The Siren Stopped in Twin Lakes
© Isabella Bailey 2019
All rights reserved.
CONTENT WARNING: THE FOLLOWING STORY CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE AND SCENES OF VIOLENCE. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION.
Rocky Mountain Tactical Research Institute, Lower Level 1
He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting when Matheson, barely more than a silhouette in the blackness of the stairwell, pulled open the downstairs door. Bodies everywhere? Blood spattered on the walls? An armed shooter lurking in the doorway? The ten seconds or so he’d had to catch up with his supervisor had been enough to conjure up plenty of horrendous scenarios.
He was so caught up in his nerves, bracing himself for some creepy-crawler to come springing out of the shadows, that it took him several seconds to register that he could see again. Matheson had switched on his flashlight.
“You know what I just realized?” he said, not looking at Gilbert as they started forward.
HIs colleague nodded down at the floor. “No emergency lighting.”
“Did they forget to turn it on?”
“It turns on automatically,” the other janitor replied, his voice deafening in the silence of the hallway. “If it’s out, that means the batteries are dead. They’re supposed to run for at least ninety minutes.”
“So whatever happened here happened more than ninety minutes ago.”
And still nobody around. Empty vans in the parking lot. Gilbert pressed his lips together and continued forward.
Even with limited light, it was clear they were getting into the Serious Business section of the facility. Where upstairs there had been offices, drinking fountains, and conference rooms, here he could make out more of what Powell might have referred to as “crazy shit”. Shooting galleries. Darkrooms. Chambers jammed with equipment he couldn’t identify if his life depended on it.
“Have you ever been down here before?” he asked Matheson as they approached the end of the hall.
“A few times.”
Gilbert was halfway to asking him what he knew about what they did down here, but thought better of it at the last second. He wasn’t sure he really wanted to know.
“This section’s clear,” Matheson announced as they reached the intersection. “The others must’ve—”
In that instant he was pulled around the corner.
His flashlight flew out of his hand and clattered to the floor, its beam thrashing around wildly as it spun on the linoleum. A split second later, there came a grunt of pain. Gilbert cried out, his heart plunging to his gut as he rounded the corner. Before him, two figures were grappling, cloaked in darkness. Indistinct shouts reverberated through the corridor.
“Get off!” That was Matheson.
Another voice responded, one that Gilbert recognized even through his panic. “Where the fuck did you come from, huh? This floor is clear, so where the fuck did you come from?”
“Davidson, stop! What are you doing?!”
“Shut your mouth! Just shut your mouth and go down!”
“Gilbert, the flashlight,” Matheson cried. There was another grunt, and the distinct thud of something—maybe a body—hitting a hard surface.
Realizing he’d been frozen in place, Gilbert lunged forward and scrambled for the torch. Adrenaline was making him shake, and he almost fumbled it as he raised it, pointing the beam in the direction of the commotion. Just ahead of him, Anthony Davidson was slamming Matheson repeatedly against the wall. Matheson had his hands up in an attempt to shove him off, but he was no match for Davidson, who played basketball on his days off and could always be counted on to carry the heavy equipment.
“Let him go!” Gilbert yelled, feeling stupid. It was all he could manage.
Davidson ignored him, thrashing Matheson’s shoulders until his head snapped back and forth like a rag doll’s. “You think you know what you’re doing, huh?” he demanded. “You think you’re going to stomp around here with your flashlights and your mops after all the shit you’ve caused? This is your fault, goddamn it!”
No longer thinking, Gilbert charged him, slamming into them both. Matheson teetered to the side, looking dazed, his legs tangling underneath him.
Davidson stumbled, and Gilbert had enough time to be hopeful… until his fellow crewman abruptly turned and threw a haymaker. It caught Gilbert in the cheek, sending him reeling back as a bolt of pain shot through his skull. He raised his hands, disoriented, almost dropping the flashlight again.
Davidson advanced on him, winding up for another blow, when blood blossomed above the collar of his jumpsuit, gushing out in a dark deluge.
