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 2
They didn't speak much as they navigated the labyrinth of rooms and corridors. Matheson had been right: another door, past the scene of the murder-suicide, had led them onward into the depths, and they made it to the stairs without further incident. Their luck, such as it was, ended there.
Bodies. Bodies everywhere. On the floor. Propped up against the walls. Sprawled across the stairs. Some men, some women, all dead. Some of them had been shot, others had been bludgeoned, and a few had had their necks broken like Kendra’s. What looked like most of the daytime cleanup crew was scattered throughout the stairwell, with the majority choked up against the doorway to the stairwell. They had been trying to get out.
They picked their way through the corpses, and only the promise of the Department kept Gilbert from turning tail and running, that basic human drive for survival overshadowing damned near everything. The bleakness of their situation wasn't lost on him: Get lost in this maze of a building, be hunted down by the Department, or face whatever horrors lurked in the farthest reaches of the facility. Three shitty options. Take your pick, Bryan.
The fact that they had seemingly arrived here after the massacre—the main event, if you will—did nothing to dampen the pall of horror that had settled over him. As they stepped over the last of the corpses in the stairwell, all he could hope was that if he ever saw daylight again, it would be with all his body parts intact.
Matheson had taken his multi-tool back out, and when the steel door scraped open, Gilbert was already bracing himself for some new madman to spring out. Instead, there was only silence, the entrance to the facility’s lowest level yawning open in front of them. The two men shared a look. Matheson’s fire seemed to be on the verge of going out—not that Gilbert was faring much better himself.
After a moment's consideration, the older man took the lead, moving with a kind of exhausted conviction, and together they walked through the doorway. Looking warily around, Gilbert immediately noticed two things. The first was that they were in a long hallway, stretching so far into the distance that the threads of light from their flashlights narrowed into pinpricks against a wall that seemed about twenty miles away. The second was that, apart from a single reinforced door all the way at the end, there was nothing else here. No equipment closet. No garbage shoot. No other doorways, no corridors branching away into the darkness, not even any laboratory equipment. The only sign that something had happened beyond the stairwell was a set of bloody footprints mottling the pristine linoleum floor. They led away from where they stood and off into the shadows.
“Stout?” Gilbert rasped, his eyes not leaving the footprints. Not even he was sure whether he was truly calling out for their supervisor, or whether he was asking Matheson a question as dreadful as it was obvious.
Matheson shook his head. “He must be down here.”
“What about…” Gilbert swallowed. “Her?”
“We’ll see.” Matheson reached for his walkie-talkie, no doubt to try to raise Stout again, only to pause. A moment later, he let his hand fall limply to his side. Gilbert couldn’t blame him.
Schrodinger’s supervisor, he thought, barking out a dry laugh. As long as that door stayed shut, they could keep on pretending that he was okay, that he hadn’t gone off the radar and left them holding the bag. The situation was, for lack of a more elegant term, FUBAR, and there was little they could do now but press onward, woefully unequipped for what they had taken on. He was pretty sure Matheson knew it, too, but people behaved in strange ways when they were up against the inexplicable.
Follow orders. Hang on to what you understand.
“They’re dry,” Matheson said suddenly, pointing down at the burgundy shoe marks.
“Is it too much to hope that means she left already?”
The other janitor snorted, but there wasn’t much humor in it. “Tell you what: If she’s gone, I’ll buy you lunch.”
“And if she’s not?”
Matheson didn't reply. He didn’t have to.
The stagnant air pressed in on them as they headed for the doorway, raising goosebumps on their arms and making sweat bloom on the backs of their necks. In the silence of the darkened corridor, Gilbert could almost swear he felt the place moving. Something about being this far down, he supposed, had him conjuring up imaginary ghosts… or maybe real ones.
It wasn't long before they arrived at the solitary door, which looked like it was equipped with every type of locking mechanism known to man. Not that that mattered, Gilbert saw; it stood a couple of inches ajar. “Convenient,” he remarked.
Matheson nodded. “Like they wanted someone to follow them.”
“Are we that someone?” Gilbert asked, afraid to know the answer.
“I’d almost rather get snuffed by some government spook,” Matheson said, taking a ragged breath. "Almost.”
He pushed the door open.
