Chapters, Rat in a Maze

Rat in a Maze: Chapter 3

Jack got up, a few hours after they had gone to bed. Rose was still asleep, now in the deep stages of sleep. He had never been a heavy sleeper, or got much sleep, ever in his life, before and after the accident.

 

The knife laid on a night table beside him. It was clean, the blood washed off. Jack picked it up and turned at Rose, watching her sleep.

And then the room whirled around him. His surroundings changed, the beds disappeared, the walls contracted and came closer, turning into a hallway. Rose’s body laid before him, sitting against the wall. Her lap was pooling with blood oozing from her midsection. She was looking up at him, a hand outstretched. A big, familiar butcher knife dug into her stomach.

Jack flinched back and hit his head against the wall. It bounced off it and Jack grunted in pain. He closed his eyes at the vision burning against his brain. When he opened them again, Rose was still lying on the bed, sleeping peacefully and unaware.

He realized he was panting. Looking down at the knife, he dropped it. The hilt bounced on the ground and then laid flat, the sharp end of the knife pointing at him. Beads of sweat trickled from his brow and down his face. Jack wiped it off his forehead and walked to the door, unbolting it.

The hallway was the same as ever. Derelict and foreboding. Jack moved from the corridor into the mess hall. There was a sink in the kitchen. He turned it on and splashed water on his face. Calming down, he looked for a towel to dry off.

Footsteps came from the hallway. Jack turned around in an instant, holding the knife. Rose walked into the kitchen, and looked at him.

Morning. I think. Did I scare you?” She said, calm.

Morning. I’m just a little jumpy, that’s all.”

Why is your face wet?”

I splashed my face with water. Couldn’t find a towel.” Jack said, lifting his shirt to his face.

Rough sleep, huh? Sit down. We’re having soup for breakfast.”

After a quick breakfast, they both stepped out into the hallway.

You should hold the knife.” He turned to her.

I don’t think they’ll come after me, Jack.”

We can’t count on that.” He gave her the knife.

She held it in her hands. “What about you?”

I…hadn’t thought about that.” In reality, he only wanted to get rid of the knife. He walked into the kitchen and looked around. In one of the corners of the room, hiding under a table, was a lead pipe. It was rusty, but good to use. Jack picked it up and walked back out.

This should work.”

Better than nothing.” Rose said and started walking. Jack walked next to her, going deeper into the maze.

A ventilation duct ran along the wall, almost touching the ceiling, on the right side of the corridor. It ran the length of it. Inside, a creature crawled stealthily inside, watching Jack and Rose from the slits inside the duct.

Soon, Harbinger…soon.” It whispered to itself, a wide grin painted on its face.

They walked for half an hour, and then they came to a crossroad. Five corridors were in front of them, two to either side, one straight ahead and two to either sides of the way ahead, going diagonally. Jack halted.

…What…what do we do now?” He said.

I don’t know. Let’s try the left corridor.”

They turned around and faced the corridor, dark and unknown. A bit reluctantly, Jack started moving, followed by her.

Much to their dismay, it was impossible to find any significant landmarks. This didn’t surprise them much. The actual surprise came when they found the incredible number of doors in the corridor.

The doors were present throughout the hallway, right next to each other to the end of the corridor. They had numbers in them, and a small, barred hole to see inside. Jack peeked in, holding the lead pipe in one hand. A pair of hands gripped the bars from inside and flung himself at the hole. The face of the inmate smashed against the metal bars, crushing the noise with a sickening crack. Apparently, the patient must have registered no pain, for his face didn’t flinch at all.

Jack jumped back, raising the lead pipe. The patient snarled and growled at him. His head was bald, and his skin was pink and raw, as if he had been in a horrible burning. He banged against the door, but it held. After several ineffective attempts to bring down the door, the patient retreated into his cell, growling and cursing.

The…the holding cells, presumably.” Jack said in a low voice.

I’d say so. Let’s keep walking.”

Jack was only half right. Some of the rooms in the corridor were not for holding purposes. Most of these were locked, and offered only a small hole to see the contents of the room. He saw several strange devices.

There was a leather chair in the middle of one of these rooms. It was rooted to the ground, and the arm rests had a pair of leather straps. Another leather strap was wrapped around the head rest of the chair. Behind it, several hooks protruded, including a pair of sharp, rusty spikes that appeared on the top. They were dipped in blood. Next to the chair, there was a small table, with a metallic tray resting on it. A pair of human eyeballs laid on the tray. Jack stopped looking in after that one.