It all happened in the space of an instant: Matheson pulling the blade of his multi-tool free of Davidson’s neck, sending scarlet droplets raining down in a fine mist. Davidson letting out a strangled noise and swatting weakly at his attacker. Gilbert sucking in a breath, ready to scream.
Matheson drew back and then struck again, aiming for the spot just above Davidson’s collarbone. Another stab, below the bottom of his ear. He was still unsteady on his feet after the battering he’d taken, but that didn’t matter. It was over.
Blood bubbled from Davidson’s mouth. He made a couple of harsh clicking sounds in his throat before finally dropping to the floor, where he continued to gurgle and thrash. Gilbert stared down at him, feeling ill, and despite having just witnessed one coworker stab another, all he could think was, God, I wish he would stop moving.
Only the sound of Matheson groaning was enough to make him drag his gaze away from the man dying on the floor. He turned to see his colleague rubbing the back of his head, his brows furrowed and his face drawn in pain.
“You stabbed him.”
Matheson didn’t take his eyes off Davidson. “Yeah,” he replied after a long moment. He brought his hand up to sweep a few stray gray hairs out of his face, leaving a smear of blood on his forehead. It was almost comical.
Gilbert slumped to the floor, letting his head hang between his knees. Black spots danced around the edges of his vision, threatening to close in on him as the adrenaline wore off. The front of his coveralls was still spattered with Davidson’s blood, and he willed himself not to look down. “Matheson, I don’t… I don’t feel so good.”
“Me neither,” replied the other janitor. He was still breathing hard, and when Gilbert looked up he saw that he was staring up at the ceiling, multi-tool still clutched in his hand.
Gilbert swallowed. “I thought he hadn’t arrived yet,” he said, feeling somehow detached from himself.
Matheson didn’t respond right away, but his grip on the blade tightened. “He must have gone in ahead of us.”
“He attacked you,” said Gilbert, closing his eyes, his ears ringing. Drawing a breath, he focused on the throbbing in his cheek where he’d been decked and willed himself not to pass out. “Why? Why would he do that?”
“I could make a guess,” Matheson responded, “but I won’t.”
Gilbert opened his eyes. The darkness was beginning to recede.
“Why?” he asked, still breathing hard. “Do you know something about what’s going on here?”
Matheson shook his head, waving him off with a hand still soaked in blood. Moving like a man in a trance, he closed his multi-tool and put it back in his pocket. Then he strode over to Gilbert and extended a hand, which Gilbert noticed wasn’t entirely steady.
He shook his head. “I don’t think I can get up.”
“Would you rather wait here for someone else to come beat the shit out of us?”
Gilbert stole a longing look in the direction of the exit, consumed by a desperation the likes of which he’d never experienced before. Those hundred or so yards might as well have been a thousand miles. What would he do if he left? What could he do? Hightail it south, to see if he could beat the Department to the border? Head back to Fairplay and wait for the suits to come knocking? Because they would—oh, yes, they would, and he didn’t want to have to answer their questions when they did.
His throat paper-dry, his skin slick with sweat, Gilbert straightened. After a moment, he took hold of Matheson’s arm and stood. At some point Davidson had stopped making noise, and he had that to be thankful for, at least. Small favors, and all that. “What do we do?” he asked, passing back the flashlight.
Matheson eyed him. “You know already.”
The equipment closet was waiting for them, along with its arsenal of tools and chemicals. Although the door stood open, no one was inside. As they dragged another supply cart out into the hallway, Gilbert had to wonder how long ago Davidson had passed through before losing it. Hours? Minutes?
Did it even bear thinking about?
Davidson's body took more effort to lift than Kendra's, and they were both winded by the time they maneuvered it into the chute. The tarp leaked blood along the way, and Gilbert had to switch on his own torch as they followed the crimson trail back to its origin. They eradicated it with methodical precision, erasing all traces of their former coworker with nothing but time and a bucket of bleach. Only afterwards did the reality of what they'd just done fall on Gilbert, and he came to a stop, his stomach clenching.
"We have to keep moving."
