Read an Excerpt
The Veritas Project Volume 2
By Frank Peretti
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2002 Frank Peretti
All rights reserved.
the kid in the padded room
His mind told him,insisted, that he was running, putting one tattered, bleeding foot in front of the other—even though the ground did not move under his feet, turned when he did not, or inclined steeply upward though he saw no slope before him. He closed his eyes, but he could still see. He screamed, but he heard nothing. The pathway became a precipice and he tumbled headlong, falling through space. He was under water. He tried to swim; suddenly his groping arms were pulling him forward through hot, dry sand. The sky above was red like a sunset, the earth below an eye-buzzing purple—then green, then gray, then red as the sky turned green.
Where he was, or why, or when, or who, or how, he could not know, could never know.
There were no days, no hours, no moments, no way of knowing, no chance for knowing how long he'd been here.
No place, at no particular time.
He was once a fifteen-year-old boy, cocky and wayward. He once had a brother, a sister, a father and mother. He had a name, a house, a school, and a life—and he thought he knew something. Maybe he thought he knew it all.
But that boy, and that time, and that life had become ... nothing. Non-things.
There was no fifteen-year-old boy here. No knowledge, no thought, no reason. There was nothing here but terror, endlessly repeating cycles of it, layer upon layer of it—with more, more, more to come, in swirling, kaleidoscoping sounds, images, and sensations, pulsing, pounding, surging, throbbing like a swollen thumb.
The only reality.
He stopped, fell against a gnarled old tree....
The tree toppled unnaturally, crumpling like a wad of paper, without sound. He fell....
And hit the ground. Cold ground. Grass. Stones. They didn't move, didn't change. The earth was motionless under his body, the dew of the night cold and soaking through.
The tree he thought he would lean on, that had fallen ... was a metal door, now slowly closing behind him, creaking on its hinges.
Without a thought, he was on his feet, running away. He could see nothing in the dark, was not aware of the branches and limbs striking against him, was not aware of the aching in his chest, the pounding of his heart, the gasping for air.
He just ran.
* * *
Nelson Farmer was tall, with a long horse face and a worried look that just stayed there, even when he wasn't worried. Right now he was worried, making his face sag to new depths of sourness.
"Harborview," said the taxi driver, pulling up in front of an immense hospital in Seattle.
Harborview Hospital, part of the Seattle skyline for generations, was known as the place to send the really tough cases. Victims of accidents could be helped in any good hospital; victims of horrible accidents were sent here, as were the burn victims, abuse victims, disaster victims, and ...
Farmer didn't have a label for the victim he was hoping to find here. He might have a name, but at this point he couldn't be sure. He would know in the next few minutes.
Dr. Cal Madison, white-haired, balding, and soft-spoken, met him in Observation and Evaluation. "Thank you for coming, Mr. ..." He looked once again at Farmer's business card. "Farmer. My! From the D.C. office! You've come a long way."
"Not really," said Farmer. "I was out on the West Coast on business anyway. I just made a little side trip."
Madison moved through the front office and into a narrow hallway. Farmer followed.
"I expected the Bureau would just send a local person," Madison commented.
"This could be a special case," Farmer replied. "The local office may not have the records on this one yet."
"Hmm." Madison had to think about that one. "Anyway, I'm not sure what information you have at this point...."
"He was found on the highway, somewhere in Idaho?"
"North Central Idaho, I think. A very mountainous region, not much civilization to speak of."
They entered a darkened room with one large window. The window, of two-way glass, opened on another room. That room was roughly ten feet square, softly lit, and the walls and floor were covered with thick, quilted padding. Against the far wall was a very simple, low-built cot, also heavily padded; in the center of the room, curled up on the floor like a cowering animal, was a boy. He was clothed in hospital pajamas and lay motionless except for a trembling, involuntary curling and uncurling of his fingers. His eyes stared at the floor, unwavering, unblinking.
Dr. Madison explained, "We judge him to be about fifteen years old. We've had to dress him because he can't dress himself. He wasn't carrying any ID, so we have no idea who he is."
"And I suppose he can't tell you?"
"You need to see this," Madison said, slipping out the door. He closed the door behind him, leaving Farmer in the darkened room. A moment later the door to the padded room opened, and Madison stepped inside. He knelt beside the boy and asked him, "How are you doing?"
"I don't know," the boy replied in a low monotone.
"Do you need anything?"
"I don't know."
Madison looked toward the two-way glass as he asked the boy, "Can you tell me your name?"
