The Drooling Path: Part 1
rating: +75+x

Dr. Conrad Scott rubbed his eyes and groaned. He wasn’t supposed to be listening to SCP-058. He’d already gone over the thirty minute limit in the containment procedures and would probably start vomiting cicadas or something at any moment.

Conrad chuckled to himself, because after close to 20 years in the memetics division people inevitably develop a very odd sense of humor. 058's gibbering wouldn't make him vomit cicadas. It wasn't even memetic, at least not anomalously so. But he wasn't assigned to 058 because of his memetics experience. He'd earned that position with his other specialty: word salad. Although he'd never quite liked the subject's unscientific name, it held great interest to him, both personally and professionally. For one reason or another - be it reality distortion, failed mimicry, memetic mind-scrambling, or plain old brain damage - many anomalies, or the people they'd affected, seemed to have something like aphasia. They said words, sometimes sentences, but never anything with a clear meaning. At least, it would seem that way to most people. Not to a memeticist, though, at least not always. Memeticists knew all about meaning, the fundamental denotations and connotations of words, sounds, and syllables, and all the ways they could be chopped up and mixed together. Tossed, like a salad. From that kind of perspective, understanding word salad was a bit like solving a jigsaw puzzle - difficult, time-consuming, and sometimes very frustrating, but terribly fascinating all the same. Rewarding, too, if you could finish.

That's why SCP-058 had become something of a "pet project" for Dr. Scott, insofar as a car-sized heart-monster could be considered a "pet" anything. Maybe "obsession" was a better word. Yes, "obsession". The so-called "Heart of Darkness" fascinated him, though not because of its incredible destructive capabilities. They had plenty of unkillable, inexplicable monsters at the Foundation, but only one of them had been spewing vaguely nihilistic word salad 24/7 for the last "██" years. And every apocalyptic non-sequitur, every doom-laden run-on sentence, had been recorded. Conrad had heard maybe a third of the recordings; the thirty-minute restriction made it impossible for him to listen to the whole thing, especially since he hadn’t been assigned to 058 until many years after its containment. That moron Aimes Johnston had been working on it from the start, but he wouldn’t have known what to do with a word salad if you gave him a fork and a typewriter.

Dr. Scott laughed again, flipping to the interview log in 058’s file. Johnston had made a fool of himself, asking it its name and where it was from. Creatures like that, they didn’t understand concepts like names and places, at least not the way we do. Johnston was of the opinion that 058 didn’t understand anything; he thought the speech was just some bizarre byproduct of its “[REDACTED]” origin, and it was nothing more than a mindless beast, a faster 682 that occasionally shot fire from its ass. 682 wasn’t a mindless beast either, but Scott could understand why Johnston liked to pretend otherwise. The kind of thoughts that ran through a mind like that were completely inimical to a human’s. But they were thoughts nonetheless, and Conrad had proof. Proof that Johnston would’ve seen immediately if he hadn’t been so worried about a disemboweled D-class.

The sensual violence of lust is all the assurance you will ever need to know the worth of life.

That was a coherent, grammatically correct, and meaningful sentence, one of maybe a dozen that 058 had uttered over the years. There might have been more, but Johnston and his new assistant (What was his name? Jason?) had those tapes. It frustrated Scott to no end that the key to cracking 058’s language might have been languishing in that knucklehead’s desk drawer. But Johnston had seniority, both on the 058 project and in general, so the best Conrad could do was hope his rival was nearby the next time SCP-5229 decided to go for a swim.

Dr. Johnston' seniority was especially annoying to Conrad because they were almost the same age. Really, if you'd seen them both, you might've thought Conrad was the older one. His curly hair was fading and falling out, and a combination of bad genetics and worse decisions had left him joints that felt ten years older than the rest of his body, which wasn't exactly young itself.

But, he supposed, it could be worse. Listening to SCP-058's recordings didn't require much moving around. And 058 had a nice voice, really. Like something you’d hear in an audiobook. Maybe they should train it to read poetry. Then it might help him sleep instead of giving him nightmares.

