Light snoring came from Rose’s side of the room. Jack laid awake on his bed, thinking of his sister. He wondered where she was, and how she was doing.
After an hour, Rose finally woke up. She sat up on her bed, and turned to Jack.
“Morning. How was sleep?”
“I’m a heavy sleeper. Always been.”
“Never been the case with me.” Jack said and got out of bed, swinging his feet over it and onto the ground. He got up, and walked to the door. His hand undoing the bolt, he said to her. “You ready for today?”
“Let’s grab some breakfast first.”
Jack was throwing his soup can into the trashcan. Rose was finishing hers. She asked as he walked by her. “You know, Jack. I really don’t know anything about you.”
“Yeah?” He said, sitting next to her. “There’s not much to tell. What do you want to know?”
“Your life, your family. Where you grew up.”
“Why do you ask?”
“Well, I’m from town. Used to live in the outskirts of town three years ago.” Jack dreaded the question that was sure to come.
Are you going to tell her, Jack, of your father’s fault and your mother’s last mistake?
“It wasn’t his fault.” Jack muttered under his breath.
“Nothing.” He took a deep breath. “My father had schizophrenia, a hereditary trait, he called it. He had a very hard life, which I think was harder on my mother. Then, one day, she snapped, and stabbed him to death.”
Rose looked speechless. After processing it, she talked. “I’m really sorry to hear that, Jack…” Her arms wrapped around him. “What happened to her? Your mother?”
“She…she…” Jack tried to bring back the memory, against his better judgement. It remained vivid, as if it had happened yesterday.
Lydia Harris stood in a poodle of blood, her husband at his feet. Her clothes, arms and knife are stained with blood. She turns to Jack in a whip-like manner, her eyes big, wide and filled with hatred or insanity.
And then, they softened. It’s always the blatant realization in Lydia’s eyes, the sadness that fills them up, that Jack remembered the most. She looked down at her dead husband, and the knife fell from her hand, bouncing on the ground. Jack’s memory starts turning to white. The last thing he remembers is Lydia’s sobs as she fell to the ground, and his rushing footsteps towards her.
“She killed herself.” He finished.
Jack sat there, awkwardly. Unaccustomed to hugs, he embraced her as best as he could. “After the murder, me and my sister were taken into different asylums.”
“Her name is Maggie. I haven’t seen her since then. I was told in my first asylum that she was put into another asylum, and that her schizophrenia is being treated.”
He nodded. “Since the accident, I’ve been transferred from asylum to asylum, kind of jumping here and there, never really staying in one for more than a few months. I guess the doctors didn’t know what do with me anymore, and stuck me in here. What luck, huh?”
“What really perplexes me is that, the doctors here told me I was making an amazing recovery. I guess time heals wounds. But that only makes me wonder more why I was put here…”
“How are you holding up without your medication, Jack?”
“I’m fine. Just fine. Considering the circumstances, I’d say okay, really. I’ve been under a lot of stress, which is bad for me, but I’ve been holding up.” A bold lie, Jack. You’re not okay. You never were. You’re as crazy as the rest of them, Jack. Liar, murderer, and lunatic. He didn’t dignify this retort with a reply.
Seeing Rose was going to reply, Jack opened his mouth. “Well, what’s your story?”
She smiled faintly. “Fed up with my third degree, huh?” Jack hurried to say that it was nothing like that, but Rose chuckled his worries away. “Don’t worry, I’ll come clean.”
Jack watched intently as Rose prepared. Her mouth opened.
“My father, Travis Hartmann, was a doctor. At this very hospital.”
She nodded. “He…disappeared one day, long ago, before I can remember. I was really young, probably within months of being born. The story we got told was that one particularly violent patient had broken free of his restraints and stabbed my father in the throat. Nobody knows how he got that pocket knife.”
“I’m really sorry to hear that, Rose.”
“And so was I. But my mother was always suspicious. As I grew up, my suspicion grew as well.”
“What do you mean?”
Rose took a deep breath. “I think my father wasn’t murdered. Not by a patient, but by the staff of this hospital.”
“Why would they?”
“Well, what tipped me off was that there were never any reports on the newspapers that my father died. And we buried an empty casket.”