"I don't know."
Farmer could hear everything through a small intercom speaker beside the window. As Madison asked the boy a few more questions and the boy replied "I don't know" to every one, Farmer pulled a file folder from his briefcase and opened it. The first page included a photograph of a young man.
The very same young man.
Farmer held the photograph at eye level, letting his gaze shift from it to the face he saw through the glass. There was no doubt.
He closed the folder, put it back in his briefcase, and snapped the briefcase shut.
When Madison returned, Farmer shook his head, looking impressed. "Very disturbing."
"It's as if his whole mind has been erased," said Madison, still marveling. "All knowledge, all logic ... gone."
Farmer nodded thoughtfully. "I'm glad you called. I'll arrange to have him transferred immediately."
Madison appeared puzzled. "Excuse me?"
"The best way for us to identify this young man and return him to his parents—if there are any—is to put him under protective custody so we can make a positive identification."
"I'm not familiar with this procedure."
"We don't use it very often, only in special cases such as this one. It'll take me a little while to arrange for a car and for a suitable room—"
"No, no, wait. I'm sorry. That's impossible."
Farmer tilted his head, raised an eyebrow. "Come again?"
Madison's face was etched with disbelief and a little indignity. "This young man is a patient in this hospital, and we can't release him."
Farmer's spine stiffened visibly. "Dr. Madison, the Bureau for Missing Children has its procedures, and I'm afraid—"
"No. Absolutely not. He's in no condition to be moved anywhere.
He's malnourished and underweight, he can't clothe himself, he can't feed himself, he can't—"
"Need I remind you with whom you're dealing?"
Farmer's words struck Madison wrong, very wrong. "Perhaps I should confirm that information one more time."
Farmer glared at him a moment, then produced his card again.
Dr. Madison read it again: Nelson Farmer, Field Investigator, Bureau for Missing Children, Washington, D.C.
Farmer followed his card with an official, laminated photo ID from the office in Washington. "Would you like to see my driver's license? I also have a firearm permit if you'd like to see that."
Dr. Madison handed back the photo ID and shook his head. "It won't change anything, anyway."
Now Farmer raised his voice. "I beg your pardon?"
Dr. Madison replied in his same businesslike tone, "When this boy's parents say to release him, then I'll release him. Until then, he's under my care, he's my responsibility, and he stays here."
"We don't even know who the parents are."
"Well, that's your job, isn't it, to reunite missing and runaway children with their families? Now, we've provided the boy's likeness, his fingerprints, and everything we know about him. You're the one with the nationwide computer database. I think it's time you got to work."
Farmer grabbed up his briefcase. "This is not going to go well for you."
"I'll see you—and your threats—to the door, Mr. Farmer."
* * *
A week later, Dr. Cal Madison attended a medical conference within comfortable driving distance from Washington, D.C., where he arranged to have dinner with an old friend.
Now they were sitting in a secluded booth—a table Madison had asked for specifically—enjoying a fine meal and formal surroundings. Dr. Madison spoke in secretive tones, carefully pausing whenever a waitress walked by.
"I had my secretary go to BMC's Web site, and within an hour she had a positive identification of our patient." He handed the documents across the dinner table to his guest. "Alvin Rogers, age fifteen, Thousand Oaks, California. He and a friend, Harold Carlson, ran away a month ago. The Carlson boy is still missing."
"So now you're wondering why this Farmer character needed custody of your patient in order to identify him?"
"Exactly. It wasn't necessary. I called the BMC, and he works for them, all right, but the people I talked to weren't aware of any such policy. Farmer said he came by because he was already on the West Coast anyway, but according to the people at the central office right here in Washington, he left rather urgently, with only one destination, and that was Seattle."
"There's more. When I expressed my surprise that the Bureau would send one of their top-level people clear across the country instead of letting the local office in Seattle handle it, he told me the local office probably didn't have the records yet. Do you find that believable?"
"You got the information right off the Internet. If you could get the information, then certainly the branch offices would have it."
"So we're clear on that."
Madison allowed himself a quick sip of water. "And, incidentally, I never heard back from Farmer. Maybe it's because we found the boy's parents ourselves."
The guest looked up from the documents with raised eyebrows. "Oh, you did, really?"
"It couldn't have been more simple. We got their name and phone number from the Web site, gave them a call, and they flew up from California the next day."
"Well, good enough."
