Chapters, Rat in a Maze

Rat in a Maze: Chapter 8

The entire corridor was covered in rust, and dim, red light poured out from bulbs overhead. Jack took his first step in, putting his foot past the threshold. Under his foot, the corridor shook around him. He stepped in completely, and the shaking ceased. Travis and Rose were speechless when Jack turned around to face them.

 

Rose followed him into the corridor. Travis walked in after her. The door slowly swung back into its frame. They formed a single line, Jack at the front and Travis bringing up the rear.

This isn’t so bad. It’s just rust.” Jack said, walking further into the hallway.

It’s rusted over, Jack. The walls and floor aren’t metal, how the hell do they rust?” Travis called out to him.

I don’t know. But is this all there is?”

It’s been years since I walked in here. Who knows? Maybe stuff has changed.”

Jack shrugged, and kept walking. He wasn’t in any position to argue.

The lights flickered above them, and a steady breathing could be heard through the walls. Scraping on the walls echoed through the corridors, following them as they went. The air hung and was stale and thick. Jack thought nothing living must have touched this space for years.

A loud thud rocked the corridor. Holding the pipe, Jack stood his ground. Another thud followed it, and another, closer. The ground shook under his feet at another. This creature shaking the place was right around the corner.

A fleshy, blotted leg moved from behind the corner. It was followed by another leg, and then a torso. Jack took a step back when the creature came fully into view.

The torso and upper body were completely disproportionate in comparison to the legs. They were thin and small, covered in knife wounds. Blood poured out like a fountain, leaving a trail. On top of it, there was a female head, with a mop of black hair falling down her head. She turned towards Jack, her eyes dead and vacant. Jack stayed rooted to his spot.

The monster regarded him with her stare, then turned around, and started walking. A trail of blood followed her heels. It had come and gone faster than anyone expected.

They didn’t dare to make a move, the footsteps of the beast trailing off away from them. Rose spoke after a while. “What the hell was that?”

No idea, but looking at it…somehow brings up ugly memories.” Jack said. “I guess we can call it a bloody memory.”

Dad, you ever see one of those?”

Travis shook his head. “No. Never. Those have to be new.”

Jack started walking again, followed by Travis and Rose. “New?”

I’m not pretending that I understand the place.” Travis said, as they turned a corner. “I’m just guessing. Jack, you said it brought up ugly memories, right?”

Jack kept walking as his mind fled back to his dream. The dark haired butcher girl standing under the light.

Yeah. I…really can’t put my finger on it, though.”

They kept walking, trying to find the entrance to the North Wing. Going from memory and not much else, they wandered around the first floor of the East Wing.

Something banged against the wall. Travis turned around, holding his gun and taking aim. There was another bang. Rose stirred, holding her knife.

A pair of arms tore through the wall and reached out at them. The fingers wriggled and stretched, grasping in the dark. “Help me!”, the voice from the wall screamed at them. It repeated its plea over and over. “They’re holding us captive, please help us!” Their nails were long and dirty.

The three of them backed away from the arms, against the wall. Behind Rose, another pair of arms popped out. She ducked forward, avoiding getting caught. More arms popped from the ground, grabbing for Jack and Travis’ legs. They kicked away and pulled Rose to her feet.

Arms started to come into the hallway from all directions – the ceiling, the floor and the walls, grasping for them. Cries of “Help me!” flooded the corridor and attacked their ears. They ran over hands, crushing fingers as they tried to escape from them.

A pair of overhead hanging hands grasped Rose by the neck and pulled her, dangling her mid air. There was a terrible smell coming off the hands and she felt repulsion grow in her stomach. Travis turned around and aimed steady with his gun. The bullet flew true and struck the hands, releasing Rose. She fell to her feet and kept running.

There was the noise of loud crushing as the hands pulled their bodies out into the hallway. They were gray and sickly, dead or in the dying stages of some disease. Their mouths were open and crying out for help.

One grabbed Travis, wrapping his arms around him, bringing their faces closer together. The crying man received a pistolwhip for his troubles, and slumped to the ground. Jack swung at one that approached him, dropping it in a steady swing.

They started to gather behind them, blocking off the way they had come. Only one possible route available, they ran forward, towards the end of the corridor. There was a single door, a sight they had gotten accustomed to.

