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And remember to beware the spiders… If your not careful, they’ll find their way inside. First they’ll get into your body and then your mind…
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“System is up, corporal. Whenever you’re ready, you have the go,” came the crackling female voice over his radio.“Roger, doctor. Over and out.”
Corporal Thompson clicked off his radio and looked at the set-up they had situated on the hood of the Hummer. The engine still clicked and, in the quiet of the town around him, it seemed loud. He had already checked in and the general hadn’t been happy with how slow they were going. He wanted results and he wanted them fast. He didn’t want to hear that they had only just now set up their initial base.
“Alpha team, parameter status?” he said through their local team channel.
“Perimeter secured. Back door is open. We think we can hear something inside, but cannot confirm until entry. Over.”
“Affirmative. I’m on my way back. Over,” Thompson said, then looked over his shoulder, having to turn slightly to see the remaining three troops walking around the lab. The men stood there, keeping an eye on both directions of the main street.
“Beta team, keep the perimeter secure. Back us up if need be. Over.”
“Corporal?” came a questioning voice.
He wasn’t sure which one of his troops was coming through the channel, but he understood their fear. Most of these guys were still early recruits. It was not his first choice of a team, with only PFC Baldwin ever having seen even the slightest bit of action overseas. Even then, it barely counted as Baldwin had only been over there for a few weeks before he got called back.
“Come in only if we call for you. Over.”
“Yes, corporal. Over.”
Corporal Thompson hurried around to the back of the doctor’s office.
* * * *
He reached his three men at the back of the doctor’s office. One was near the door, crouched low, his rifle pointed into the dark office. The other two men were facing their rear, keeping any eye out for anything that might be coming from behind. It was a smart tactical move, but something a soldier would expect to see more of they were deployed, not on U.S. soil. It meant something had them spooked.
He hurried up to them and the two guards watching their back seemed to relax slightly in his presence.
“We keep hearing something pounding around inside, corporal. We’ve called out, but no one has answered. Everything’s dark.”
He could see how dark it was as he neared. The end of the hallway, that fake wood paneling, drifted into a shadowed darkness that seemed to grow into a black void the further it went. With the sun getting lower behind him, and the house behind them casting its long shadow over them, it made the depths of the hallway disappear. And those damn suits they had on didn’t allow them to equip themselves with night vision.
Great design flaw, he thought.
He could hear the pounding coming from inside. It wasn’t regular, but there was definitely something thumping and pounding into one of the walls. It sounded like somebody pounding on a door, but he couldn’t be sure. If they were lucky, it was just someone trapped and pounding to get out. However, they couldn’t afford to think that way. Maybe they would get lucky and find someone who could shed some light on just where in the hell everyone was in this damn town.
A tendril of a chill slithered its way through his spine and he could feel it reaching down to tie a small knot in his stomach.
“Okay. Sidney, you stay here and watch our backs. Christian and Westdale, you follow behind.”
Thompson looked back into the hallway. He reached in and flicked the light on, hoping it would illuminate their path. Nothing.
“Lights on,” he called back as he attached the flashlight to the top of his rifle.
He looked back at his men. He hoped he wasn’t showing them how nervous he felt, but they knew he was stalling.
Okay, well, there was no more putting this off.
“Time to go to work,” he said through his radio, then he switched it over to the open channel so the doctor and the other team could listen in.
“We’re going in.”
“Okay, cameras are hot. If you see it, we’ll see it,” came the female voice through his radio.
* * * *
Thompson made it to the end of the hallway, listening as the pounding grew louder. His chest hurt from listening to it, and it painfully fluttered to match the beat of the growing song. The rhythm was growing even as they stepped down the hallway. It would pound, pause, then pound again. It was like whatever was pounding would stop briefly to listen, then it would pound again.
“Hello? Is anyone in here?” he called out as they reached the end of the hallway where it split into two pathways. It felt like the darkness just absorbed his voice. It just fell away, and he could imagine no one had heard it. But the hallway had gone quiet. The pounding had stopped. He checked quickly to make sure he had keyed on his external mic.
The hallway was quiet. He could only hear the sound of his air filter as it recycled his breaths. Then, every so often, there was the hiss as excess air emptied from the tanks and the air processing cycle started again.
They all stopped and stood there, listening.
“Okay. Christian and Westdale, you go to the left. I’ll head to the right. Go to the end and turn up. Make visual contact with me before we start the sides.”
He was going alone. He could have sent one of them, but a good leader didn’t send a man alone, unless he was willing to go himself. None of them should be going alone, but they needed results and he didn’t have any choice. That didn’t mean he would blindly take them into danger, but he had to play a little fast and loose with caution to get the job done. It wasn’t much worse than when he fought in Afghanistan, but he knew to always keep an eye on his six, as well as the other guys. Would his men really know to follow that here?
The tendril of worry that had worked its way into his stomach expanded and he could feel a twang of pain as it was twisting through his intestines. He wondered just what it would be like to puke into his own suit. How bad would that festering smell be? He wouldn’t be able to open and release it or he would expose himself. He would be trapped with the stench of his own vomit. And that wouldn’t be too great of an example for his troops, would it?
He took the first step down the right side. It didn’t look like it went too far. It would only be about three long steps down the hallway, then it turned into another hallway to the left. There was a closed door leading off to the right.
He took another small step forward. Counting his steps, three long and six short, he cautiously eased his foot forward. Maybe it was habit, maybe it was his desire not to take too much for granted, but his movements were reminiscent of when he was deployed and had to move cautiously, looking for tripwires. He moved slowly, his eyes constantly moving. If it even looked like a shadow moved, he glared in that direction and watched until he was satisfied that it was nothing.