Madison broke into a smile, perhaps his first smile of the evening. "When Alvin saw his parents, heard their voices, and just got a loving hug, it made a world of difference. He came out of his stupor almost immediately. He was able to feed himself. He asked for some real clothes and dressed himself. It was beautiful."
"So I suppose you've sent him home?"
"Eh ..." Madison sadly wagged his head. "He came out of his stupor, yes, but his mind is badly scrambled. He's afraid of being left alone, and he has trouble sleeping. We've tried to find out what happened to him and where he was for a whole month, but all we can get out of him is a stream of nonsense—ramblings about nothing being real, gravity turned upside down, time running backward, all sheer lunacy—and someplace he keeps referring to as Nightmare Academy."
The guest repeated the words to be sure he'd heard them correctly. "Nightmare Academy?"
Madison nodded. "It frightens him to talk about it—enough to make me wonder whether it might be, at least in some sense, real."
The guest stroked his brow, staring at the half-eaten steak on his plate. "Not a lot to go on."
"But enough, perhaps, to interest you and Veritas? I'm very concerned, especially for the other boy who's still out there somewhere, and what about the other missing children and runaways? Whatever happened to Alvin Rogers could happen to them."
The guest, a man named Morgan, paged through the documents one more time, thoughts racing behind his inquisitive, brown eyes. "I'll put some feelers out. I'll let you know, hopefully by tomorrow."
* * *
In Washington, D.C., far from the Capitol dome, was an old, red-brick office building with office space and apartments for rent. Morgan, middle-aged, bald, and bespectacled, arrived early, eager and anxious, almost forgetting to grab the morning paper before he went into a plain little office on the fifth floor. The small black letters on the office door quietly announced: The Veritas Project.
He was the first one here. Consuela, his secretary, was no doubt en route, as was Carrie, the office assistant. He flipped the light switch on without having to look at it and strode quickly to the fax machine.
A fax had arrived. From the letterhead, he knew it was the one he was expecting:
The White House.
Excellent. The president had received his message from last night and was responding.
But ... strange. The president didn't usually send faxes to this office on White House letterhead. Usually, the message came on plain, white paper, no fancy labels, no obvious identifiers, nothing to call attention—
He froze momentarily as his eyes fell on the message:
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ARE YOU TO INVESTIGATE THIS
Morgan stood there a moment, the fax in his hand, seeing in his mind that big white residence half a city away.
This was from the president, wasn't it? The sender's number at the top of the page was correct, but this response was anything but typical. By prior agreement, the president did have a voice in which cases Veritas would take and which it would refer elsewhere. But the president had never sent such a short message, and never in all-capital letters, and never without any explanation or follow-up questions—or at least some kind of guidance on how to answer back.
Morgan took the fax into his office, tossed it onto his cluttered desk, and sank into his chair, letting it swivel him toward the window. Staring at a dismal segment of the Washington skyline, he debated whether he should just call the White House, but decided against it.
The front door rattled open. It was Consuela. "Good morning, boss."
"Good morning," he half muttered, trying to think.
She paused to stare at him with her large, Latin eyes. "Is there trouble?"
"Maybe." He thought a bit. "Yes."
"I'll make the coffee."
"Oh!" She came into his office. "You left your paper by the fax machine."
She brought him the morning paper he'd forgotten about, unfolded it, and—
An envelope fell to the floor.
"Oops," she said.
Morgan stared at it for a split second, then stooped down, picked it up, and carefully opened it as Consuela watched.
Inside, he found a DVD in a white, windowed envelope. A small note was attached, bearing only two words: CALL THEM.
"Consuela," he said, an incisive glint in his eye, "call the airlines, book me a flight for Missoula, Montana."
She sprang for her desk.
Morgan pulled out the materials he'd gotten from his dinner with Madison and thumbed through them once again. "The Springfields need to see this one firsthand."
* * *
With his finely toned muscles straining and sweat on his brow, young Elias swung the iron door shut and dropped the bolt into place as the rest of his family scrambled about the lab in search of anything they could use to barricade the door.
The beast was coming down the hallway. They could feel the pounding of his footsteps shaking the floor.
Elias's sister Lisa brought a chair. As she brushed her long blond hair from her face, Elias could see that fear filled her eyes. Even so, she was still beautiful.
Elias took the chair and braced it against the door. "Thanks."
She answered, "I'm not doing this for you."
"So you're still angry?"
"This is all your fault! You should have selected a better brain!"
Excerpted from Nightmare Academy by Frank Peretti. Copyright © 2002 Frank Peretti. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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