After a breakfast that consisted of nothing but soup, Jack and Rose made their way back to the crossroad. They turned to the northeastern corridor.
“I don’t know what to expect.” Jack said as they faced the long hallway, with only dim light as their unreliable guide.
“Expect the worst.” Rose said as she gripped her knife. “After yesterday, I doubt things are gonna get much better.”
“Being a realist again?”
“Being a survivor.” Jack could feel it. The determination to survive, the stubbornness to find the truth about her father positively radiated out of her body. She was going to find out and get back home, no matter what.
I wonder if being so one track minded can be hazardous in the long run, though. Jack left this thought unspoken. He wasn’t going to dis encourage her. Rose started moving, and Jack followed close behind.
They faced a long, unchanging hallway, but they still were on their toes, listening to any sound. Jack’s eyes kept darting to the ventilation duct that ran above them.
They eventually found a number of doors. Inside, they found hospital beds, and outdated medical equipment. Most of it was rusty and unusable. The bodies of patients were scattered throughout the place.
“What do you make of this?” Jack asked as they stood in a derelict hospital room.
“No idea. I can imagine they used this as a hospital, but…” She looked around the room, directing her gaze to the dirty walls. “Stuck in a room here, probably for months, with nothing to look at but these walls. Not even a window…I can’t imagine anybody actually got better in this place.”
“Isn’t that the same as the dull white walls of the asylum above?”
She shook her head. “Those are white, Jack. These are brown, and dirty, and coming apart. It’s depressing.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right. My mood wouldn’t improve in the least if I was stuck in one of these rooms.”
“Nice to way to sum up our current situation.” Rose moved back into the hallway. Jack moved behind her and followed as they made their way deeper.
Rose’s insight made Jack feel sad as he imagined patients sitting on their hospital beds, nothing to look at but the walls. He added to his imagination the moans of the Nightstalkers, as they probably ran the experiments while treating patients down here as well. Jack shuddered.
“I’m starting to think this goes on forever.” Jack said, having lost count of the time they had spent in the hospital segment of the maze.
“Pessimism won’t get us anywhere.”
“Neither will walking into the heart of the maze.”
“The maze’s the key in all of this, Jack.”
“Yeah, but for how long can we walk? We don’t know when they’ll turn off the lights and release the Nightstalkers.”
“That was back in their nest, Jack. There’s no security cameras here.”
Jack contemplated this, and nodded. “Fair enough. But we should turn back soon if we don’t find anything insightful.”
“There’s probably a break room nearby.”
“Nurses and doctors have a break room, Jack. Somewhere to take a break. We can’t work 24/7.”
“Oh. I’ve only ever been in the other side of the equation.”
“Right. Sorry, I forgot.” She turned to a closed door and tried the doorknob. It gave way and the door swung open, showing them a filthy room. The room had been decaying for what seemed like a long time, but she could appreciate it had once been a break room. There were circular tables scattered about, one flipped and laying on its side. Chairs completed the tables, and many remained in pieces. The corpses of medical staff lied on the ground.
Rose stepped in, careful not to trip over a body. Jack followed, watching the rear. An old coffee table laid on a waist level high table next to them, beside a writing board. Several sheets of paper clung to it, records written in pen. She picked it up and examined it.
“What does it say?”
Rose flipped through the pages. “It’s just medical records, detailing on patients.” She set it down and moved across the room. Jack remained by the door, holding his lead pipe.
A notification board with notes posted on it hung on the wall. She moved to it and started to read.
The first note she read was written on a sheet of white rectangular paper. It contained a table, filled with names and chores. “Tuesday” was written above it.
“‘Martha’ had…’body disposing duty’.” Rose read off the table. “And ‘Lucas’ had ‘feeding the dogs.’ What the hell is this?”
“No idea…But I’m not sure I want to find out.”
She moved her eyes to a yellow post-it note. “Take notes to Linder’s office.” was scribbled on it.
Rose read it out loud and thought. “Linder.” She repeated. “There must be a doctor’s office nearby.”
“Anything else of interest?”
“Nothing. Let’s keep moving.”
