Chapters, Rat in a Maze

Rat in a Maze: Chapter 1

Jack Harris sat on the chair that looked out the window in his room. In the adjoining room, Garrison had woken up again, and erratically screamed. Sleep would be impossible for the time being, atleast until the nurses came to Garrison’s room and put him to sleep. Meanwhile, he sat on the chair, and admired the moonlit courtyard.

 

It was empty, of course. Rarely used at day time, it was completely deserted at night.

Silence filled the hallway when the nurses rushed to Garrison’s room. In Jack’s experience, silence and quiet had been the norm, rather than the exception. When he was admitted into the New Mexico State Psychiatric Hospital, he had expected hallways filled with screams of the demented and the lunatic. It had been mercifully quiet, for the most part.

And he didn’t forget the almost miraculous progress he had made in the few months he had been in here. The hallucinations had almost completely halted, and his thought process remained constant.

A doctor had even told him he may be released back to society soon.

A knock on the door surprised him. He jumped on his chair before calling out.

Come in.”

A nurse walked in, holding something in her arm. He couldn’t make it out in the dim light, but it looked like a writing board.

Jack Harris?” He nodded to this. “I’m to escort you.”

Escort me? In the middle of the night?”

The doctors want to talk to you about future treatment. Follow me.” Her reply was mechanical, practiced. It only made Jack more distrustful. He got up, however, and followed her out into the hallway.

The lights were on, but dim. Heels hitting the tiled floor while quiet footsteps followed suit were the only noises that night. They turned left, right, left. It was easy to get lost in the asylum, Jack soon discovered. Hallways were identical with no identifiable markers to set them apart. This only made him more disoriented after they had turned half a dozen corners.

As they progressed through the asylum, he noticed they were consistently progressing into more and more abandoned areas, wings and hallways, places he had never seen before. Lightbulbs were broken, the usually sterile white doors were stained with various liquids.

They turned another corner and then she stopped. Jack almost bumped into her. He looked over her shoulder.

At the end of the hallway there was a heavy iron door, not far from them. After a moment, the nurse finally walked to it, grabbed the handle, and pulled. She gestured for Jack to walk in.

The darkness inside beckoned him, but Jack hesitated, rooted to his spot. A feeling of dread wrapped around his heart.

And then he stepped through, swallowing that feeling. He was almost immediately inundated by the darkness.

Nurse, it’s really dark in here, and I don’t see a light swi—”

I’m sorry.” was the last thing he heard before the heavy door swung in its frame. A loud thud accompanied it, bouncing off the walls of the darkened hallways, into parts unknown, seemingly miles and miles of hallways.

Jack turned around to face the metal door, the echoes still going on in the distance. He knocked on it.

Nurse! What’s going on?”

Silence. He could faintly hear the sound of heels clicking on the tiled floor, moving away, fading.

Nurse!

Nothing. He turned around again, towards the darkness. Slowly, dimly, a lightbulb above him sprung to life, followed by another, and another. Light flickered on and off until it steadied, filling the corridors.

The first thing Jack noticed was the derelict walls. Paint was peeling off them, revealing bare concrete. There were stains on them, scratches and holes. Dried blood was splattered on a wall, near a series of bullet holes. Jack looked away from that.

For the longest time he didn’t move. He sat next to the door, waiting for the nurse to come back. Panic was barely kept at bay.

Hours passed. His stomach rumbled and desperation grew in his heart. He slowly got up. It was clear nobody would come. Even if he tried to bang on the door and get somebody’s attention, the hallway outside looked deserted, unused for years.

He started to walk. The floor was cold, metallic and rusty. Lightbulbs flickered erratically, alternating between a shower of light and a curtain of darkness. He pressed on, trying to keep the questions silenced and panic from rising.

He jumped at a sudden noise that pierced through the deafening silence. A soft thud as something hit a wall beneath him. It was a flat, dull sound that repeated itself. Jack slowly turned his head, the adrenaline of the scare dying off.

He saw a small circular object protrude from the wall. It might have been yellow, at one point, but now it was covered in rust and blood. Jack put his hand forward, seized and turned it, pulling a rusty door open. He screamed at the thing inside.

A man with sunken eyes looked at him. His forehead was caved in, the results of knocking his head against the wall too many times. He was pale as death and famished, with skin clinging to his bones. His arms ended in stumps, his mouth was mostly empty, few teeth barely clinging to his gums.

When the man spoke Jack screamed again, jumping against the wall.

…Thanks, brother…I was wondering, when somebody would open that damn door…”

What…what are you? What happened to you?”

Been hitting my head against this door for quite some time now, hoping somebody would hear…Finally worked, huh?”

What happened to your hands?”