“A doctor murdered by a patient sounds like it’d be very bad press for the asylum. Maybe they didn’t let the press run that headline?”
She shook her head. “Nice theory, Jack, but I’ve been thinking this over the last few years of my life. No, there has to be more than that. You can’t just hush up a death like that and hide it under the carpet. My father was a well known doctor in his field.”
She smiled faintly. “No, no! That’s alright. I’m only saying I’ve already considered that theory.”
“What do you think happened then?”
“My mother always told me that my father was a great, honest man. She also told me that, in my father’s last days, he spent a lot of time in his office at home, looking into something from work.”
“Jack, whatever is going on here, whatever this place is, the doctors in the asylum can’t be oblivious to this. The asylum must be paying them well to keep them quiet.”
Jack nodded as she explained.
“I think, that my father was onto something.” She said. “To finding out about this maze and taking it to the press. He was suspicious. The asylum must have tried to pay him, but when they found out my father didn’t have a price, they shut him up in another way.
“That makes a lot of sense, actually…” Jack paused. “A scary amount of it. So you applied here to find out about your father?”
“Internship, yeah. I was in college, studying medicine. They probably suspected of me, too, and put me in here.”
“If the truth about your father is anywhere, Rose, it’s probably in this maze.”
“You’re right, but I never imagined this is what I’d face, coming to this asylum.”
“I never thought that, either.”
“Do you think we’ll make it out?”
“I better. I can’t fall behind if you don’t. So, I think we’ll make it out.”
She smiled at him brightly. “Thanks, Jack.”
He smiled back. “That’s quite a story, you know.”
“I just wonder how it ends.”
“With us outside, hopefully.” Jack realized something. “Do you think they’ve told our living relatives that we’re dead?”
“Probably. I doubt it on your case, but they’ve probably told my mother. They might have told your sister.”
Jack dreaded to know what Maggie would think when she received the news of his ‘death’. “I hope not. We’ll probably make a lot of trouble for them when we get out.”
Her smile faded. “Jack. They will probably hunt us down, like they did with my father.”
His heart dropped a bit. “You sure know how to put a downer on me…”
“Just being realistic.”
Jack stood up, and grabbed the lead pipe that laid on the table. “Well, realism won’t get us anywhere. Time to get moving.”
Rose nodded, and followed him out the door. The crossroads and the road ahead waited for them. Eyes in the darkness followed their progress.
When they reached the crossroad, they immediately chose the northwest road. The way was quiet, and dimly lit as ever, until they reached darkness.
A length of interminable darkness stood before them. Like before, a piercing red light aimed from high on the wall to the opposite one.
“I’ve seen one of those before.” Rose said as they approached it. Jack stopped at the treshold of darkness and light. “When I saw that Nightstalker.” The red light jerked towards them, as if summoned.
Jack nodded. “Yeah, me too. I don’t know what they are, though.” He pulled out his flashlight and turned it on.
“Let’s find out.” She took his arm and aimed the flashlight at the red dot. The circle of light revealed the object on the wall.
An old, white security camera hung on the wall. Its circular eye looked at them, sizing them up. The red light below it pierced through the darkness.
Both of them didn’t know what to expect. The sudden feeling of being watched hit them. No one spoke a word until Jack felt the need to state the obvious.
“They’re watching us, Rose.”
At his words, the entire corridor was flooded by darkness. The light bulbs that had dimly lit their way now died, and left them stranded in a sea of darkness. Jack moved his flashlight to and fro in front of them, expecting the worst.
Loud drumming came from the walls. It started slowly, a bong every two seconds, and then it quickened, going faster and faster until it reached a frantic pace. It reminded Jack grimly of war drums.
All it took was the multiple moans and rushing footsteps from behind that made them run. They broke into a run at almost the same time, keeping up with each other. The Nightstalkers gave chase, now fully in their element. Jack felt a wild déjà vu.
They turned a corner. A Nightstalker leapt from behind it, growling at them. Rose almost stopped until she heard a loud clang and the sound of the patient dropping to the ground. Jack had swung his lead pipe and connected squarely with the monster’s jaw.
It is said that there is no way to tell time in the darkness. Jack could not accurately say for how long they ran, but only that they ran, their lives depending on it. The moans kept on coming as they ran, turning corner after corner.