They made their way out into the hallway and walked down it. Abruptly, the hospital rooms suddenly stopped without warning. A green wooden door marked the last normal door, as metallic doors replaced them. Jack walked towards it and grasped the doorknob, making his way inside.
It was a doctor’s office. What gave it away was the desk and the dead body lying on it, presumably a patient. An older man, with a grey beard and hair, sat on the chair behind it. He was clearly dead, a revolver still in his hand. A chunk of his throat was missing, the skin around it caked in blood. The patient had a sea of blood around his mouth, and several bullet holes in his body. A golden plaque in the desk read “Marian Linder”.
Jack made his way in, walking towards the desk. The body that lied on the desk faced towards the dead doctor. In the ground below Linder’s body, a bunch of notes laid scattered. He walked around the desk and reached down, picking up the notes. He looked to Rose. She nodded, and they walked out of the room into the hallway.
The dim light wasn’t very favorable, but Jack had to make do. He squinted his eyes and started to read the small and neat handwriting of Marian Linder.
They were very detailed notes about the at the time ongoing experiments. Jack guessed the metal doors lead to the testing rooms. He started reading aloud.
“Skin removal, skin burning, organ removal, rib, spine and other bones removal…” His stomach started churning. “Dog training?”
“Dogs? That’s odd.”
“This is sickening.” He said as he threw the pages away. “Let’s make our way back. There’s no need to look inside those rooms.”
The metal door next to them flew open, banging against the wall. A loud clang resonated throughout the corridor. The maze started to come alive.
Jack jumped forward, turning to the door. Rose turned to the way they had come from, holding her knife. He stood there, unsure of what their next move should be.
The decision wasn’t made by him. There was the noise of barks, coming from behind them. Jack turned around, and spotted a pack of dogs running towards them. They were snarling and frothing at the mouth, showing their fangs. He turned around again and saw a single eye looking at him from the darkness.
He grabbed Rose and moved into the room, grabbing hold of the door and slamming it shut. One of the dogs pounced, hit the door and bounced off it back to the ground. They barked at the door, unable to do anything else.
Jack and Rose had escaped danger only momentarily. They turned around, and gasped, backing against the door. Five chains held a body suspended mid air in the middle of the room, each one attached to a limb. The corpse floating midair was charred, burned by the tubes that were below him. He looked up and spotted hanging corpses, like in the kitchen earlier.
Something gleamed in the darkness above, and moved from corpse to corpse, cutting away at the ropes that bound them. They fell to the ground, their weak and crumbly bones cracking on impact. Many fell on their heads and gray matter painted the ground. The cracking noise reminded Jack sickly of a nut under a nutcracker.
Rose was speechless and turned around. She grasped the doorknob and pushed, slamming the metal door into one of the dogs. Another pounced at Jack and he batted it away, connecting with its skull. They backed away from them.
Jack looked over his shoulder, spotting again the eye that beckoned him from the darkness, just like it had done in the nightstalker’s nest. The hunched man waited for them.
A dog pounced forward and bit Jack’s arm, digging its fangs into his arm. Pain flared up and he screamed out, knocking at it with his pipe. Rose’s knife came down into its neck, skewering it. The dog stopped moving and fell to the ground. Blood started to pour from his arm.
Jack’s vision started fading. He saw Rose slash as she was pounced on, then a second of darkness, then Rose again. He looked over his shoulder, towards the hunched man. The butcher woman stood in his place. Jack blinked it, and saw the hunched man again. The ground below him was starting to pool with blood, and he felt sharp pain as a dog got his other arm. The last thing he saw before blacking out was the butcher woman standing over him.
The last thing he heard was Rose shouting his name as he fell.
Rose turned away from Jack, back at the dogs. She crouched down and quickly grabbed the lead pipe, holding it in one hand. A dog tries to tackle her and she bats it into the wall. They all flinch, taken aback by her ferocity. The hunched man stood at the end of the hallway, a bystander.
Seemingly reconsidering, the dogs turn around and flee, perhaps to fight another day. Rose watched until they’re out of sight, and turned back to Jack. A small pool is starting to form below his body. She starts to drag him, looking for an hospital room without so much decay.