Surprise, surprise, thought Gilbert. Another dark room. At least this time we—
And then their flashlights fell on the scene. In the middle of the room was an examination table: the kind with straps, like you might see in a defunct asylum, mercifully empty, with an array of monitors and instruments clustered around it. The place smelled like blood and iodine. Plastic tarps hanging from the ceiling shifted gently in the stale air. There were other things, too: electron microscopes, centrifuges, containers marked Sharps, Tetracaine 1%, and Live Tissue Samples. What might have once been an audio recording system had been smashed to pieces and strewn around the room, nothing remaining on the counter except a cracked computer monitor and a tangle of wires.
The footprints stopped in the far corner, where Lloyd Stout’s body lay, his mouth frozen agape at some unseen terror. A permanent marker protruded from his eye like a crooked nail, blood running down his face in rivulets. His whole body was covered in the stuff, in fact. Gilbert guessed it didn’t all belong to him. As much of an asshole as the guy had been, he couldn’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for him in whatever part of his mind hadn’t been fully pervaded by a cloud of fear.
“Damn it," Matheson said as they stared down at the corpse, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I thought maybe…” He sighed, turning away. “I don’t know what I thought.”
“Now what?” asked Gilbert.
But Matheson’s eyes were already drifting to the far wall. “Look,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
The entire cement surface was covered with black markings.
No, not markings. Writing, stretching from the ceiling to the floor like graffiti. Gilbert took a step closer, squinting to make out the words. It was practically chicken scratch, the last feverish declaration of a man not long for this world.
A mistake this was a mistake we made a mistake
I know that now
The things we did to Her we deserve this
I can hear the screams
The white coats are the real monsters
“Did she make him write this?” Gilbert asked, turning back to Stout’s body.
Matheson just shook his head, his mouth hanging open. “Christ, what were they doing down here?”
“You don’t know?”
“Not the specifics, no. Whatever it was…” Matheson trailed off, looking around the room, which Gilbert was now realizing reminded him a bit of an execution chamber.
“It was ugly,” Gilbert finished for him.
Matheson swallowed. “We need to get started.”
“What the hell else are we supposed to do? We’re still alive, aren’t we?” He pointed at Stout. “With him gone, there’s no one else to give us orders. So we do what we can until the rest of the Department shows up.”
Gilbert’s eyes narrowed. A new possibility, as cold and damning as anything they had seen so far, was taking root in his mind, and as much as he wished he could banish it, there was no casting it off. “When will that be?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” Matheson asked, his brow furrowing.
“How long does it take to get from Denver to Twin Lakes?” asked Gilbert, unable to disguise the quiver in his voice.
Matheson checked his watch. “A couple of hours, give or take." His brow furrowed. “You’d think they’d be here by now."
“Matheson, I know this is probably stating the obvious, but I don’t want to stay here.”
His colleague gave him a withering look. “Thanks for the update, Gilbert.”
Gilbert ran a hand through his hair. “Look, just tell me this: When Stout called you in, did he say anything about the Department?”
“He said he was about to make a call to the Denver office,” replied Matheson.
Gilbert felt cold fingers close around his stomach. “And did he?"
“Did he make that call?”
“How should I know?” retorted Matheson. “That was the last time I talked to him.” He rounded on Gilbert, his eyes glinting like coins in the dim light. “Did he say anything to you?” he demanded, his voice rising, not entirely steady. Yes, he was catching on. “You said he called you while you were on your way up.”
Gilbert shook his head. “I already told you, he told me to fuck off and then reconsidered. That’s the only reason I’m here right now.” The fingers tightened a little more. “Matheson,” he began, afraid of the words even as they came out of his mouth, “is it possible that—”
“No,” Matheson snapped, his shoulders tensing. The expression on his face brought to mind the image of a cornered animal. “Don’t say it. Don’t you dare say it.”
“I’m just saying—”
“Gilbert, shut the hell up. I’m warning you.”
Gilbert bristled and pressed onward. “Where’s the Department, Matheson? Huh? Stout called you… when, six? Five thirty? So where are they?” He advanced on his supervisor. “Stout sounded off when I talked to him, did I tell you that? Off, like he wasn’t himself.” He hesitated, boiling with fear masquerading as anger. “Like he was fishing for information.”
Gilbert bulldozed over him. “You said yourself it was weird that he called me. And now we find him down here with a pen jammed in his eye.”
“Bryan,” Matheson said, his growing desperation unmistakable, “please.” He raised his hands. “Security's here. They—”
“Yeah, they are,” Gilbert agreed, nodding. “The on-site team. You know what I think?”
Matheson didn’t reply. He was staring at him with eyes that looked half-mad.