Maybe it’d put him to sleep anyway…

"I have crawled the trees with venom swings to the blind of drooling path…"

Dr. Scott sat bolt upright in his chair. Maybe he’d imagined it. He had been on the edge of sleep, and he had been listening a little too long. Just to make sure he’d heard right, he skipped back a few seconds and played it again. As he listened to another heart speak, his own was pounding.

“I have crawled the trees with venom swings to the blind of drooling path that flows electricity from eye to evening. There is no more than salvation in the bald mind of a husk that drinks his only kings.”

Dr. Scott pressed STOP. Slowly, he opened his laptop - the clunky, Foundation-issued one he'd been using since his dinosaur of a desktop bought the farm - and booted up the Foundation internal database. He remembered very well where he'd heard of a "drooling path" before, but in the memetics division they train you not to trust your own memories unless they can be verified as genuine. Lucky for Conrad Scott, this particular memory could. He found what he was looking for in an addendum to SCP-1981's file, a transcript from "█/█/96".

0:12:32 - Reagan: I've been to the steel mills of Alaska, and the cornfields of Nebraska. I've seen the derelict offices of Google burn with the window boarded up and the squatters inside them. I've seen the houses where they cut up the little babies. From coast to shining coast I have walked empty down drooling path <indecipherable> The decaying flesh of false morality poisoning our children. I have stood atop the mountain of this greedy earth, looking upon our beautiful pious pit, filled to bursting with the vast hands of helplessness. And did you know what I saw?

The transcript didn't describe the heavily degraded video, but it didn't need to. Scott still remembered the way Ronald Reagan's head and neck had looked, sliced nearly to bits by whatever entity inhabited that ancient Betamax tape. He'd pored over that image and others like it, and all the transcripts that went with them, searching for any hint of a correlation or pattern that might reveal something, anything about the alien consciousness driving the anomaly. How long had he combed through hours of video, hunting for clues to future events? How many times had he watched Ronald Reagan brutally mutilated, all for nothing? All those hours and days of research had never revealed a single clue to the anomaly's true nature. Eventually, he'd been reassigned to 058, and he'd given up on ever finding out the secrets of 1981.

But now, more than a decade later, he finally had something. The same strange phrase, spat out by a completely different anomaly, years before a bleeding Ronald Reagan ever gargled it: "drooling path".

Conrad Scott smiled.

They heard him in the cafeteria.

When the security guards kicked open Dr. Scott’s door, he was still dancing.

“The drooling path!” Dr. Scott exclaimed as he leapt in place, arms above his head like Rocky. “The drooling path!” He turned to face the guard, smiling wide, eager to share this new breakthrough with anyone who’d listen. Then the guard tackled him. Even as he was cuffed and hauled away, Dr. Scott continued to cheer. “The drooling path!” he shouted. “I knew it! I knew it!”

Dr. Glass sighed. “Conrad needs a vacation.”

“He needs a reassignment,” Dr. Johnston grumbled.

“Well, that’s what this assessment is going to determine,” Glass semi-agreed. He and Aimes Johnston were walking side-by-side down a hallway in Armed Bio-Containment Area 14, heading toward the cell where the overjoyed Dr. Scott had been detained. He wasn’t trying to hurt anybody, but he’d been listening to 058 for almost an hour and security wasn’t taking any chances.

“Doctor Johnston!” called an out-of-breath voice from behind.

The doctor scowled and did not turn to face his assistant as the much younger scientist drew up beside him.

“Yes, James?”

“I was walking past Dr. Scott’s office just now, and I…”

“Great idea!” Johnston interrupted, just wanting rid of the bothersome research assistant. “Go seize all of his 058 stuff, and put it in my office.”

“Now, Aimes,” Glass cautioned. “Don’t you think you should wait until after the evaluation to seize Conrad’s possessions?”

James, who was already turning to go, paused briefly.

“Pfft,” Johnston scoffed. “Scott’s cracked. They won’t fire him, no, but he violated containment procedures. He’s off 058 for good.” Then he grinned sardonically, exposing the hole where his right front tooth had once been.

“You seem entirely too happy about your coworker’s misfortune.” Glass cast a sideways glance at Johnston, if only to frighten him. Johnston crossed his arms defensively.

“058 is my project. Always has been. Scott’s just here for that weird gibberish…”

“Word salad, sir,” James corrected before he could stop himself.

