"You've seen them?" I asked. "Hundreds of mechanical soldiers underground?"
"You think I'd make up something like that? I ain't seen them myself, but I read the journals. And it has what I said about being able to look in their domed glass heads and the the faces of the dead."
Sissy's pale, freckled face looked even younger than I had first thought. She seemed almost desperate for me to believe her.
"You can think what you want," she said. "I ain't crazy."
"I never said you were," I said. "I just wanted to know if you'd actually seen them."
"We don't go down there- women that is. It's not safe. Not if you want to have kids."
We were back in the room where we were supposed to meet Mark. It was the highest point you could go in the tunnels and caves that networked beneath Townsend Mountain. It was the size of a two car garage, with a domed, shiny metal ceiling. There were two gun metal gray desks and four chairs. The floor looked like linoleum salvaged from a nineteen fifties kitchen. The room was lit by indirect lighting that ringed the base of the domed ceiling. It was like being in an underground high school counselor's office. We sat looking at each other across one of the desks.
"I don't get it. You're saying that going down to wherever these automatons are could make a woman sterile or something like that? Is that it?"
"Worse than that," she said. "A lot worse than that."
"I already told you too much," she said. "Nobody's supposed to know. It's just so weird down here. It's hard to think right. I was never here by myself til daddy had me come wait for you. He couldn't come himself. He had to be back at the house in case the black suits showed up looking for you. So he sent me. Now I went and told you too much. This place gives me the creeps."
"Were you scared?" I asked. "Waiting by yourself?"
Sissy's eyes widened.
"You have that gun," I added.
"Rifle," she said.
"Okay, you have that rifle. It's enough to scare anybody'd who try to bother you."
"I'm not afraid of anybody in these parts," she said.
"Well, then, you'd be safe from bears or wolves or whatever is in the woods at night."
"You're ignorant," she said.
"I'm sorry, I-"
"You haven't listened to a word I've said, have you?"
The lights dimmed, and I smelled the sharp odor of ozone and then heard an ominous electrical crackle.
"What was that?" I asked.
She ignored my question.
"I'm not afraid of anything outside this place," she said.
"What happened to the power?" I asked. "Why are the lights flickering?"
"The only things I'm afraid of are down there," she whispered, pointing her rifle at the floor and what lay below.
The lights dimmed until they were little more than a soft blue glow around the edge of the room's ceiling.
"Maybe there's a short in the wiring," I said nervously.
My skin felt abraded. My mouth was dry and the skin on the back of my neck tightened with fear.
"Daddy says it happens when they dream."
"Who?" I asked.
"Up top of where we're at is the family cemetery. Only ones buried there are the ones die down here."
"Is your dad coming soon?" I asked.
"I don't want to die down here," she said.
The lights disappeared into a sudden, terrifying darkness. I reached for where I had last seen her hand, but it was no longer there.