Travis was the first to reach it. He grabbed the doorknob and pulled, running into the open door. Jack ran in after Rose and slammed the door shut, working the lock. There was a loud bang as the monsters banged against the door. It held.

Jack turned around. Instead of being a room that led into the hallway, the door led directly into the hallway. At the end of it, they spotted another single door. Travis walked up to it and tried the doorknob.

Locked.” He announced.

Jack and Rose walked up to him. “You think it’s the door to the North Wing?”

It has to be. There’s something weird about it.”

Jack leaned in for a closer look. He immediately noticed that it was devoid of rust. In fact, it was completely clean.

Jack and Rose turned around, facing the hallway. Straight ahead of them, was the way back. Before that, halfway through the corridor, the road made turned into two.

We can’t go back that way.” Rose said. “We’ll have to split up, if we want to find that key.”

When you put it that way, it sounds like an awful idea.” Jack said.

Travis cut in. “But she’s right. We’ll find the key faster.”

If there’s no other way.” Jack said. “How are we splitting?”

Rose and I can go the left road, and you can take the right road, if you don’t mind being alone.”

Jack looked down at his lead pipe. “I’ll be fine. You guys be careful, alright?”

They both nodded and started walking, taking the left turn. After a while, Jack started moving, going to the right.

When he said he would go alone into the East Wing, he didn’t imagine he would actually do it. Still, he gripped his lead pipe, and walked his lonely path.

After ten minutes of walking, he noticed the sounds had ceased. The corridors had settled into a kind of ominous silence. Jack walked, trying to keep his mind occupied. He tried to think of what he would do when he found his way out again, something to look forward to.

He was lost in thoughts when a splitting headache suddenly struck him. Jack doubled over and fell to the ground on his knees, holding his head. The pain was excruciating, as if something was trying to drill into his head, forcefully make his way in. It was so great he fell to the ground.

Jack fell on his back, and he stared up at the red lights. His vision started to fade and water. The lights doubled and trebled before his eyes. A voice, unrecognizable to him, spoke in his mind. He could feel something sinister behind it.

You’re not ready, Jack. But you will be. In time. I’m waiting, Harbinger. Are you ready to ascend and bring us to glory?

Get…get out of my head!” He screamed at the empty hallway. “I’m not the Harbinger! Get out of my head!” His voice echoed, traveling through the corridor.

The pain started to recede. This uninvited force left his mind. He laid on the ground, feeling weak. Jack turned over and put his hands on the ground, pushing himself up. A bit wobbly, he got up on his feet.

He started walking, trying to brush off the exhaustion. It weighed him down, a thousand pounds on his shoulders. Jack fell back to his knees, and then collapsed entirely. The darkness took him, his last conscious memory being that of the rusty corridor.

Jack woke up the sound of voices. A voice came down from further up the corridor, getting closer. He could barely make out what it was saying.

…he…nd…is nigh…”

…the end…is nigh…”

The end is nigh…?” Jack said to himself. He still felt groggy, but good enough to move. Getting up was easier, the weight off his shoulders.

He started moving towards the voice, as it became clearer. Jack made out a figure in the dim light of the corridor.

A man, wearing the clothes of a priest, walked down the corridor, holding a leather book. He was tall and handsome, a strange sight. Strange as the apparition was, Jack noticed something stranger: the cross on the priest’s robes was upside down, trapped inside a strange symbol resembling a star.

The priest walked up to him, his eyes darting from his book and to Jack.

Hello, brother!” He spoke to Jack. “Are you ready for the ending? For it is nigh! The Harbinger has come to us!”

I…” Jack shook his head. “I still don’t understand this ‘Harbinger’ business.’”

The one who will bring us to glory, of course!”

Us? Who is us?”

Are you ready, Jack?”

How do you know my name?” Jack said. He took a step back, holding his lead pipe.

We all know your name down here, Jack! After all, we’ve waiting for you for years, now!”

Why? What makes me special? What do you want me for?!”

Because you’re the Harbinger! You’re the only one, who can take us to glory, and free us from this…Oh, whoops! I said too much. You aren’t ready yet.”

How the hell am I supposed to be ‘ready’?”

I can’t say too much, or He will get mad with me, you know. All you need to know, Jack, is that this is a journey you must do alone.”

Alone…?”

Rose and Travis, they’re expendables, Jack. You are the important one! The who shines under the spotlight!”