Kinda ran out of things to eat…had to improvise…”

Jack tried to ignore repulsion. “Why are you in there? What is this place?”

What’s your poison?”

What?”

What’s eatin’ ya?” The man said.

I…I have schizophrenia, if that’s what you mean…”

Ah, sorry to hear that, brother…The docs stuck me in here, in the maze, months ago, I think, time has a funny way of losing sense in the darkness…And you, too, apparently. Don’t think anyone who’s been put here has made it out…Good luck, brother…mine ran out…”

The man slumped over and fell at Jack’s feet, dead. Jack held back a scream and moved, skirting around the body, and looked inside the room. The stench of fecal matter and other remains attacked his nose and he stumbled back, bile rising in his throat and threatening to leave his body. He spared one glance at the door, noticing the lack of a doorknob from that side.

He turned away from the sick experiment, facing the dimly lit hallway. Pushing the image of the dead man away, he started walking again. Jack stopped when more noises came to life. Doors banging. Walls being struck. Laughter echoing up and down the corridors.

He was not alone in the maze.

Jack started moving again, unsure if the deafening silence was better than the noises. Something scurried above him, a high pitched screech emanating from somewhere inside the hallway. He tried to block it out.

The man’s dying words replaced in his mind. Particularly doctors and maze.

Is this…a test?” He spoke aloud, mostly to keep himself from panicking. “A test for what? What’s the goal? That guy was put in a dark room for months.

He whirled around on his heels, facing the way he came. “This is a mistake, right? I wasn’t put here on purpose, right? Right?

To his question there came no answer, except for a shrill, lunatic shriek, from somewhere deep in the maze. A chill tap danced up and down his spine. He moved to the wall and sat down, laying his body and head against a door. Jack tried to find a moment of peace in this place of madness.

It was short-lived. The door started banging against its frame, and Jack shot forward, like a current called fear traveled through his body. It moved savagely, something from inside desperately trying to get out. He scrambled to his feet, moving away from the door. Splinters flew from the door and Jack started running, running into the darkness, away from the thing inside the room. The door finally flew open, but Jack was long gone.

His feet pounded the floor, a mad dash for safety in a place that offered none. He started to feel the exhaustion attacking his body. Input from everywhere around him attacked his senses, the lightbulbs overhead flickering, noises from every direction, the stench of human decay stabbing his nostrils.

He tripped over something and fell on his face a few feet forward. His body hit the floor and he laid there, unable to move, or wanting to. Exhaustion caught up to him and sleep came with it.

***

In his head, Jack is always standing on the second step of the stairs when it happens. He was going to his room, an argument exploding in the kitchen. His sister, Maggie, walks down the stairs to him, her sleepy eyes narrowed to slits. Jack tells her to go back to bed, and then, it happens.

His father runs out of the kitchen, swearing like a sailor. Blood trickles down his right side, a huge gash just below his armpit. Jack’s father staggers, one hand to his wound, the other holding on to furniture for support. The hand leaves a bloodied hand print wherever it falls on.

A shrill cry came from the kitchen. The mother walks out of the kitchen, a butcher knife in her grip. It’s stained with blood all the way to the hilt. Jack turns away from then, trying to cover his eyes. The silhouette painted on the wall of his mother and the knife going up and down was burned into his mind.

It’s all your fault! All your fault they’re like this!” Her mother screamed as she dug the knife into helpless flesh.

That’s the last thing Jack can remember before passing out, slipping into welcoming darkness.

The darkness Jack woke up to was less than welcoming.

That dream…” He whispered as he raised himself off the ground. “It’s been three years…” An ache resonated through his body. Hair flipped to either side as he shook his head. He heard movement to his side and turned around.

A female corpse laid at his feet, sitting on the ground against the wall. Her legs were stretched out, one leg straight and the one closest to him at an angle. She was wearing a nurse’s outfit. There was a huge wound in her midsection. One of her hands was laying on it, presumably to stop the blood flow. The other was on the ground, her index finger outstretched. It had spelled something.

NO WAY OUT” read the nurse’s bloody dying message.

Jack stumbled back, turned away from the nurse into the hallway before him. There was a door, open slightly ajar. Red light showered out into the hallway.

He moved towards it and, taking a deep breath, flung it open. It was a public bathroom, with three sinks and four stalls. All the mirrors were smashed open, shards of glass scattered across the floor and sinks. Jack walked up to one and turned the faucet on, splashing his face with water. He looked up at the lights on the ceiling, flashing red emergency light instead of white. A ventilation duct ran the length of the room, parallel to the ceiling. As Jack followed it with his eyes, he noticed an opening, towards the end of the duct.

