked up, froze, then spun and ran out of shot. I don't know whether it will be back. I hope so. I want to track it, and find out where it gets the paper. I also think it might be dangerous; at the very least, it wrecked one of our Jeeps. If the thing is dangerous, I want to kill it somehow. I don't know if there are any weapons at this station. I haven't seen any likely looking doors or cabinets.

I'm deliberately not speculating about what the thing is. I can't face thinking about it. I've had my suspicions for a while, and the webcam footage has done nothing to dismiss them. Because of the distance, and the thick glass of the window, it's difficult to make out much detail. The thing has a roughly humanoid shape, and it moves jerkily, like a spider or lizard.

The blurry shape looks as if it's draped in a tattered orange hazmat suit.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

I went sleepwalking last night. I only know about it because I tripped over the cable to the webcam and pulled it down. The sound woke me up. I found myself standing in the middle of my room, clutching the prehistoric tool that had been on my desk. I'd been having one of my recurring dreams about the tundra.

As usual, I'd been sitting by the fire with the old woman. She'd started speaking to me in a language I couldn't understand, then stopped and scowled at me. She pulled a charred, straight stick from the fire and began to draw in a pile of ash on her other side. I could see the ash, and the stick moving, but not what she was drawing. I was desperate to see. I stood and walked over to her. As I moved, my eyesight dimmed. By the time I was close enough to see what she'd drawn, I couldn't. My hand felt cold, and I knew I was holding the tool. The old woman told me to go back to my seat. As I walked back, my sight began to return. Then I jolted awake as the webcam crashed to the floor.

I reset the webcam. I checked it in the morning, but there was nothing there. There weren't any other signs that the thing had visited; I'll get some footage of it soon enough. I'm tempted to go to bed holding the prehistoric tool. I'd like to know what happens next in the dream.