The Anomaly


By Michael Rutger

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A rogue archaeologist is trapped in a Grand Canyon cave as a conspiracy theory comes to life in this "take no prisoners" survival thriller that puts our hero up against impossible odds (Preston & Child).

Not all secrets are meant to be found.
Nolan Moore is a rogue archaeologist hosting a documentary series derisively dismissed by the "real" experts, but beloved of conspiracy theorists.

Nolan sets out to retrace the steps of an explorer from 1909 who claimed to have discovered a mysterious cavern high up in the ancient rock of the Grand Canyon. And, for once, he may have actually found what he seeks. Then the trip takes a nasty turn, and the cave begins turning against them in mysterious ways.

Nolan's story becomes one of survival against seemingly impossible odds. The only way out is to answer a series of intriguing questions: What is this strange cave? How has it remained hidden for so long? And what secret does it conceal that made its last visitors attempt to seal it forever?


What we wish most to know, most desire,

remains unknowable and lies beyond our grasp.

—James Hollis, The Archetypal Imagination


He went back.

As he ran, he felt a reverberation under his feet, the shudder of something very heavy landing on the stone floor.

Close by? Impossible to be sure.

He hesitated, almost ready to give up, but some impulse kept him moving forward. “Samuel!” he shouted, voice cracking.

And this time he finally gained a response. A strangled attempt at speech, half-choked with a sob. On the left. Only yards away in the darkness.

“Get the light.”

Maqk—one of only two natives left, the others all dead or deserted or lost—grabbed the candle from the floor and followed George as he felt his way along the wall in the direction of the sound, keeping his rifle in position, trying to hold it steady, though his arms were exhausted and his nerves shot.


In the dying glow of the candle.

Samuel. Slumped on the ground. Something in his hand, which he scratched against the wall. A knife. Blood on the handle. Blood over his shirt and face, too.

“For God’s sake,” George said. “I told you to follow.”

The man didn’t seem to hear. He kept at his bizarre, pointless task.

“We leave now or we die.”

Maqk, too, pleaded with Samuel to move. He got no more of a response.

Another scream, from deep within the cave. A long, fading, and even more horrific sound than the one before, a sound that said whoever made it would not be capable of a noise of any kind for much longer.

Losing patience, on the edge of outright panic, George gestured to Maqk and they lunged forward, each grabbing one of Samuel’s arms. They pulled, tugging him to his feet.

“No!” Samuel shouted. “I must finish it.”

They ignored him, yanking with failing strength, hauling the man back the way they had come. They stumbled together along the corridor, using each dim candle like a rung on a ladder.

Finally they were able to see a faint glow ahead—narrow, dark blue, a sliver of dawn from outside.

But they could hear something, too.

“Go,” Samuel said brokenly. “Just go. Leave me.”

George grabbed the man’s arm tighter and yanked him into something like a run. Maqk kept shoving him from behind—but cried out. A shout, and then a scream.

George glanced around and saw the man suddenly disappear—yanked back into the darkness, eyes and mouth frozen wide.

George and Samuel ran as fast as they could toward the light, putting their souls in the hands of God.

Part One

It’s the loss of the Grail that sets us out

on the Quest, not the finding.

—Martin Shaw, The Snowy Tower


The Lord saw that the wickedness

of man was great in the earth,

and that every intention of the thoughts

of his heart was only evil continually.

—Genesis 6:5


It took six hours to get to the Grand Canyon from LA despite the fact that Ken drives like a crazy person, and by the time we arrived at the hotel it was late afternoon and everyone was very hot and extremely ready to not be in the car anymore. The Kenmobile is a big old Lexus SUV bought in better times, but with five people’s bags and Pierre’s extensive collection of camera and lighting equipment—the majority of which, I’m convinced, is superfluous for any function unrelated to Pierre’s ego—four of us spent the long, hot drive in moderate discomfort. Ken’s insistence on playing loud progressive rock from the 1970s did not make the time pass any faster, though I’ll admit there was an hour of unrelenting desert toward the end when it lent the experience an epic Kodachrome grandeur.