The next thing Jack could remember was running at the end of the corridor, a door in front of them. Jack gripped the doorknob and twisted. It didn’t give. The moans were getting closer and closer. He estimated sixty feet between them.
You’re trapped, Jack. You’re trapped, Jack. The voice repeated itself in Jack’s head. Ready to join me, Jack?
Forty feet. The footsteps were closer. Jack slammed repeatedly against the door. Rose stood by him.
Thirty feet. The door held strong, and Rose joined in, putting her shoulder into it.
Twenty feet. No dice.
The door swung open off its hinges, slamming against the wall inside the room. Jack and Rose scrambled in, freezing as they heard the moans from inside the room. They backed up into a corner, surrounded by dozens of Nightstalkers. Their moans were a chorus of pain and insanity.
Jack took out his gun. He aimed, leveling it at a Nightstalker’s face. Pressed the trigger.
Click click click.
Didn’t think to check for ammunition, did you? The mocking voice echoed inside Jack’s mind.
Rose’s horrified face turned at him as he tucked the gun back into his pants. She whispered to him. “We’re going to die, aren’t we, Jack?”
“It really looks like we will. I’m sorry, Rose.”
Rose gritted her teeth and fought back stinging tears. She drew her knife and aimed at one of the Nightstalkers. “Dammit! I’m not going to die, just sitting here!” One of the Nightstalkers drew near and she swung, catching his throat. Blood gushed, spotting some of her clothes, and the patient dropped to the ground. The tears finally came and streamed down her face, but she stood strong.
Jack watched her. His hands gripped tighter around the pipe. A Nightstalker walked up to him, his mouth working up and down. He looked death straight in the face, and didn’t blink. A strong swing to the head dropped the monster.
“Rose, they can barely put up a fight! I think we can win!”
They moved in together, all at once. Jack realized he had spoken too soon, and, gripping his pipe, awaited death.
A shrill laughter broke from somewhere inside the room. The Nightstalkers halted. Jack saw terror in their faces as they turned around to the laughing figure inside the room. He couldn’t see it clearly, but only a vague outline of him. It was a short creature, and very small. Something in his hand made the flashlight bounce off it. He thought it was a knife.
And then it lunged forward, gutting one Nightstalker, and jumped onto the next. He moved like the Nightstalkers were standing still, and they were, for the most part. His laughter hung in the air as the creature proceeded to do his butchering.
The patients dropped like flies around them, filling the room with dead bodies. The carnage continued relentlessly, the creature with the precision of a surgeon and the blood lust of a butcher. When it was over, he moved to one corner of the room, and turned around to look at Jack.
“Soon, Harbinger…soon.” His voice was like serrated metal, rusty and grinding. Jack and Rose jumped at it, backing up to the wall. “I can’t have you die, yet…it’s not time.” He could see him a little more clearly. He looked like a man hunched over. One eye was staring out at him from the darkness.
“Time? Who are you?” Jack called out to it, but his only response was the creature climbing up the wall and into the ventilation duct.
They both stood there, against the wall. The lights sprang back up, now alive.
“Who…who was that? That hunched man?” Rose said.
“He looked hunched to me, Jack.”
“I don’t know.” Jack stepped out of the room, moving around the bodies, trying not to step on any. “I don’t think this is the last we”ll see of him, however.”
“He said you couldn’t die, not yet. Does that mean I’m expendable?”
“Probably. But I probably am, too. The guy looked insane, he was probably rambling.”
With the lights back on, finding their way back to the crossroad was easier. No Nightstalkers followed them on their way out.
“Let’s call it a day.” Rose said, standing in the crossing point. Jack nodded, wanting nothing more than sleep.
“We should try and catch up on sleep.” With this said, they moved back to the dormitory. Jack bolted and shut the door, and collapsed on his bed.
He thought sleep would catch him quickly. The moans of the Nightstalkers and the shrill laughter of the hunched man replayed in his mind for hours, making sleep elude him. Finally, exhaustion won out and sleep overtook him. Whatever nightmare awaits me, his last thought before sleep, it can’t be worse than this.
Jack was probably wrong.