“Come on,” Gilbert protested, a runnel of sweat making its slow way down his temple as hysteria threatened to set in once more. “You killed Davidson, man—we just dumped his body! What the hell was wrong with him? What the hell was wrong with you?”
“Gilbert, we need to go.”
“No. Not until you tell me what the fuck is going on in this place.” Although he was slouching, he managed to fix his coworker with an adamant stare.
Matheson raised his hands. “Look, I barely even… I’m cleanup, just like you.”
Gilbert shook his head, and for a moment the ringing came back. He pinched the bridge of his nose, squeezing his eyes shut. “That’s bullshit. You’ve been down here before. You might not know everything, but you sure as hell know more than I do, and I’m not moving until you tell me what all this is.”
Matheson sighed, thought for a moment, and gave Gilbert a weak look. “How about we walk and talk? That sound good to you?”
Gilbert nodded, biting the inside of his cheek. They resumed their journey down the corridor, neither man entirely steady on his feet. The smell of death hung in the air around them, acrid and sweet, and it was growing stronger the deeper they went.
“Do you know what they study in this place?” Matheson asked, massaging the back of his head. The fact that he wasn’t concussed was a miracle in itself.
Matheson nodded. “Right.” He paused, sweeping his flashlight beam in a wary arc. “But not just guns and grenades.”
“What other kinds of weapons are there?”
Matheson’s voice was low and dangerous as they rounded the next corner. “Living weapons.”
Gilbert stared at him. “Like assassins? Special ops, something like that?”
They stopped outside an open door, through which they could see a heap of corpses, already wrapped and stacked in neat rows along either wall. Some were dressed in body armor, some in lab coats, some in janitorial uniforms. Gilbert even recognized a few of them.
“Good god,” he muttered. Whether he was in shock or just getting used to the sight of dead bodies (not great either way), he didn’t grow as faint this time, although the nausea had returned with a vengeance. “Did Davidson do all this?”
Matheson shook his head. “The day shift would have.” His brows pulled together. “Still doesn’t explain what happened to Ridley, though.”
Gilbert switched on his radio. “Gilbert for Stout.”
There were a few moments of dead air, but Stout’s reply never crackled through.
“Gilbert for Stout?” He turned to Matheson, who was hesitating. “He’s not answering.”
Matheson grunted and grabbed his walkie-talkie. “Matheson for Stout. Do you copy?”
Again, silence. It seemed to push in on them from every angle, more oppressive than ever. There were secrets in that silence, Gilbert could feel it.
It was becoming abundantly clear that, despite Stout’s earlier insistence, the situation was not, in fact, under control.
Matheson was staring at his radio, his lips pressed into a thin line, and for a moment—just a moment, mind you—he glanced over his own shoulder, toward the way out.
They got to work, busy bees with buckets of bleach, rolling the bodies to the chute and dumping them down one by one. Most of their work had already been done for them, but the carnage left behind after they cleared away the corpses made the hallway look like a warzone. Gilbert supposed it was. Neither man spoke, and perhaps that was just as well. A kind of somber understanding had settled between them, along with the knowledge that giving voice to their thoughts might send them to a place from which there was no returning.
As they went, they got close enough to see the bodies’ heads poking haphazardly out of the tarps. The corpses decked out in tactical gear were ambiguous enough, but the scientists…
“They’re all women,” Gilbert observed as they pushed the last corpse down the hatch.
Matheson grunted, turning to take in the remaining carnage, a Jackson Pollock rendered in blood. It wasn’t until they had scrubbed it all clean that he finally spoke. “Do you believe in the supernatural?” he asked, turning to Gilbert as they wheeled the cart onward. “Precognition? Telekinesis? Anything like that?”
Gilbert snorted, but he was already casting back to that conversation with Powell, which now seemed so very long ago.
Like MKUltra on steroids.
“Do you?” he asked.
Matheson didn’t reply. “In the late seventies, during the Cold War,” he said slowly, deliberately, like he was explaining to a crazy person (or perhaps to a sane person), “the U.S. military launched a research program into paranormal warfare. What you’re looking at is a holdover from that project.”