The hotel was twenty miles from the canyon, and pretty new and perfectly okay. Two wings of identical rooms on three floors, open-plan lobby in the middle with a half-decent restaurant and airport-style bar, surrounded by parking lot and desert. Ken defaults to this kind of place—it’s Molly who arranges the bookings, but with anything involving expenditure you can bet he made the judgment call—because they’re cheap and have loyalty programs that feed points back to the company credit card. Ken’s chief skill as a producer/director is to pinch each penny until it begs for mercy. Without this talent the show wouldn’t have made it to the web in the first place, and it was even more crucial now that we had the steely eye of a cable network overseeing every aspect of production, and so I’m grateful, I guess. I’m also glad this kind of crap isn’t my problem, because I’d be hopeless at it—but that doesn’t stop me wishing that, once in a while, we could base operations somewhere with views over something other than asphalt.

We tumbled out of the SUV into the lot and stretched and muttered and burped. The team:

Ken—late fifty-something (and pointlessly evasive on the precise number), paunchy, face like an old pug, thinning black hair. Came over from England way back (quite possibly on the run from the authorities), punched his way up through commercials and music videos and produced a few horror movies in the early ’90s that made some actual money. These days The Anomaly Files is all he does, and he does not stint in making comedic play over how far this shows his star has fallen.

Molly—assistant producer—twenty-eight, confidently attractive in generic Southern California style, destined for better things. Surgically attached to her iPhone, never without a binder, usually smiling in a way that says it really will be better for all concerned if you just do what she says.

Pierre—midtwenties, pointlessly good-looking, our cameraman. I don’t know why he’s called Pierre. He’s not French. His parents aren’t French. He can’t speak French and (I checked) has never even been to France. It’s annoying. Pierre is convinced he’s on the fast track to Hollywood and one night when he’s annoyed me even more than usual I’m going to tell him I’ve been there and it’s not as much fun as it looks. But not yet, as the most annoying thing about Pierre is that he works hard and is genuinely talented, certainly a lot more so than the past-it journeymen who’d normally accept this type of gig. Plus he has rich parents and comes with his own high-end gear and so Ken loves him, insofar as Ken’s capable of loving anyone who isn’t actively handing him either money or a drink.

Finally, a temporary addition to our merry band, a woman I’d met for the first time that morning when the Kenmobile picked her up from a bland little house in Burbank. Mousy, pale, a neohippie type in floaty multilayered clothes with hemp shoes and an ankh necklace. I was still struggling to address her as Feather, though that appeared to be her actual name.

And then yours truly, of course.

But that’s enough about me.


Molly led the way into the hotel and supervised check-in. Ken went first, naturally. Once processed, he told Molly to get his bag sent up to his room and announced that he’d see us all in the bar in an hour—at which point he marched straight over to it, to do an hour’s predrinking. His dedication in this regard is legendary.

Pierre and Feather went next, and wandered off toward the elevators together, Pierre draped in black canvas tech bags. Theoretically he brings them inside to stop people stealing the gear from the car, but I suspect the primary intention is to show off his gym-muscled arms as he hefts them to and fro.

I finally stepped up to the desk next to Molly and smiled at the registration clerk. “Hey, Kim,” I said, reading the name from her badge. “How’s your day?”

She frowned, which was not the desired effect. After a moment, however, it became clear she was trying to place me, and then that she had. “Whoa,” she said. “You’re that guy.”

“That guy?”

“Yes,” she said. “You are. The YouTuber. That archeologist guy. Unsolved mysteries and stuff.”

This, I should note, seldom happens. My grin in response was charming, and the accompanying shrug could have been used as a Wikipedia illustration of “self-deprecating.”