The opening hadn’t been made cleanly, but savagely. Something had ripped the metal off forcefully. He looked at the floor below the opening. There was a pool of dried blood, a black flashlight in the middle.

Jack grabbed it and checked the switch. A small circle of light appeared on the wall, then disappeared. Pocketing it, he turned to the stalls.

At one point in time they may have been green, but disuse and lack of maintenance rotted away their original colors. Of the fourth stalls only three had their doors. One had been ripped clean off, the hinges barely hanging there. The door was nowhere to be seen in the room.

Jack quickly made his way out of the public bathroom into the hallway. Looking to both sides, he suddenly realized he had no idea how far he had run from the entrance. No landmarks presented themselves to him. Not even the dead nurse helped to give him a sense of location.

Only knowing the way he had come from was the way he was facing, he turned around and started walking. His hand gripped the flashlight as a sensation of dread did his heart. There had been a question his mind had tried to avoid this whole time.

How am I going to get the medication I need?

No answer came to him, only disconcerting silence. Jack walked deeper into the maze, its sounds accompanying him.

The dead nurse was left behind. To her left, a shadow watched Jack walk until he was out of sight. Then, it moved forward.

***

The corridors had been more uneventful than Jack had expected. He imagined dangers at every turn, lunatics lying in wait for the kill. Instead, he had been alone in the darkness, to himself and his thoughts.

I’m not sure which one is worse.” He said out loud, not meaning to. His words carried well through the air and bounced off the walls, towards parts unknown.

The walls had been a cursed unchanging. They remained constant and dilapidated, adding to Jack’s sense of dislocation. To mark his progress, he carved a number into the wall with a pocket knife he had picked up along the way.

His flashlight was off when he reached the red light. A segment of the corridor, about ten or fifteen steps long, bathed in darkness, the overhead lights not working or broken. A red light hung from the wall, piercing through the darkness and aiming at the ground. When Jack reached the threshold of the darkened corridor, the red light turned towards him with a sudden jerk, as if caught sleeping.

Jack stopped, startled. He looked at his flashlight, and gauged the distance.

I’ll have to brave it and run to the other end. The light from the flashlight won’t reach that red thing, anyways, and I’m not sure I want to find out what it is.

He took two steps back, preparing himself. His mind clear and his breathing steady, he broke into a run and plunged into the darkness.

Doors to either side of the corridor flew open, hidden by darkness. They slammed into the wall, startling Jack. His bravado died down as he heard the snarls and growls.

He fumbled with the flashlight, looking for the switch when a pair of hands grabbed him from behind. The flashlight flew from his hands and hit the ground, rolling away from him.

The hands that grabbed him were slimy, sliding across his neck. Its nails were freakishly long, and dirty. Jack felt repulsion rise in his system as he broke the hold and fell down. His hand shot forward and grasped a cylindrical object. The flashlight.

There was no hesitation when he turned it on. The small circle of light shot out, aiming low. He saw a pair of incredibly pale feet, with toenails that reached and scratched the ground.

Jack aimed higher. The face of a man was what he found. Safety clips clung to the man’s face, keeping his eyelids open. Dried blood surrounded his eyes like gory mascara.

The horrible visage lasted little as the man jerked backwards, shielding his eyes from the flashlight. They started to bleed and the man shrieked.

Jack started moving forward, aiming the flashlight at the other experiments, getting the same results. Many of them fell to the ground and curled up as fresh blood trickled down their faces. Jack jumped over them and kept running forward, out of the hellish corridor and into the light.

He spared a glance over his shoulder. Numerous pairs of eyes regarded him from the darkness, burning with not only light but pain and hatred, but they dared not move. Not out of their nest and into the light.

The red light followed Jack.

Jack felt a small victory rise in his chest as he made it out, leaving the monsters behind.

Ecstasy didn’t last long, as the lights above him turned off, leaving him in complete darkness. He nearly halted out of surprise. A cacophony of footsteps came from behind him, closer every second. Jack kept running, aiming his flashlight frantically over his shoulder.

He turned a corner, nearly running into the wall. His feet skidded to a halt and turned right, his hand following the wall. Aiming his flashlight forward, he saw and felt dismay. The corridor ended abruptly. There was only a door. Jack’s hand shot forward, grasping the doorknob and turning. Part of him told him it’d be locked, and it’d be over for him. It gave way, Jack nearly falling in. He quickly ducked inside and shut the door. A bolt latch hung on the upper left corner of the door and he shut it.

Jack let out a sigh of relief. The door banged inward, one of the light deprivation experiments tackling it, but it held. He turned around to examine his surroundings, never for a moment considering he could have shut himself in with another horror.

If there was an attacker, it was hiding. Jack was in what seemed like a mess hall. Four, long metallic tables with two metallic benches to either side. They were uninterrupted and the length of the tables. They took up most of the room. To the side, Jack could see the rusty kitchen, the chrome long gone.