He stood in a sea of darkness, seemingly going for miles, and miles. Jack looked around him, trying to find any landmark or anything to find his way. Disoriented, he started moving, his hands groping forward, essentially a blind man who had lost his way, deprived of any input.
A circle of light appeared in the midst of the darkness. Jack narrowed his eyes and shielded them against it, squinting to see what was inside it. He could only catch a vague outline of the figure before him. Slowly, his vision started to adapt. The shape started to clear inside the circle of light.
Dark hair fell like waterfalls to her shoulders. She was looking at the ground. A piece of metal gleamed in her hand. Her features were obscured, but Jack noticed a healthy color in her skin. She was of a tall height, a head below Jack.
Jack stood rooted to his spot, looking at the visage. She looked forward, towards Jack. Her features became visible and Jack flinched. The woman had indifferent eyes, and looked straight at Jack. He thought her face looked familiar, but nothing came to him. It was a weird sense of recognition, mixed with a small amount of recognition, but there was also the feeling of meeting a stranger.
“Who are you?” Jack said, speaking slowly. His mouth felt full of fur.
She pointed the knife in her hand at him. “You need to pay for your sins, Jack, and ascend.” Her voice was flat and deadpan, like a human devoid of emotions, a hollow shell for something sinister.
“Ascend?” He said, taking a step back. “Ascend to where?”
“Your rightful place as the Harbinger. Bring about the new era.”
“What are you talking about? What you’re saying doesn’t make any sense!”
“Go on. Explore the maze. Face your punishment.”
“Punishment? I haven’t done anything wrong!”
There were no more words. The woman dashed forward, clutching the knife. Just before the cold metal pierced Jack’s skin, the woman’s features softened, her eyes grew wide. They were to the brim with regret, and fear. She screamed something at Jack.
“Jack, please stop! I’m sorry!”
Her words rung in his ears. He bolted up in his bed, cold sweat streaming down his face. Jack put his hand up to his forehead and wiped the sweat off. His breath came in and out at quick intervals, like a dog panting.
A noise behind him made him stir. The woman in her dream stood beside the bed, holding the bloody knife in her hand. Jack screamed and jumped out of the bed, landing in the floor. From below the bed, he could see her feet.
Rose sprang out of her bed, startled awake. Jack got up from the ground, staring towards the butcher woman. She looked at Jack and past him, at the emptiness of the room. He backed away from his bed, screaming.
She sprung forward and grabbed Jack from behind, tackling him to the ground. He struggled, having a screaming fit as Rose grabbed his hands. Jack kept screaming.
“Rose! Rose, she’s here! She’s going to kill me!”
She turned him around and her hand flew forward. Her palm struck his cheek, jerking Jack’s face towards the side. He stopped moving, startled out of his shock. Rose remained on top of him, grasping his arms, but Jack didn’t struggle in the least bit.
When he looked back towards the bed, she wasn’t there. There was only the empty room, no tall woman from his dream waiting there to kill him. He looked back at Rose. Her lips formed a very thin line as they pressed together.
“What the hell was that, Jack?”
“There was…A woman with dark hair, standing…”
“There was nothing, Jack. Are you feeling okay? What happened?” She moved to the ground beside him and sat.
Jack got up on one elbow and then sat up. “I…was having a weird dream. I was lost in this sea of darkness, and then a light appeared, from above. A woman was standing in it, holding a butcher knife. She told me I had to ‘pay for my sins’, and ‘ascend’. I don’t know what any of it means. She also called me ‘Harbinger’, and to ‘take my rightful place’.” He decided to save her last words for when they made more sense, if they ever did.
“Harbinger means someone who will bring something about. Maybe this maze was waiting for you?”
“But why? I’m nothing special.”
“I don’t know, Jack. This place is crazy. Are you okay?”
“Just a little shaken up, but fine.”
“That’s what you said the other day when I asked you about your condition, Jack.”
“It’s just all the stress. I’ll be okay.” Jack got up, not before taking a quick glance around the room. No butcher women to be seen.
“Maybe we shouldn’t go exploring out today.”
He shook his head. “I’m fine, promise. Let’s go grab something to eat.”
Rose got up and walked out into the kitchen with him.