Chapters, Rat in a Maze

Rat in a Maze: Chapter 2

Jack woke up. The bed he was on was old, and hard. For a change, it wasn’t stained with blood, or filled with body parts. He sat up, and scanned the room around him.

It was a dormitory. His bed was the closest to the door, which was shut and bolted. Sleep had been mercifully quiet, and uneventful. He thought with some pessimism that it wouldn’t happen again.

The butcher knife was hidden under his pillow. He took it out and held it in his hand, looking at. His face reflected on the blade of it, he shuddered, grisly memories coming back to him. Jack shook his head and got out of bed, unbolting the door and stepping out.

The corridors were the same as ever. The peeling paint, the blood stains. The flickering, dim lights overhead. He glanced over his shoulder, back at the nightmarish mess hall. It was time to move on.

Jack thought of his father during his journey. His full name had been Henry Harris, a schizophrenic. He had once explained to him that it was hereditary, running in his side of the family. Henry told him he had never been hospitalized because his delusions had never been severe, but Jack knew better. Jack would sometimes wake up at night to his father’s screams.

He half expected another shriek to cut short his thoughts. There was only silence. A little unnerved, he kept moving, towards another door at the end of the corridor.

He opened the door, slowly. A wave of heat hit his face, making him stumble backwards. Jack moved forward and looked into the room.

The emergency power was on, the lights that hung overhead flashing red, bathing the room in it. The floor below was metal grating. Heat and steam came from below, making the room misty. Jack walked in, wiping his forehead.

He moved towards the end of the room. Metal walls slid down in front of the normal doors as Jack was halfway through the room. The heat had been steady. Jack felt it rise as he stood, dumbfounded, looking at both metal doors.

Square panels gave way in the walls, releasing patients that hid inside. Jack ran towards the metallic wall, one hand gripping the butcher knife, as the mental patients drew near. He hit his hands uselessly against the metal door, hoping for release. It held. Snarls and shrills reached his ears, ever closer.

One snarl was too close for comfort. Holding the knife, Jack whirled around. The mental patient before him wore a straight-jacket, restricting his arms. His mouth was wide open, showing a set of sharp and bloody teeth. He lunged forward, uttering a cry. Jack gripped his knife tighter. And crossed the line.

He would never forget how the cry had been cut short as the knife cut through his throat. The patient’s eyes looked up at him, full of burning hate. Hate at what? Jack wondered wildly during that moment. At me? At his situation? The people who put him here?

With one last surge of strength, the patient shot backwards, disengaging himself from the knife. Blood flew through the air, spotting Jack’s clothes and the wall behind him. The patient fell to the ground as blood gurgled in his throat. He writhed and squirming, fully in his death throes. It spat blood before, finally, collapsing.

The other patients regarded him with their crazy eyes. In this moment, Jack thought, I must look like another psycho. Holding a blood stained knife, a dead body at my feet.

Nobody moved. The cut-off cry of the late patient still rung in Jack’s ears. A high-pitched alarm suddenly rung and the patients started to move towards the wall, walking into the empty panels. Jack could see only darkness in these openings, leading to parts unknown.

The metallic wall behind him slid up, giving way into the maze. Jack scrambled out into the hallway. The coolness of the corridors hit him full-force, making him shiver. He wrapped his arms around himself, sitting in front of the door.

The metallic door slid back down, with a heavy thud. Jack jumped up and turned around. Three words were printed on it.

Extreme Heat Therapy.” Jack read out loud. “This was used to…help patients?”

He glanced down at the knife in his hand. A feeling of sickness attacked him. None of the patients had carried their fallen comrade back inside. Jack imagined they’d leave it there until it rotted away…or melted. Repulsion grew in his stomach at his deed.

His reflection was halved, one half of his face hidden by the blood stains on the knife. The memory of a shadow in the wall, holding a knife and bringing it up and down and up again resurfaced in his mind. He threw the knife away.

No!” He screamed and shuddered away from it. “I am not like her! She…she…

But you are. A voice spoke in his mind. It was a womanly voice, and it held authority. You murdered him in cold blood, the poor creature. You’re no better than her. A murderer.

It was self-defense!” He screamed at nothing. “I…I had no choice!”