A foul smell attacked Jack’s nostrils, coming from the ceiling. He looked up, and flinched. Several dozens of corpses hung by the hands from the ceiling, resembling a Y. They were pale and emaciated, some missing limbs, eyes, ears, or all three.

When Jack looked up one of the bodies suddenly fell and landed in the middle of the table, bounced off it and finished on the floor. The sound was dull, a flat thud followed by a cringing crack as something inside the corpse broke. Jack moved towards the body slowly, forgetting about his pursuers.

The ropes that were wrapped around the corpse’s wrists and hung him from the ceiling had been cut. Jack looked back at the ceiling, not quite sure what to expect. Something gleamed in the darkness, light bouncing off it, but too high up for Jack to recognize in the dim light.

Something breezed past Jack’s ear, sticking itself in the ground. He whirled around, clutching the pocket knife. A butcher knife had landed and dug itself into the ground near him. Jack felt his heart drop inside his chest at the sight. Breathing was suddenly difficult.

Had I been an inch more to the left…

A loud bang coming from the door startled Jack out of his thoughts. Above him, there was the sound of scurrying and climbing into the ventilation duct. It made loud noises as it exited the room.

The door splintered, starting to break. Jack hurried to his feet, pulling the knife from the ground, a bloodied Excalibur. He ran into the kitchen.

The door exploded into splinters and pieces of wood as the patients broke in. Their moans, previously muted by the thick walls and door, now exploded in sound. They started to fill the mess hall, climbing into the tables. Jack hurried into a floor cabinet, slowly shutting the door behind him. The last trickle of light ceased to exist as he shut it, leaving him in darkness.

Cold fear crept into Jack. He turned on the flashlight and inspected the rest of the cabinet. It was, luckily, empty, except for him.

The experiments started to roam the entirety of the mess hall, their moans carrying well through the air. Jack started to feel a painful cramp creep up his leg, and shivers up his spine. He tried to keep still as possible as the pale men walked by his cabinet.

A small sliver of light seeped into the cabinet as it started to open. Jack stirred, feeling it was over, he would be eaten alive, or worse. The cabinet door swung slowly open, more dim light entering the cabinet.

An ear-piercing shriek cut through the air, from somewhere inside the maze. He heard then the scurrying of feet as the experiments left the mess hall. Jack sat inside the cabinet, not making a sound, until silence reigned again in the mess hall.

He slowly made his way out, listening to any further sounds. There was only silence as he walked back into the hall. He looked to the door that had been broken, and then at the opposite side. Another door was there, locked. Jack felt sudden rage when he approached the door, and felt like crying.

When he opened it, he was less than surprised. A long corridor, lit with dim light, awaited him. It was starting to become too much for him. He broke down and hit the ground on his knees, face hiding in his hands. Tears poured through his fingers, hitting the ground.

A shrill cry broke him out of his stun. He stumbled back, his face red and wet. The cry echoed, from somewhere inside the maze. Only now he noticed it was the same cry that had scared away the experiments.

But is the source of this cry my savior, or my killer? Was it telling the other experiments to leave me alone, or to leave me alone for him?

He stood up, clutching the pocket knife. His ordeal in the maze was not yet over.

***

The earliest memory Jack could recall of his father is also the earliest one he could recall of his father’s condition.

Jack had been five, or six at the time. They lived in the outskirts of a town in New Mexico. He and his father were playing catch in the backyard.

Get ready, Jack!” His dad said, a catcher mitt on his left hand. Jack ran backwards a few yards, putting forward his left handed mitt. The ball flew from his father’s hand, breezed through the air, and found home in Jack’s glove.

His dad cheered him on. “Good job!” Jack’s father smiled at him. Jack smiled back.

His father’s smile suddenly faded, glancing over Jack’s shoulder.

Jack!” He screamed, his voice laced with panic. “Get in the house, quick!”

What?” Dumbfounded, Jack turned around. There was nothing behind him, except for the hedge that separated his house from the neighbor’s.

Get in the house!” His father ran forward and grabbed Jack, pushing him towards the house. When Jack was safely deposited inside the house, his father ran and grabbed a Winchester rifle that hung on the hall. He ran outside and shot at the hedge.

Jack stood inside the house, dumbfounded. His mother ran outside, screaming at his father. He never entirely found out what had happened, but he remembered distinctly his father yelling to his mother about a coyote that had gotten into the lawn and was sneaking up on Jack.

But Jack had not seen a coyote. For that matter, coyotes were not known to roam that part of New Mexico. It wasn’t until his own schizophrenia manifested that he was able to piece it together.

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