Expendables? Look, I won’t let you harm my friends—”

The priest turned around, ignoring Jack’s words. He started walking back down the hallway. “Rejoice, everybody! The end is nigh!”

Hey, wait!” He called out after him, and started running. The priest was clearly in no hurry, as he walked in a leisurely pace. Jack walked behind him, deciding to follow him.

They went nowhere important, walking down a single hallway with no turns or corners. When they reached the end, the priest turned around, and started walking. Jack was about to walk after him when he noticed an ajar door to the side.

He walked up to it and pushed it open. It was a doctor’s office, and an emergency hammer laid on the desk. Jack grabbed it, surprised at how light it was. Below where the hammer had been, a red X had been painted on the desk. Getting the message, Jack took a step back.

The hammer struck the desk and created a large crack. Another swing broke the desk in two. Jack leaned into the hole, noticing something small shine. He reached in, and pulled out a key. An initial had been carved into it: “K.”

Jack held the key in his hand and turned around. He heard the faint cries of the priest. Swinging the hammer over his shoulder, he started to walk down the corridor, towards the locked door.

Travis and Rose walked into their section of the East Wing, leaving Jack behind. They walked in silence, except for their footsteps that followed them. Neither of them knew what to say, or expect from the path ahead.

Travis, meanwhile, wrestled with a thousand ideas in his mind. The last time he had been here, years ago, it was completely swarmed with creatures. He had been alone that time. Could it be that Jack’s arrival had changed the hospital, in some way?

The hallways were, as usual, dimly lit. Red light poured over them, painting the corridor a bloody shade of red.

I’m studying to be a doctor, you know.” Rose said, trying to break the silence.

Oh? Really?” He had been startled out of his thoughts.

Rose nodded. “Mom, she always told me how great you were. How many people you saved. And I thought, ‘Wow! It must be great to be a doctor, and save people! When I’m older, I’m gonna be just like daddy!’”

He smiled in spite of himself. “Studying medicine is very expensive, you know.”

I know. I get by, though. I was interning here as a nurse.”

Travis looked at Rose. Her clothes were dirty, and stained with blood, but they were definitely a nurse’s clothes.

Studying at the local university?”

Yeah. Mom…”

…told you I studied there?”

…Yeah.”

Travis shook his head, and sighed. “I just hope your mother didn’t romanticize me too much.”

What do you mean?”

I mean I hope she didn’t plant this idea in your head that doctors are miracle makers.”

No. She didn’t. When I told her I was going to study medicine, she…looked sad.”

Travis said nothing. Rose continued on.

I told her that it was what I wanted. She seemed to accept it, but the sadness never left her eyes. Guess she was thinking of you, dad.”

A doctor’s job is a very lonely one, Rose. You can’t save everybody.”

I know. Mom told me that, if you…failed a patient, sometimes you’d stay in your office for hours.”

Fail him? I couldn’t save him, more like it. But it’s true. People’s lives are in your hands, and sometimes, your hands are not enough. It’s a lonely job, that carries guilt with it.”

They kept walking as they talked. Apparently, they were too absorbed by their conversation, for they missed a door that stood ajar. It slowly swung open as they walked past it, without making noise.

I’m aware, dad.”

Good. How is she, by the way?”

Mom? She’s okay, I guess. I don’t think she ever fully accepted your ‘death’, always telling me something suspicious had happened.”

Something suspicious?”

Well, when you disappeared all those years ago, we were told by the asylum that you had been killed by a patient with a knife.”

That sounds very unlikely.”

Mom thought so, too. And at your ‘funeral’, we never got to see the body.”

Travis nodded. A figure stepped out of the open door behind them. It walked up to them, silent like a shadow.

And, there was no obituary or article about your death in the newspaper. Mom got suspicious, and decided to look into it. She came up with nothing, though. As I grew up, I started to wonder about it, too, so I decided I would look into it.”

So that’s why you came to this particular asylum. What were you expecting? My skeleton in the director’s closet?”

Rose looked down. “I’m not sure, dad. I only wanted to find the truth.”

Travis stopped walking. “Did you ever stop to think how she would feel if something happened to you?”

Rose stopped next to him. She dared not look up. “No, I didn’t. When I applied, I didn’t think I was in for more than just a normal psychiatric asylum.”

I didn’t, either. Look at us. Trying to find the truth, we got stuck in this mess.”

Which makes it more important that we both get out of here, right?”