They reached the end of the corridor. Rose turned around and faced him.

We can cross that one off the list.”

Jack approached a door to their right, one without a number or a hole. “Not yet. This looks suspicious.”

He tried the doorknob. “Locked.”

Let me try.” She took the lead pipe off Jack’s hands and moved towards the door. It was wooden, and probably weak with age. Rose swung her arm towards her and then to the door, connecting with the lead pipe. There was a loud crack as splinters flew off it. She continued beating against it until a hole was made.

Reaching in through it, she grabbed the doorknob, and turned. The door swung open.

Good to go.” She said. Jack walked into the room. His heart jumped when he saw the desk.

It was a doctor’s office.

They ran in, Jack bumping into the desk when he halted, Rose pushing him forward. A dusty manila folder laid on the desk. Jack grabbed it and opened it. Clouds of dust came off and floated into his face. He coughed, fanned it away with his hand and laid the open folder back on the table.

The first page read as follows:

THE NIGHTSTALKER PROJECT

Day 5 of experimentation, August, 23, 1980

The project is coming along quite nicely. Our tests report an increasing awareness of sound by deprivation of light. However, they are far from perfect, still unable to find their way in the darkness. We expect more results in a week.

A new batch of subjects is to arrive next week. We’ll need to make some room in the second floor.

Signed, Dr. Thomas Lane.

Jack put the paper away after he stopped reading. He thought it over and over in his mind.

What are those, ‘nightstalkers’?” He said, mostly to himself.

I guess the safety pin patients.”

But why something so inhuman? If they weren’t insane before, the lack of light must have made them.” He said, and picked up the next report.

THE NIGHTSTALKER PROJECT

Day 10 of experimentation, September 2, 1980

These results are amazing! The patients are starting to find their way in the darkness like they had been forever living in it. I don’t know if it’s these facilities Doctor Hoffman gave us, but he seemed less than impressed, like he know it was going to happen. We’re going to keep running tests on this batch, and the next. We’re surprised they’ve stayed relatively calm this whole time.

Signed, Dr. Thomas Lane.

Jack leafed through them. “They’re all reports on the Nightstalker project. I guess Dr. Lane was the one overseeing the project. I wonder who this ‘Doctor Hoffman’ is…”

He handed the file to Rose. “Probably a rich doctor who financed building this place. A crazy asshole, really.”

I don’t buy that. There must have been inspections of the building before they started to dig the tunnels. So the government must know about this place. Don’t tell me patients regularly disappear from here and the higher-ups aren’t suspicious of the large maze under the asylum.”

Look at the dates for these experiments. The 1980s.” A white notebook page slid out between two reports, floating gently to the ground. Jack picked it up and lifted it to his face.

The handwriting looked like chicken scratches, written in what looked like a hurry. There was no date or signature. Jack started reading it aloud.

Everything’s gone to Hell. The lights died and somebody opened the gates of the Nightstalkers. I swear I heard laughter coming from somewhere inside the facility, then that same voice screaming “My time has come! I am the Harbinger!” It sounded like Hoffman. Has he gone insane?

I wasn’t far away from my office when the lights went out. I’ve locked my door, but I’ve got nowhere to go. I doubt somebody will ever read this, but if anybody is, I ask of you, could you let Linda, my love, that I always loved her, and that I’m sorry I got involved in this.

Jack knew it was Doctor Lane that had written this letter. A careful folding of the old letter allowed him to put in his pocket. He imagined the scene, Thomas Lane writing his farewells to his wife. He now noticed a small bullet hole on the wall, that they had managed to miss when they ran in.

He imagined him as a tall man with dark hair, a pair of spectacles on his face. Doctor Lane hunched over his desk, one pen in hand. A gun in the other. The noise of moans outside his door, as the nightstalkers made their name true.

Wait. That can’t be right.” Jack moved around the desk and looked at the ground. There was no body, only a black pistol lying on the ground.

What can’t be right?”

His body isn’t here, so somebody must have gotten inside to get it. Then why was the door locked?”

Rose looked up, and remained silent. Jack turned to her, seeing worry in her usually stern face. He followed her gaze, and a shiver broke through his body.

The ventilation duct was ripped open, the hole right above where Thomas’ body should lay. Jack shook his head and looked back down, at the gun.

Do you know how to use a gun?” He asked.

I don’t. Do you?”

He shook his head, but picked up the gun nonetheless. “I think this is the safety.” Jack turned the safety on, and tucked the gun into his pants.

Let’s keep going.” Rose said. Jack walked out first.