“Guilty as charged,” I said. “I am indeed Nolan Moore.”

“Wow. My dad hates your show.”

“Oh. Why?”

“He’s an actual archeologist. Or was. Now he’s a professor at NAU in Flagstaff. He’s real smart. I tend to go with what he thinks.”

“Good for you. Well, I’m sorry he doesn’t like the show. Can I check in now?”

She clattered on her keyboard, peering at the screen. “Actually, I don’t seem to have a reservation under the name Nolan Moore.”

“It’ll be under Roland Barthes.”


“Long story.” Actually, it was a fairly short story. A very successful movie actor I used to go drinking with in a previous life told me that one of the ways he’d made it seem like he was, or might soon be, famous—in the early days—was checking into hotels under an assumed name. For the mystique. Every now and then I experimented with doing the same. This encounter was not the first evidence that it was a really dumb idea, certainly outside Hollywood.

“I’ll need to see ID in that name.”

“I don’t have any.”

She looked up with an unapologetic half smile.

“Molly,” I said, “sort this shit out, would you?”

I stomped back outside to have a cigarette.


Having showered and tweeted and replied to the few nonasinine comments on the show’s YouTube channel, I spent an unedifying half hour wandering the parking lot, smoking diligently and looking at the view—360 degrees of desert, sporadically enlivened by stunted shrubs; the lights of a gas station twinkling in the distance as dusk settled in. At seven I walked into the hotel bar, ready for refreshment.

Ken was holding court at a center table, Molly on the couch beside him. They stick together like glue while in production, mainly so they can shout “No” in unison every time I suggest some cool unplanned thing we could do. Feather perched on a chair opposite, looking enthusiastic in a nonspecific way. No sign of Pierre yet; presumably he was either in the gym or meditating in his room, two habits he’s mentioned multiple times and for which I have not yet, miraculously, slapped him.

Ken saw me enter and held up two fingers. I glanced at the women but Molly shook her head and Feather merely smiled, not understanding the question. Of course, there was waitress service, but when Ken wants another large vodka he kind of wants it now, and though I’m theoretically the star of this thing, I’m generally the one expediting it. Molly is Ken’s bitch for anything to do with work, but drinks aren’t work, so when it comes to those she’s adamant that she isn’t. The complexity of the interacting hierarchies within a small group is beyond the scope of my tiny mind. I mainly just do what I’m told.

As I waited at the bar I checked out the other patrons. A few couples making plans for the next day’s excursions to the canyon, a family of four peaceably chowing down on identically vast burgers, a scattering of singletons frowning at their smartphones to prove they totally weren’t lonely and bored—and a trim redhead with a perky ponytail at the other end of the counter, hammering away on a laptop. She favored me with an amused smile and then pointedly looked away. I sternly ignored her while I signed the drinks to my room, so that showed her.

When I got back to the table, Molly was out in the lobby, pacing up and down and barking into her phone. In the run of things she’s unflappably affable, but experience has shown that supply companies who get on her wrong side will come to regret it in profound ways.

“Fuckup with the boat,” Ken said.

“Oh. What?”

“The last bunch of tourists sank it. The issue is under discussion.”

“So I see.”

“You sorted on your bits of shit?”

I spread my hands in a gesture of quiet confidence.

“Okay,” he said patiently. “But really?”

I tapped my temple. “It’s all up here.”

He sighed. “That’s wonderful, mate. But I’m going to suggest to you, not for the first time, that I’d prefer to see it in an actual script.”

“Not how I roll. As you know.”

“Sadly, I do. But remind me why?”

“I’m done with scripts.”

“Plus you’re an arsehole. So there’s that.” He chinked his glass against mine. “Cheers. Here’s to the successful and within-budget hammering of another nail into the coffin of received wisdom and the dastardly agenda of Them.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Feather piped up, with surprising vehemence. She raised her glass and I tapped mine against it.