“Paranormal, like… what? Psychic powers?” He swallowed. “Mind control?”
“You name it. It started with mind control, yeah. Through the years they’ve looked into ESP, resurrection, extraterrestrials...” He glanced back down the empty hallway. “If it was rumored to exist, and it could maybe be used to take down the Ruskies, you can bet your ass they’ve dumped money into researching it.”
“That’s…” Gilbert raked a hand through his hair. “That’s ridiculous.” He snorted, looking away. “You can’t be serious.”
Matheson shrugged. “You asked me to tell you what I know.”
“So what is this, then? Some kind of experiment gone wrong?”
“What do you mean, ‘maybe’?”
“The last I heard about what they were doing down here,” Matheson replied, “was that they were researching folklore.”
“Yeah, like Bigfoot.”
Under other circumstances, Gilbert would have laughed at the absurdity of what they were discussing, but for some reason, he didn’t feel like laughing now. “And what did they find?” he asked, not sure if he really wanted to know the answer.
They picked up the pace, and as he moved his flashlight Gilbert could see more viscera splattered on the floor, forming a lumpy burgundy trail that rounded the corner and disappeared out of sight. Doggedly they followed it, their mops whisking quietly back and forth along the tiles. “Do you know anything about Greek mythology?” asked Matheson, his foot sliding on a smear of something unidentifiable.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Gilbert replied, putting a fist up to his mouth as he wiped it away.
“Well, do you?” Matheson pressed as they passed the entrance to another laboratory.
“Only what they taught us in school,” answered Gilbert, “but that was a long…”
He trailed off. An enormous silver cylinder lay across the hallway, having crashed through one of the adjacent windows. It was leaning against the far wall, jamming up the corridor. Shards of broken glass were scattered around it, twinkling like diamonds in the light of their torches.
“Great,” Matheson muttered, pulling a face.
“Can’t we move it?”
“It’s an autoclave. I don’t think we’ll be able to.”
Gilbert nodded cluelessly, already praying this meant they would have to go back—So sorry, guys, really wanted to keep this party going but the way was blocked, shit, what can you do—but he let the thought go when Matheson turned to face the lab entrance.
“Maybe there’s another way through,” he was saying. “I think this one is in the middle of the floor.” Grabbing the supply cart, he retreated to the laboratory door and pulled it open, sending glass fragments skittering across the linoleum. Gilbert followed, only for his colleague to stop abruptly in front of him, his mop clattering to the floor.
Gilbert nearly plowed into him, wobbling on his meaty legs, and it took him a moment to process what he was seeing.
In the center of the room was what looked like an enormous swimming pool, at least thirty feet deep, its water tranquil and crystalline. He’d heard of NASA training astronauts using similar setups, although why they had one here was anyone’s guess. They’d very nearly walked right into it in the darkness, but that wasn’t why Matheson had frozen.
On the far side of the room stood two figures, so still that they might have been statues. One of them wore a standard-issue RMTRI security uniform, while the other was dressed in a jumpsuit that was all too familiar. This latter was holding a gun to the security guard’s head.
“Ridley?” Matheson exclaimed. “What in God’s name are you doing?”
So this was where he’d gotten off to.
“Ridley, don’t,” Matheson said again, and Gilbert didn’t miss the quiver that had crept into his voice. “Drop the gun.”
There was a moment in which Gilbert wasn’t even sure Ridley had heard him, but then he looked slowly in their direction, his neck moving like a joint on a rusty hinge. “No,” he said at last, his tone flat and distant. “No, I don’t think I will.”
“Hey, listen. Take it easy,” said Gilbert, his voice tremulous. He hadn’t worked with the guy much, but he knew out of character when he heard it. “What’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you what’s going on,” replied Ridley, still in that same dead voice. “You’re here now, so I’m going to shoot him.” His eyes returned to the security guard, who stood with his arms at his sides, a stupefied expression on his face. He made no move to get his gun back.