Does the name ‘Hoffman’ ring any bells to you?” Jack said. “I know it doesn’t with me.”

Not me, either. Do you think he’s still in here?”

I really doubt that. It’s been forty years. He couldn’t have survived.”

I’m starting to think this place is hiding something bigger.”

Jack started moving, trying to dismiss Rose’s notion. “Let’s hope not.” But that’s hoping against hope. I think she’s right. He thought.

They reached the crossroad after some time. The road that had been to the right was now in front of them.

Let’s keep going?”

Let’s keep going.” He started moving. His lead pipe had been returned to him, and now was held in his hands. The corridor awaited them.

***

They found out, with a bit of disappointment and relief, that this corridor was exactly like the last. Rows of cells and rooms for the patients to stay in, with a doctor’s office to the end of the corridor. To their further disappointment, this particular office held nothing of interest, except a golden plaque on the desk that read “Doctor Laura Simmons.

They started making their way back, when one of the doors started banging against its frame. Jack turned around, gripping his lead pipe. Rose stood by him, holding the knife.

The door banged relentlessly, at a frantic pace. It started slowing down, until it stopped completely. Nobody moved at all. The door then swung open. Jack tensed.

The cell was completely empty. There was a cot against the wall, flat and rusty. A moth eaten pillow laid on it. A diary rested below the frame of the door, closed. It had a naked leather cover, brown.

Jack walked to it and picked it up. He flipped it open, showing the first page, old and moldy, but legible. The handwriting was lazy, but neat enough. Rose moved in as he read aloud.

1st day

My name’s Eugene. I was moved into this place from the asylum. I stole this book from one of the doctors, and one of the lunch ladies was kind enough to give me a pen. I think I’ll hide it under my pillow.

2nd day

I thought this place was scary at first, but the other guys are nice enough. Dr. Simmons is a very kind woman, but I miss it upstairs. That’s okay, though! They told me I’d get out soon enough! I really miss my family. I hope I can see them soon…

There are no notes on the following days until the 6th.

6th day

Today I strayed from the group and got lost. I ran a bunch of corners and walked into this dark hallway. I was scared, but I also wanted to explore, so I walked, touching the wall. There was an angry growl next to me, and I turned around. A creepy guy was staring at me, his eyes wide open. I screamed, and doctors ran in, telling me to get away from the nightstalker. I wasn’t quick enough, and got bitten on the arm. I needed stitches but now I’m okay. Now I know not to stray from the group.

12th day

I’m starting to wonder when I’ll be released. It’s getting a bit lonely around here…Most of my friends have disappeared, and I really miss my family, my mother. But most of all, I miss the sun, and its warming light…

15th day

Great news! Dr. Simmons told me I’d be released in a few days. They just need to run some tests on me, and I’ll be free to go!

16th day

I asked Dr. Simmons about the test. She looked kind of sad, but she told me it was called “Extreme heat therapy.” I dunno what that is, but it sounds scary. Atleast, I get to go home after it, so I’ll just have to be a big boy about it.

17th day

pain. my hair is completely gone. most of my skin burned off. the pain is excruciating. i wonder where dr simmons is.

25th day

i’ve been trapped in my room for the last week. the pain has subsided, but not much, and i’m really hungry. i hear footsteps outside, though…i think i’ll bang on the door until they let me out, whoever’s outside. i dunno where those moans are coming from, though…

There are no more entries in Eugene’s diary. Jack put the diary down.

I think that’s enough for today.” Jack said, backing away from the diary.

She seemed shaken, but her voice was steady enough. “Let’s call it a day, Jack.” They made their way back to their room, the hallway silent as ever.

They reached it without major complications, and they both went to their respective beds. Rose found sleep within her grasp, but it eluded Jack’s, and he turned around for hours. Although he would never tell Rose, Eugene’s wishes to see his family again resonated with him. And just like Eugene, he truly wondered if he would ever see Maggie again.

***

Magdalene Harris was a quiet girl who kept to herself. At recess, she’d sit away from the playground. Students reported that she talked to herself. Her classmates called her a freak and a loner. Grown-ups and teachers dismissed it as a lonely girl’s imaginary friends. But to her, those imaginary friends were frighteningly vivid. She had only one other friend: her brother.

Maggie was very important to Jack. In his madhouse of a home, Maggie was the only resemblance of normality. They grew up together, and were very close. As Jack got older, he slowly realized the bad atmosphere his parents gave Maggie, and promised her one thing.

That one day, he’d take her away to a better place. He would never fullfill this promise.

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