Pierre arrived in the bar looking annoyingly serene. Ken, Molly, and I waved at him as he approached. Pierre understood this wasn’t a greeting and dutifully changed course toward the bar. I noticed the ponytailed laptop lady glance at him as he arrived, checking out his form in a way I can only describe as “appreciative.”

Meanwhile, Feather was beaming at me. “I don’t want to sound like a fangirl,” she said, “but…okay, let’s face it, I’m a total fangirl. I love your show. What you’re doing is incredibly important, Nolan. And I want to thank you for it.”

“Well, we should be thanking you,” I said, disliking the heartiness in my voice.

“Happy to be able to help,” she said. “So happy.”

“I’d love to hear more about what the Palinhem Foundation actually does,” I said, trying to imply that I was on top of all but the finest details. In fact I had no clue. Our new sponsors had come directly to Ken and he’d handled the negotiations. Or more likely said yes without a second thought. He’d take cash from the NRA if they promised to keep out of his face during filming. And gave him a gun. Without the Foundation’s cash injection—and their controlling stake in the NewerWorld cable network—there’s no way we’d have this chance of the jump to a real TV show. Being conspicuously nice to Feather was high on my list of priorities over the coming days—as Ken had reminded me, many times.

“Truth,” she breathed. “That’s what we’re about.”

“Absolutely. But, uh, in what way?”

“The way you mean it, Nolan. What you’ve shown us time after time in The Anomaly Files. We need a compelling voice to fight the way scientists, the government, and the liberal autocracy have painted a misleading picture of the world and a false narrative of human history, stomping down on anything that doesn’t fit their agenda.”

I wasn’t sure what the “liberal autocracy” was supposed to be—and actually it sounded like something I should probably not be against—but smiled warmly anyway. “Right on.”

“Yeah, but seriously,” Ken said. “Where’s the money come from? Don’t think I’m not grateful, love. I’m just curious.”

“Seth Palinhem was a successful industrialist,” Feather said. She used the term as you might say “violent alcoholic.” “He died ten years back. Thankfully, toward the end of his life he realized there were bigger truths and wider horizons. He set up his foundation to fund researchers who shared his vision. This is my first big project. I’m so excited to be here.”

“And it’s a pleasure to have you,” Ken said, dutifully taking his turn to sound hearty, though I’d been there to witness his reaction when he discovered that a Palinhem representative wanted to do a ride-along on the first shoot of the new season. It had featured foul language of a breadth, inventiveness, and duration that may never be bettered in the course of human history. I wish I had it on tape.

“I only hope you’re not going to be bored,” I said. “Making TV involves a lot of waiting around.”

“I won’t be for a second, I’m sure. And I want to be helpful,” she said. “Part of the team. So what can I do? When the expedition starts?”

“Don’t worry, love,” Ken said breezily. “We’ll think of something. Just ask Molly.”

My suspicion was that “something” was going to be a master class in fetching and carrying objects of zero import, occasionally being asked for an opinion on things that didn’t matter, and generally being kept out of the way.

At that moment Molly returned and plonked herself down on the couch, looking satiated. Ken grinned at her. “So—do we have the boat we ordered?”

“No,” she said tersely. “We have a bigger and better boat. For the same price.”

“That’s my girl.”

“Different guide from the one I talked to before, but this guy’s more experienced, apparently. So that’s a win, too.”

“Nice. Though who needs a guide when we’ve got Nolan to lead the way?”

They winked at each other in a way that was doubtless intended to be amusing.

When Pierre arrived with the drinks, I was surprised—and annoyed—to see Laptop Lady from the bar behind him. I’d seen him work fast, but this had to be a record.

“Okay,” he said, however. “So, this is Gemma, who’s coming with us apparently?”

“Good,” Molly said. “But where’s my drink?”

Pierre rolled his eyes and headed back toward the bar. Laptop Lady held her ground and smiled down at us, apparently unfazed at being abandoned with strangers.