“…obsession he has. You know they kicked him off 1981 for trying to communicate with it?”

“Yes, I am aware of Conrad's history. That’s why they sent me instead of Yamada.”

There was a brief pause, during which Johnston’s eyes glided over to James for the first time since he’d joined the conversation.

“Is there a reason you’re still here?”

James startled, then shook his head. “No, sir, sorry, sir!” Then he sprinted off down the hall to loot Dr. Scott’s office.

“You shouldn’t treat him so poorly.” Glass watched as James hurried off, drawing derogatory looks from passing staff.

“He needs it. The kid’s soft. Lets everybody step on him. I’m just trying to toughen him up, so he won’t crack like Scott just did.”

Now that the initial excitement had passed, Dr. Scott was frustrated. When he’d begun his celebratory dance, he hadn’t considered the way it would look to anybody who barged in. So now he was stuck in quarantine, waiting for a psych eval. He was still pretty happy, though. He’d made the first real breakthrough on the speech patterns of both 058 and 1981, at the same time nonetheless. Even better, he'd done it before that asshat Aimes Johnston. He couldn’t wait to get back to his office. That’s why he hopped to his feet as soon as the door slid open, only for the smile to melt from his face.

“Hello, Conrad.” Dr. Glass smiled warmly as Scott collapsed back onto the narrow bed, face in his hands.

“I’m not compromised!” Dr. Scott exclaimed once again.

“No one’s saying that you are,” repeated Glass. “But you certainly seem distressed.”

“I’m distressed because I’m in a cell, instead of my office, where I need to be!”

“Doctor, you’ve worked plenty enough for today. I think you need a vacation.”

“Vacation?!” Conrad angrily rose to his feet once again. “I’ve just made the biggest breakthrough of my life!” In his peripheral vision, he saw the security guard still standing at the cell door raise his weapon. Glass didn’t seem to notice, but Scott took the hint and sat down.

“And what exactly is this breakthrough?” Glass inquired.

Scott couldn’t resist himself. He’d been aching to tell somebody about it. Unlike Johnston and the meatheads guarding the door, Glass was intelligent. He would understand how important this was. Scott leaned forward and smiled.

“The drooling path,” he said.

Glass’s brow furrowed. “I’m sorry?”

“The drooling path!” Scott exclaimed. “I heard 058 say it!”

“So what?” Glass asked, writing something down. Scott had learned not to read upside-down (it was a survival skill in the memetics division), but he didn’t need to in order to know that this interview wasn’t going well. With a little more urgency than before, he tried to explain himself.

“I’ve heard that before.” Glass looked up from his clipboard. “1981 said it once.”

Glass returned to his writing. “Sounds like a coincidence to me.”

“Coincidence!” Scott shouted, surprising even himself. “There are more than 200,000 words in the English language! The chances of two unrelated anomalies coming up with the same phrase by pure coincidence are practically non-existent!”

“And you have another explanation, I assume?”

“Yes.” Scott leaned even closer to Glass, who looked up from his papers once again. “Because they aren’t unrelated.”

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” James muttered, gathering up the CDs with 058’s rantings on them. He hated it when Johnston treated him like shit, just because he was just a Research Assistant, not a proper Researcher. James knew he should stand up for himself, but he also knew that talking back to Johnston would be a one-way ticket to Keter duty (James's friendlier colleagues had assured him there was no such thing, but he wasn't so sure). He also hated rooting through Dr. Scott’s office like this. It was an invasion of privacy, and he knew that he’d catch the blame when Dr. Scott wanted his 058 CDs back.

Also, Dr. Scott’s office was creepy. His desk was a disorganized mess of SCP files, beat poetry, and nonsensical notes to self. There was also a printed photograph of Ronald Reagan in the pile. It looked like someone had taken a photo of a TV playing a badly degraded VHS tape; the former president was barely recognizable. He almost looked like he was bleeding. The desk was nothing compared to the walls, though. There was a corkboard behind the desk completely covered in handwritten transcriptions of 058 recordings, with words highlighted in different colors. Dr. Scott had even stuck pins in them and connected them with color-coded yarn like Fox Mulder. And right at the middle, written so big that it took up a whole page, was this:

The sensual violence of lust is all the assurance you will ever need to know the worth of life.