Like trying to find a needle in a damn haystack. She thought as she hauled Jack’s heavy body. After a while, she found a room without rotting bodies. Rose left the room after putting Jack on the hospital bed, looking for something to disinfect his wounds and bandage them.
There’s a steady panic that rose as she walked from room to room, finding nothing. She had all but given up hope when she stumbled into a first aid kit. Rose grabbed it and ran back to the room, applying the alcohol and the bandages as quickly as she could. Relief filled her body when she checked his pulse. Faint, but steady. A sigh of relief.
Sitting next to him, Rose realized how much she had come to care about him. “I really hope we make it out of here, you know.” She spoke, nobody to listen. “I hope you see your sister Maggie again. So, don’t die on me, alright? Your sister won’t like that, I’m sure.” For hours she sat there, waiting for Jack to wake up. After a while, she stood up and started to walk out of the room.
She froze below the frame of the door, holding her knife. “I’ll be right back.” She said. “I’m just going to take a look around, see what I can find.”
She found plenty. The hallways were now deserted and free to explore. Rose tried one of the metal doors and walked in. Her foot found no ground to stand on and she held on to the door, almost falling in. When her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw the contents of the hole, and gasped. Dozens of bodies laid stacked on each other inside the mass grave. The stench of decay and death attacked her nose and her eyes started to water at the sight.
Dad…You’re…Please don’t be in there.
She secured herself back into the hallway and shut the door. Trying to keep calm, she walked the length of the corridor, finding a dead end. Rose let out a sigh of relief and started walking back to Jack’s room.
“Mommy, is daddy okay?” Jack stood in the hallway, wearing his pajamas. Harold was on his knees, holding his head. “What’s wrong with him?” Lydia stood by her husband, holding him.
“Don’t worry, honey.” She said. “He’s just having a little nightmare.”
“Please…please stop!” Harold muttered to himself. “Don’t get near me!” His arm flew out, and struck Lydia across the face. She jerked away from him and hit a table.
“Mommy!” Jack screamed, running to them.
Harold blinked and looked at Lydia. “Oh, my God. Lydia, are you okay? I’m…I’m sorry, I didn’t…”
She looked down, hiding her face. “I’m fine, Harold. Let’s just go to bed, okay?” A tear trailed from her eye and hit the wooden floor. Harold helped her up and walked back to their bedroom. Jack walked behind them.
Harold turned around and faced his son. “Go back to bed, Jack. You won’t be able to get up tomorrow if you don’t.”
“Is mommy okay?” Jack asked, trying to look at his mother.
“It was just an accident. She’s gonna be okay.”
“Okay…” Jack said as he walked back to his room. In the dead silence of the night, her mother’s sobs were impossible to miss.
He woke up, facing the ceiling. A pain flared up in his arms as he tried to get up on them. He looked down at them, and spotted the bandages wrapped around them. Jack looked around the room, for any signs of Rose.
He couldn’t put together where he was. Another quick glance across the room made him realize he was in one of the hospital rooms they had seen along the way. Rose was nowhere to be seen, however.
Carefully, he got up and walked towards the door. His lead pipe laid on a table next to it. He grabbed it and had grasped the doorknob when the sound of footsteps reached his ears. They were getting closer.
Jack moved away from the door, holding the lead pipe. He found it difficult to raise it without pain. Panicky, he hid next to the bed. The footsteps got closer, stopped right in front of the door. The doorknob moved and the door swung open.
Rose walked into the room and looked around. “Jack?” She called out. “Jack, where are you?”
He popped up. “I’m here. I thought you were something else.”
“Oh, you’re up.”
“I am. Was it you who fixed up my arms?”
She nodded. “It was hard to find the supplies, but not impossible. Alcohol and bandages are bound to be plentiful in a hospital.”
He sat on the bed, putting down the pipe. “What happened? I blacked out.”
“You lost a lot of blood. I was afraid you wouldn’t wake up.”
“I have you to thank.”