You knew since you picked up the knife you’d have to use it, again. After all, butcher knives are your specialty, aren’t they?

I’ve…I’ve never…” He said back to the hallway, but it didn’t sound so true anymore.

You know it’s true, Jack! You’re a killer at heart!

I’m not! Leave me alone!

There was no response. Jack slowly got up, and walked towards the knife. Hate rose in his chest at the sight of the murder weapon. It died down, however, when he picked it up. He felt safer than he would weaponless. Hating himself, he turned to the only way available.

Miserable and riddled with guilt, he started walking.

***

He wondered what he would do if—when he got out. While the idea seemed more and more impossible after each step, the prospect of escape kept him sane, and walking.

To keep his mind active, he tried to think of the other people who had been put in the maze. The handless man he met the first day of his journey had told spoken of others, not in the most encouraging tone, however.

Don’t think anyone who’s been put here has made it out.” Jack replayed his words in his mind. It seemed like ages ago, but the shock of finding a man half dead was burned vividly in his mind.

Just what is this place? He thought, nothing but his thoughts to accompany him in his silent journey. Why would anyone make this place? His mind recalled the pale, light deprived patients. What they were doing to those people…There’s no way that is legal.

And if they’re for tests, where’s the doctors? There’s bound to be files, and records. Hope rose in his heart. If there’s records, there’s probably a map of the place somewhere! A way to the exit!

Jack felt like he was on cloud nine. Renewed hope brought strength to his legs, and he started running. He started going through a plan in his head.

Find a doctor’s office, exit this crazy maze. Go to the cops and bust—

Footsteps coming his direction made him stop. He shifted attention from his escape plan to the corridor ahead of him. There was a feminine figure at the end of the hallway, her features hidden by distance and dim light.

Jack waited for her to make the first move. Doubtful, the woman started moving slowly towards him, hands stretched outward. He had raised his knife, and now he lowered it, catching sight of her empty hands. They started getting closer as Jack started to move.

She finally came into full view. She was a tall woman, nearly as tall as Jack. Her hair fell down all the way to the middle of her back, black like raven’s hair. Eyes blue and deep like a lake, shining like a sapphire. She wore nurse’s clothing, which was now dirty, several layers of dust on it. Jack thought he must not look much better. Even with dirty, matted hair and a tired gaze, Jack thought she looked beautiful, a friendly face for a change.

The woman glanced down at his knife, doubtful. She took a step back.

No, no!” He said, not wanting her to leave. “I don’t want to hurt you. This is only self-defense.” Jack dropped the knife, the metal clanging as it hit the ground.

She kept her distance, but looked reassured. “My name’s Rose.” She said. “Rose Hartmann.”

Jack.” He replied. “Jack Harris.” They regarded each other with some distrust, but as far as Jack could see, he was the only one armed here.

What are you doing here? Did the doctors throw you in here?” Jack asked after some silence.

She shook her head. “I don’t know. I was a new nurse at the asylum. One of the doctors told me he’d show me ‘the old facility’, so I would know where it was, whenever I needed to escort one of the patients there. I followed him to a heavy, iron door. He opened the door, and pushed me in.” A sigh escaped her mouth. “From your clothes, I can tell you’re a patient.”

Jack nodded. “At the asylum. A nurse escorted me here and did pretty much the same thing. How long have you been in here?”

Rose thought it over. With no day or night, it was difficult to keep track of time. “I’d say a week. I’ve slept seven times, anyways.”

A week?” Jack said. “What do you eat?”

There’s a kitchen further down this corridor, and a pantry. There’s enough canned food to last us a year.”

Jack picked up on “us”. She already counted him in. Relief flooded in.

I’m surprised you’re alive.” He said. “I’ve nearly died four times just getting here. How do you avoid those…things?”

I don’t. I ran into one of those…pale, tall guys with the safety pins around their eyes.” Jack nodded as she talked, suppressing a shiver. “He just watched me from the darkness, and then walked away. They don’t seem interested in attacking me.”

Then what have you been doing all this time?”

Looking for an exit.” She looked at him like it was the most obvious thing. It probably is, he thought.

Any luck?”

She sighed. “Not at all. Had I any luck, I wouldn’t be here.”