Maybe Dr. Scott really was crazy. James quickly finished putting the twenty-some 058 discs in his duffel bag, then made for the door. He was almost out before he remembered to check the CD player itself. Reluctantly, James doubled back to Dr. Scott’s chaotic desk and popped open the lid on the little compact CD player that lay there. There was indeed another disc inside it. James was about to remove it, but something made him stop. He’d been working with Dr. Johnston for six months now, but he still hadn’t actually heard any of 058’s ramblings. As far as James knew, Dr. Johnston never listened to it at all. He looked up at the open door, then back at the creepy corkboard. Then he closed the CD player and sat down.

“Might as well,” he said to himself. “Could be my only chance to actually hear the damn thing.” It was only fair; he was assigned to 058 too, after all. Then he pressed play.

“That’s…quite a theory.”

“And I can prove it, too. I just need to get back to my office…”

“No, Conrad. You need a break.”

“A break? But I’m so close! Why don’t…”

“I do, Conrad, I do. You really may be on to something. But the fact of the matter is, you’ve been listening to 058 far too often lately, and it’s straining your mental health.”

“Pfft. I’m fine.”

Instead of arguing, Dr. Glass produced his cellphone and showed Scott a photo of the corkboard behind his desk. Dr. Scott started to argue, then deflated.

“Okay, maybe I have been working a little too hard.”

“That’s okay, Conrad. Most people don’t work hard enough! But you’ve done a good job today, and you deserve some rest.”

“I suppose.” Glass knew damn well that Scott wouldn’t be able to rest, not until he knew more about the “drooling path”. But he couldn’t say that.

Dr. Glass stood up. “I’m going to recommend that you be given the week off. Go to the beach. See a movie. Stay at a hotel. Just get out of that Godforsaken office. Alright?"

Scott sighed, resigned to his fate. "Well, a little fresh air couldn't hurt." That, at least, was true. Area-14 was almost completely underground, which made both fresh air and sunlight difficult to come by.

"My point exactly. Is there anything you need from your office-"

"Well, there's-"

"-that isn't work-related?"

"Of course. Just my lunch."

"Okay. I'll have someone go get those for you."

Scott crossed his arms. "What, you don't trust me in my own office?"

Glass didn't answer, because he was already leaving. "Take him to the lobby, would you?" he whispered to the guard. "Don't let him out of your sight."

The guard nodded, then turned to Scott while Glass headed off down the hall. "Come on. Let's go to the lobby."

"You are welcome in the world of frozen sundowns, but only while the childish members of tomorrow's mind die quietly in sudden sequence."

James was horrified. No wonder Dr. Scott's office was such a madhouse, if he listened to this on a regular basis.

"Never have the mass and water chosen to live in margins. No one has forgiven the lands of mixed and chosen men, ground to cinders by the life of derangement."

Suddenly, James was seized with a sudden concern that these recordings might be memetic or something. Dr. Scott had been detained by an armed guard; maybe he'd gone nuts and tried to kill somebody. Hoping he hadn't been corrupted already, James reached forward to stop the CD player.

"I have craw-"

Almost exactly when James stopped the playback, the door to the office swung even further open than it had been already, striking the wall with a startling noise. James jumped, finding himself face to face with Dr. Johnston.


"Yessir?" he replied, nervously.

"What's taking you so long?"

"Uh-" James began, but it turned out to have been a rhetorical question.

"Where are those disks?" Johnston demanded.

"Uh," James repeated, grabbing up the duffel containing them, "here they are."

Johnston thanklessly snatched it out of his hand. "Excellent. Now go get me a coffee, and come straight back to my office." With that, Dr. Johnston left the room as angrily as he’d entered it.

"Mean old bastard," he muttered. James started to leave again, but just like last time, he remembered the disc in the CD player when he was halfway out the door.

"Shit," he said, doubling back again to get it. Johnston would be seriously pissed, even though it was his own damn fault for being so impatient.

Of course, it wasn't like the mean old bastard was actually going to listen to it. He was just taking the CDs out of spite. He probably wouldn't even notice if one of them went missing.

James grinned. A little rebellion never hurt anybody.

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