“I don’t think Stout ever got through to the Department,” Gilbert said. “I think he got through to us, and that was when she got him. Matheson...” He grabbed the other man’s bony shoulders, feeling him flinch. “We weren’t cleaning up for the Department. We were cleaning up for her. That’s why there weren’t more cars in the parking lot. The rest of the Department isn’t here because they don’t know.” Things were all falling into place now, the last remaining pieces of some hideous jigsaw puzzle. “And security’s all dead, which means…”
Matheson dropped his gaze to the floor. “Which means we’re the only other loose ends.”
Gilbert felt like his legs were going to give out. It all made sense now: why Stout had changed his mind about sending them home, why the emergency lights had gone out, why the specialists still hadn’t arrived. His mind returned, unbidden, to the image of Ridley turning his gun on himself. “Matheson,” he said, staring at his supervisor, any momentary bravado receding into the distance, “I don’t want to die.”
“Most of them don’t,” came a voice from behind them.
They whirled around, flashlight beams tearing jagged paths through the air.
Standing in the doorway to the hall was a girl. She looked about nineteen, not ugly but a far cry from beautiful, a skinny little thing with unkempt, mousy hair. Her hospital-style gown was filthy, as were her bare feet, and she stared at the two men with a mixture of curiosity and contempt. Gilbert had time to register other things, too: track marks along her arms, angry weals stretching from the corners of her mouth, bruises on her wrists from countless hours spent strapped to a table. And a dusting of freckles on her nose.
Freckles, he thought, and was unable to stop the hysterical laughter that bubbled up in his throat. She has freckles. He clamped a hand over his mouth, but the giggling didn’t subside. All this over a girl who looked like his freshman year homecoming date.
Matheson didn’t share his mirth. “Why are you doing this?” he demanded, but the fear in his voice was unmistakable.
A moment passed, and Gilbert wondered if she'd even heard. “Do you know how long I’ve been here?” the girl asked them finally. “Do you know how many hours they’ve spent cutting me open and sewing me up again? How many days I’ve spent wishing I was dead?”
Matheson shook his head. “No,” he replied, his voice breaking.
“Neither do I,” said the girl, and then she opened her mouth.
Matheson's eyes went wide and he lunged for her, only making it a couple steps before crying out and doubling over, and there was no question as to why.
The sound was like a waking nightmare. Gilbert clapped his hands over his ears, wincing and staggering back, but it was no use. It felt like every cell in his body was vibrating. Every muscle fiber and nerve ending was suddenly a live wire. Talons poked at his mind, foreign and razor-sharp, picking apart every thought and emotion even as he tried desperately to shut them out. The sensory overload was enough to make him want to scream, and he was pretty sure he did, although he couldn't hear anything over the grating, shrieking current that had set his mind ablaze. He couldn't even be sure what was real anymore. The agony blocked out everything else.
Matheson was screaming too, his mouth agape in a twisted mask of horror. The claws in Gilbert's head dug in further, and just when he thought he'd die if he had to hear this alien song any longer, he felt something snap inside him like a torn ligament. The next thing he knew, his mind was being flung down a dim tunnel, the light fading until it was nothing more than a flickering point in the distance.
Better buckle up. You're about to find out what it's like to hand the wheel over to someone else.
That was the last coherent thought Bryan Gilbert had before he lost himself completely.
It could have been thirty seconds since She sang her song, or it could have been thirty years. Time had ceased to have meaning, as had virtually everything else. What were once ambitions, fears, memories, talents—the sum of a person—were now nothing more than the vaguest, most clinical of notions, crushed under the enormous presence of Her.
The man who had once been Gilbert watched with indifference as the man who had once been Matheson lifted his multi-tool, bringing the blade across his throat in one fluid stroke. Blood poured out in a sheet, and he sank to his knees, looking almost poetic as he cast his eyes up to Her, veneration on his face. Then he collapsed on the ground and ceased to move.
The man who had once been Gilbert looked away from the scene, neither sad nor disgusted, and addressed Her. The words came out flat and rusty, like the exhausted squeals of a derelict machine. “What do I do?”
She padded over to him, looking up into his face as if searching for something only She could possibly recognize. At last She nodded, liking what She saw. “You can start by taking me away from this place.”
Take Her away, yes. Away from the pain inflicted by these men who scrabbled in the dark, away from those who sought to understand what was beyond them, away from their questions and instruments and agendas. The nightmare was almost over. It would be hard going for a while on the rugged mountain roads, but the car didn’t matter much anymore. They would manage. Oh yes, they would manage just fine.
They made it all the way to Reno before she was finished with him.
© Isabella Bailey 2019
All rights reserved.