You can say that again.” Jack looked over his shoulder, towards the corridor behind him. He shuddered, and turned back to her.

Let’s go to the kitchen.” She said. “You’re starving, aren’t you?”

In all the confusion and panic Jack had blocked out his hunger, but the mention of food renewed it. His stomach growled and he reddened, embarrassed.

Say no more.” She said. “This way.”

Rose started walking away from him, turning the corner at the end of the hallway. Jack picked up his knife and hurried forward, following her. He felt relief. It died down when the womanly voice spoke in her mind.

She will die because of you. For you, even. He wished it away, but it left before he had even finished.

Jack looked at her back, trying to distract himself. He tried to guess her age. She looked really young, younger than him. He was twenty years old, and she looked about eighteen.

They reached the kitchen after a while. It was a replica of the mess hall Jack had been in the day before, but cleaner, with less rust and blood. The bodies hanging from the ceiling were missing. Jack felt grateful for this.

Soup, or soup?” She said to him as he sat down.

Soup will be fine.”

I’m glad. That’s almost all there is. There’s a few vegetables, but I think we should save those for later.”

Sounds good.” Jack said, eager to have something in his stomach. Rose heat up the can, opened it, and gave it to Jack with a spoon. He smiled gratefully.

After eating, they remained in companionable silence. With food in his stomach, and in the foreseeable future, the road ahead didn’t seem so dangerous. As far as he could tell, Rose seemed happy, as well.

He decided to break the silence. “Why do you think the monsters don’t attack you?”

Monsters? They looked like patients to me.”

One almost tore out my throat with his teeth!”

I see your point.” Rose said. “I don’t know. Maybe they attack only other patients?”

I guess.” He said, and changed the topic. “You’ve been looking for an exit.”

She nodded. “No luck so far, obviously.”

But have you found anything?”

Lots of corpses.” She said. “What are you looking for?”

Records.”

Records?”

I think…I think this place is a sort of facility. Like a secret asylum for the asylum above us. I’m also pretty sure this place is underground.” She nodded as Jack explained. “You’ve seen the guys with safety pins around their eyes. I think those are experiments. If there were experiments and tests down here, then there must be a record of all that research. Atleast, I hope it was for research what they were doing down here…”

How do you know they didn’t take the records above ground with them?”

I don’t. Maybe it was too risky to bring them. I mean, they’d be highly incriminating if someone found them, right?”

Maybe.” Rose conceded. “What use would they be to us?”

I doubt they came here without a map of the place.”

Her eyes brightened. “You’re right! That makes sense!” To his dismay, they dimmed down. “But I haven’t run into anything like that.”

Not yet. Maybe you haven’t looked hard enough yet. And you were only one person, together we could cover more ground.”

She nodded. “Sounds like a good plan. What about the patients?”

He directed his eyes away from the knife lying on the table. “No way but through.”

True enough.” She didn’t seem particularly shaken by the prospect.

He looked away from her now. “They’ll probably come after you, you know. When they see you with me.”

I had a feeling they would, sooner or later. The doctor probably didn’t want me to survive this damn thing, anyways.”

He shook his head. “I think we’re supposed to make it out. A sort of…test.”

A test? For what? What do you get from something like this? What does this prove?”

I don’t know.”

Silence hung in the room. Jack sighed, his past good mood gone.

Where do you sleep?” He said, after another while.

A dormitory. It’s close to here. Right outside, actually.”

Let’s get some sleep. We’re going exploring tomorrow.”

They both got up and walked out of the mess hall. Rose turned right to a door and opened it, making her way into a dormitory inside.

Jack turned around and shut the door while Rose walked to and lied down on the bed closest to the wall. He bolted the door and lied down on the bed closest to it. He was in a deep sleep as soon as his eyes closed.

***

Lydia Harris was a woman who got scared easily and let her emotions take control of her. Even though her husband drove her to panic sometimes, she loved him. She really did, too. But in the days leading up to Harold’s murder, his episodes had gotten quite intense, and her children were starting to show the symptoms. Harold had warned her that the kids may get the illness from him, but her love for him and the desire to start a family overcame these fears in Lydia’s eyes.

They both paid their lives for it.

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