“I’m a nurse, that’s what I do.” She smiled her faint smile, and then dropped it. “Those dogs…I almost got bitten myself, but they stopped fighting after a while. I had to drag your body all the way here.”
“How long have I been out?”
“No idea. Six hours, I guess. I took this time to explore.”
“Those metallic doors do lead to the test rooms…and some mass graves.”
She closed her eyes and looked down. “The stench, Jack…I almost fell in. It’s…”
“I understand what you mean, Rose. It’s sick.”
“It’s disgusting. But atleast, I found that this is not the way.”
Jack pictured the crossroad in his mind. “That means there’s only one way left to take.”
“I hope it’s our ticket out of here.”
“It’s too early to say anything, but I hope it is, too, Rose.”
Rose said nothing.
“Rose, are you okay?”
“Jack…do you think…that my dad could have been inside that mass grave?”
He hadn’t thought of that. Jack said nothing for a while.
“I don’t know, Rose…It’s impossible to know.”
She sighed. “I guessed as much. I’m not sure why I expected something else. Of course, he would be dead. It’s been years since he disappeared.”
“I don’t think you should declare him dead just yet.”
“Why? Do you think he survived?”
“You’re his daughter.” Jack said. “And I’ve never met anybody else so determined to survive. There’s a chance he could be alive.”
“But if he’s been alive all this time, does that mean the maze has no exit?”
“Maybe he just hasn’t found it?” Jack suggested, unsure how to go on. “I’m sorry, I was just trying to…”
“That’s okay. You were just trying to help. How are you feeling?”
He moved his arms, grimacing at the pain. “My arms hurt, but I’m alright.”
“Good to hear. Think we can make it back to the dormitory?”
Jack nodded. He got up and walked out the door, the lead pipe in one hand. Rose followed closely behind.
Their way back to the dormitory was largely quiet, but they were unable to brush the uncomfortable feeling of being watched. Every so often, their eyes darted to the ventilation duct that ran along them.
When Jack woke up that day, his arms were feeling better. Some pain remained, but he’d have to bear it.
After a quick breakfast, they made their way to the crossroad. The final road laid before them, and it was straight ahead.
“I just want to say thanks, Jack.” Rose said as they faced the last corridor.
“What do you mean?”
“When I got here, I was so alone, and lost. But with you being here, I feel like I have a little more direction, now.”
“Oh.” He said, surprised. “Well, you’re welcome, I guess. I haven’t done much but look around and walk us into traps.” Jack faced straight forward again. “Talking about traps, does this feel like a bad idea to you?”
She nodded. “Foreboding. No way but through, though.”
He nodded back, and repeated. “No way but through.” They started moving.
The air around them as they walked the corridor was heavy. It felt almost oppresive and tense, as if they were in the verge of discovering something. They walked slowly, looking behind their shoulders every so often.
There was a stairwell at the end of the corridor, going only up. They stopped at its step, unable to process the sight.
“A stairwell…here? But we’re underground…”
“This is it, Jack! It must be the way back to the asylum!”
“No, Rose, this…this feels like a trap. This is way too easy.”
“Who cares?” Rose said, putting one foot on the first step. “Do you see any other way out?”
Jack shook his head and started walking up.
Each step he took felt like an eternity. As they made their way up, the oppressive atmosphere that hung over them lifted away. When they were three steps away from the top, they both felt something hit them. The world around them wavered, their vision failed as they hung onto the handrail. It was gone as quick as it had come.
“What…what the hell?” Jack said as the world steadied.
“I don’t know. But look, we’re nearly there.” They climbed the last three steps. A corridor awaited them at the top, a heavy iron door at the end.
Jack and Rose ran towards it. He grabbed of it and pulled, and the door swung open. They prepared themselves for the familiar sight of the asylum, the white, sterile corridors and the bright white fluorescent lights that hung overhead.
They stood speechless when they looked at the corridor. It was dark, and the walls were derelict, with the paint peeling off. An overturned cart laid on the ground. Several doors were swung open, and from where they were Jack could see most of the windows were boarded up. The light bulbs overhead flickered on and off.
“Rose.” Jack said, stunned. “This is not the asylum.”