Then it dawned on me. “Gemma,” I said, standing and reaching out to shake her hand. “Great to meet you.”

“Likewise, Nolan,” she said. Her hand was cool.

She was offered a space on the couch between Ken and Molly, but took a nearby stool instead. “How come you didn’t say hi when I was at the bar?” I asked.


Ken frowned. “The bloke from Breaking Bad?”

Gemma laughed. “No. My being here can’t help but affect the dynamic of your little team. I wanted some time to watch you before joining the group. Get a sense of you all.”

Ken and I glanced at each other. His face remained expressionless, but his left eyebrow rose a millimeter: Ken-speak for Careful with this one.


There was chatting, more drinks, the eating of burgers and club sandwiches and fries.

“All right, you bastards,” Ken said when it got to ten o’clock. He stood decisively, a bucket of hard liquor having its customary lack of effect other than making his voice twenty percent louder and causing his body to appear, curiously, ten percent wider. “Tomorrow, the adventure begins. So fuck off to bed now, all of you. Wake-ups are booked for five a.m. Be standing by the car by six or you’ll be walking.”

Everybody started to leave. “If you’re available,” Gemma said to me, “it’d be great to start getting some—”

“Not tonight,” Ken told her firmly. “Nolan’s got more important things to do.”

“Plenty of time over the next two days,” I said, trying to be charming. She smiled in a way that made it impossible to tell whether I had succeeded, and walked away.

Ken sniggered—he loves playing bad cop—and we headed out for a cigarette. “Still think that’s a stupid idea,” he said as we emerged into the parking lot.

“And I still think you’re wrong. An article about the show, on a site with a bazillion readers—what’s the downside?”

“Not all publicity is good, Nolan.”

“I’ve got final approval.”

“Of course you haven’t. All Gemma has to do is press a key on her laptop and a hatchet job will be up on the site in two seconds. By the time we get her editor to pull it down it’s already been read and retweeted.”

“By the five people who give a shit.”

“It’s more like ten these days,” he said. “You’re moving up in the world, Nolan. And I couldn’t care less about the fans. For our loyal conspiracy nuts, The Anomaly Files being ridiculed by a proper news site is just further proof we’re onto something. It’s a no-lose. And hardly the first time. Remember that MediaBlitz piece on you last year?”

“Not after all the therapy I had afterward, no.”

“Exactly. And we survived. But what I do care about is not fucking up the deal with Palinhem.”

“It’ll be fine,” I said.

“It needs to be a lot better than fine, you muppet.” He was looking at me seriously now. “For reasons I don’t understand but am trying not to question, the universe has thrown us a major bone here. We’ve got this one shot at cable. Blowing it is not an option. I’ll be honest, Nolan. We get bounced back to webcasts, I’m done.”

I tried to shrug this off, but he saw the look on my face.

“Sorry, mate. It’s been fun, but it’s barely keeping me in vodka and porn. I’d insist on me or Molly riding shotgun whenever you talk to that Gemma woman, but you’d ignore it. So repeat after me: ‘I will not fuck everything up.’”


“Repeat it, you tit.”

I mumbled. “Won’t fuck it up. Dad.”

He sighed. “Go do your thing—and make it good. Then get some sleep. Lots of on-camera time for you tomorrow on the hike down. It’d be good if you didn’t look deceased.”


As I headed for the stairs to go up to my room, I passed Gemma and Feather waiting at the elevator.

“For the record,” Feather was saying, “Heisenberg proposed the uncertainty principle. I think you meant the observer effect. Hope that helps.”

Gemma blinked. Feather smiled sweetly.

I decided that I could come to like Feather.

From the files of Nolan Moore:



On Sale
Jun 19, 2018
Page Count
400 pages

Michael Rutger

About the Author

Michael Rutger is a screenwriter whose work has been optioned by major Hollywood studios. He lives in California with his wife and son.

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