“Ridley, no!” Gilbert protested. “Why?” Maybe it was a useless question, given what he had already seen, but he couldn’t help trying to cling to some semblance of logic.
“You should have left old things alone,” Ridley told them, taking the safety off the pistol with an ease that was uncanny. “This could have been prevented. Two more deaths. Just remember that.”
“Stop it!” Matheson yelled. “Get her out of your head!”
Gilbert looked from Ridley to Matheson, his heart racing. Time seemed to distort, his surroundings narrowing to a pinpoint before him. The soft splashing of the pool water was deafening to his ears. A second stretched by, and then, as easily as you might turn off a lightswitch, Ridley pulled the trigger.
A thunderous crack tore through the air like an explosion, making him spring back. The guard’s body fell to the floor. From across the room, Ridley continued to stare at them, his face devoid of all emotion. “She’s waiting for you,” he said. A moment later he turned the gun on himself and pulled the trigger. A second report echoed through the room and Ridley fell into the pool, a red patch blooming in the water around him. And that was it.
There was no stopping it this time. Gilbert doubled over and threw up his breakfast. Matheson didn’t appear much better off, putting his hands on his thighs and letting his head hang forward as the air rushed from his mouth. The sound of the gunshots still seemed to reverberate from every angle.
Gilbert continued to hack and splutter, battling to maintain consciousness. Waking up in his apartment this morning felt like a lifetime ago. He wiped the sweat from his face as his retching finally subsided, focusing on the quiet lapping of the water, and dropped to his knees.
Matheson took a seat next to him a moment later, his eyes closed. In the low light, Gilbert could make out a patch of Davidson’s blood on the sleeve of his jumpsuit.
“Are you okay?” Matheson croaked.
“Just peachy,” answered Gilbert, still breathing hard.
Matheson sighed and shook his head.
For a moment they were quiet, either unable or unwilling to speak. Gilbert looked down at his feet. It was either that or risk having to see the carnage again. “What about Greek mythology?” he asked finally.
“Greek mythology. You asked me if I knew anything about Greek mythology.”
His coworker was silent, wiping his mouth.
“What did you say to Ridley?” Gilbert persisted. “What did you mean when you told him to get her out of his head?”
Matheson held up a hand, looking ill.
Witnessing the first cracks in his colleague’s composure frightened Gilbert more than he could express. “Matheson,” he pressed, his voice rising, “who is she?”
“The ancient Greeks,” Matheson said at last, staring down at his flashlight, “called them sirens.”
Matheson nodded. “The myths say,” he continued, his words stilted, “that they sang a song no man could resist. They would sit on their islands, singing to nearby sailors and luring them in. Their ships would crash on the rocks, and the crews were never seen again.”
“And that’s what they’re working on here?” Gilbert demanded. “Are you saying they’ve been studying these things?”
“One, I think,” said Matheson. He had never looked so old. “Just one. Mind control—that’s what started all this.” He threw his arms up in frustration. His flashlight beam glanced off the surface of the pool. “I knew this was gonna end badly. As if moving the place all the way up here and staffing the labs with women would make it any safer. Bet they weren’t banking on one of them… Well, swinging the other way.” He turned to Gilbert, jabbing the air with an accusatory finger. His eyes were bloodshot. “Someone didn’t do their homework. I’d bet my life. She got through to one of them. And now you and I get to sweep it all under the rug.”
Gilbert rubbed the back of his neck. Slowly but surely, his breath was coming back to him. “You seriously think this was a… a siren? A real one, like in the myths? Or something else? Hypnosis? Pheromones?”
“I’ve been here ever since the Department first started hooking little kids up to brain monitors and taking pictures of crop circles,” Matheson said, still staring at him. “Most of it’s bullshit. But some of it… Look, I’m not saying it’s real. I’m saying it’s possible.” He shrugged, shaking his head. “And that’s all I know.”
“Fuck,” said Gilbert. It was all he could manage. He put his hands to his temples, leaning forward and drawing his knees up to his chest. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”
“Yeah,” agreed Matheson. “Fuck is right.”
© Isabella Bailey 2019
All rights reserved.