Travis said nothing.

I only want her to smile again, dad.”

His hand fell on her shoulder. Rose jumped a little, and turned to him. “We’ll both get out of here, I promise.”

They picked up the pace and started walking again.

What makes you so confident about that?” Rose said.

Jack.”

Jack?”

That boy is determined to leave, if it kills him. I…wasn’t.”

You didn’t want to leave?”

Travis’ mind recalled the years past, stuck in this rotting hole. “I did. But risking my life for it…that I couldn’t do.”

Why were you put here, in the first place?” Rose said.

Just like you were. I came here to find the truth. Regularly, people who were put in here disappeared. This isn’t exactly uncommon for mental asylums, but it happened here with too much frequency. Instead of being the exception, it seemed like it was par for the course.”

What did you find out?”

Not much. Stuff you probably already figured out. There were certain areas of the asylum that were ‘off-limits’, like the basement. They tried to bribe me so I would keep my mouth shut, but I refused. It had worked with all the other doctors, so they seemed surprised. I quit the next day, taking my research home. It was just about enough to warrant a search of the place.”

Then what happened?”

I was in my study, late at night, when somebody broke into the house. I was hit in the back of the head, and I passed out. Your mother was asleep at the time. When I woke up, I was in the maze.”

I was pushed past that big iron door.” Rose said. “A few days later, Jack was, too. What happened to those research papers?”

They probably took them. There wasn’t anything incriminating in them, but I think they were just doing it to be safe.”

Rose sighed. Her quest into the maze had accomplished only one of her goals: to find the truth. And the truth wasn’t pretty. Silence took over the two of them again.

They finally noticed the sound of footsteps behind them, and turning around, they faced the creature. Standing at eight feet, he towered over them. He was thin, emaciated; skin sticking to the bones. A straight jacket was wrapped around the creature, but two holes had been ripped through it, showing his arms. There was an over sized bloody knife in his hand, which he carried with ease. Wearing that straight jacket and carrying the bloody knife he looked like a lunatic. True to his name, the lunatic let out a shriek, that rang through the corridor. Travis and Rose took a step back.

He clearly had been holding back, for when they started to run, the lunatic did the same, keeping up with them. His size hid a great speed that he now displayed. The large knife clearly didn’t seem to trouble him much. Rose ducked under a powerful swing, trying to not to fall.

Travis ran like a madman, without sparing a glance back. Rose ran along him, looking at the knife. She pushed him out of the way of a heavy swing.

Dad! Watch out! You need to keep your eyes on him!” Travis seemed to take no notice of her voice.

Rose tripped and fell to the ground, crying out. The lunatic was almost immediately on her, holding his large knife. He brought it up, ready to cut in her half.

Travis heard Rose’s cry as she fell. He whirled around, and saw the huge creature upon his daughter. His hand flew to his hip and grabbed the gun, aiming it at the monster’s head. For a man who lived to save lives, he was really good with a gun. He pressed the trigger.

The bullet flew through the air and connected with the lunatic’s head, burying into his eye. He staggered back as his head jerked. Blood poured from the eye. His remaining eye danced, and then focused on the shooter. Travis stared him down, both with his eyes and with the barrel of his gun.

The lunatic moved over Rose and walked towards Travis. He pressed the trigger again and hit his other eye, blinding the creature completely. It staggered backwards and Rose rolled out of the way, backing up against the wall. The creature moved around the corridor, blind, crashing into doors. He crashed against a pair of elevator doors. They gave in, and the creature fell inside the elevator shaft, swallowed by the darkness.

Rose slowly got up and walked towards the elevator doors. She couldn’t see the bottom of it, only the unending darkness.

We’re in the first floor. Where does this lead to? Hell, where’s the elevator?”

I guess it leads to the maze.”

She breathed a sigh, possibly of relief. “That’s where it belongs, wherever it was.”

I don’t know, Rose. I get the feeling we’ll see it again.”

Yeah, me too. I’m not looking forward to it.” She turned around, looking at the hallway. “There’s not much hallway left. Let’s just hope we can find that key.”

They walked for a while before finding a doctor’s office. It was completely empty, except for a message scribbled on the wall:

From darkness you’ve come,

and to darkness you must return,

if you want to find,

the truth.”

No dice.” Travis said, reading the message. “Let’s just hope Jack had better luck.”

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