“Stay calm,” he mumbled, trying to convince himself that his racing heart was just because of the excitement of seeing some action again.
“What, corporal?” he heard over the radio. He couldn’t tell which one had asked, but he knew it was one of the ones in there with him. He hadn’t meant to mumble on an open channel. Damn. He’d have to remember to keep his mic muted.
“Reminding you guys to stay calm. Don’t get jumpy,” he said, as much to himself as them. Maybe giving the order would allow him to follow it, as well.
He took another step forward. The little glow from his flashlight reached the end of the hallway, but was barely able to show him much. His feet were lost somewhere below him. Anything could be down there and reaching out to grab him.
Another chilled tendril ran down his spine, this one making him shiver.
He reached the end of the hallway, wishing the pounding would return because, somehow, the silence was worse. The silence allowed for his thoughts to run wild, thinking about everything that could be there which he couldn’t see. The hands reaching for him from behind, the snake-like arms reaching from the darkness below… They were the soldiers he had killed in action, the enemy he had stared in the face, and the ones who returned from his nightmares each night as he watched the light fade from their eyes.
All his nightmares, all the people from his past were there. He could feel them in that darkness. The ghosts of his past were there. All of them were there for him. They all wanted to take him with them, to become a part of them.
He reached for the handle of the door and let his hand just hover over it.
Come on, Jake. Get your head in the game, he thought, trying to scream it at himself through the clutter. Get those memories pushed back down. Take those nightmares from the recesses that they hide in and get rid of them.
He wasn’t supposed to see any more action. He was stateside. He was supposed to be done. He had served his terms, and had done his time. He wasn’t supposed to be back in the mix of it.
His hand clenched down on the door handle and started to turn.
The door reverberated with a loud explosion as something from the other side slammed into it. A loud force was there, but now it wasn’t the slow rhythmic pounding that had been with them as they walked in. Now it was an eager, desperate sound that shook the door, the frame, and the wall surrounding it. Something was in there, and it wanted out…now.
Come on. Stay rational, he thought to himself. He had to. He couldn’t allow himself to lose his head.
“Corporal?” Christian shouted over the headset. “Corporal, are you all right?”
“Yeah,” he called back, hearing the tremor in his voice. He hoped they would just ignore it or take it for radio feedback.
He hadn’t realized he had pulled his hand back from the door, and wasn’t sure if he wanted to reach back out for it. The pounding roared again, smashing against the other side of the door.
“Do you need help? Can I assist you? Are you trapped?” he called to the door. Even if the person on the other side wasn’t out to get him, he doubted he could have been heard over the consistent pounding against the wood. He could see the wood was splintering from the top, giving way. Slivers of wood were sticking out like needles, pointing towards him.
“What’s your progress?” he called out over the radio. He stepped back from the door, leveling his rifle at it.
“We are down the left hallway to the waiting area. All rooms are clear. We are about to go back down the right hallway towards your position. Do you want us to hurry down, or clear the doors along the way?”
“Clear the doors. Don’t allow anyone to sneak up behind us. Turn on any lights you can.”
“Um…” There was a pause. Thompson didn’t know what that meant, but he wished they would just spit it out. He watched as the door pushed out a little bit more.
“Spit it out.”
“Corporal, all the lights are shattered. We’ve been walking on the remnants of the fluorescent light the whole way. Something broke them all down the hallways.”
Something must not like the light too much, he thought as he brought the rifle up to his shoulder and positioned his cheek to the rest, getting ready to fire. He was starting to see a gap in the door in front of him, but he still couldn’t see beyond the door as it was even darker in there than in the hallway.
More pounding slammed at the door, more wood fell down the front. He continued to take another step back until he was just at the threshold of being able to see the door clearly. He figured he was just about three feet back. That should be safe enough distance from whatever was in there if they tried to reach out for him.
Then the pounding stopped again, leaving the last blast of aggression echoing into the darkness.
Corporal Thompson stood there, feeling his chest burning. He hadn’t realized he was holding his breath, but he still didn’t feel safe enough to let the air out. He was cautious of the silence. He didn’t want to break it. He tried to force his senses beyond what he could see. It was a futile attempt, but he yearned to hear what was on the other side of the door.
There was someone back there. He didn’t know what they wanted with him, but he could feel some kind of presence watching him. They were waiting for him to step forward so they could attack. They could even have others hiding, others that his team had not found, waiting to sneak up from behind. They were waiting for them to be all in one spot.
“Status?” he called through his headset.
“Westdale is working his way to you. I-I’m checking out one of the labs. It’s pretty messed up in here. There’s a lot of blood all over and what looks like someone’s eye splatted near the door. I was giving the scientists a closer visual.”
“Roger. Doctor Demoin, in the future, please let me know when you separate my team. Thank you.”
“Understood, corporal.” He could tell by her cold tone that she didn’t care and she would do it again. Damn scientists.
He heard footsteps and turned to see Westdale coming up behind him. Westdale’s faceplate made a sort of nodding motion to him as though to acknowledge him. Thompson nodded back.
Then the door exploded, the upper half sending shards of wood at them. Thompson turned back to see the shape of what was coming out at them, but he didn’t have time to think. He didn’t have time to question if the person was coming at them for their help, or was there to attack him. He opened fire, and the shots sounded like cannon fire in the enclosed hallway.