Discover more from Gary Paul Varner
THE TEMPLE OF MAGGIE STONE
Chapter 15 Part 1: Evacuation
The red lights in the hallway made it difficult to see. Shadows danced along the walls as Maggie and Pinkerton navigated the twists and turns. Neither spoke. They came across the first set of rooms filled with medical equipment. They were empty. Then they moved on to check a group of observation rooms. They were empty as well.
“Did everyone go to the elevators when the power went out?” Maggie asked as they looked for the next door.
“It’s possible,” Pinkerton said. “But we still need to check.”
“Of course,” Maggie said.
As they continued down the hall, Maggie kept turning her head to the left and right, expecting to see tall, cloaked figures standing over them. However, the moment she turned, whatever she was seeing out of the corner of her eyes was gone. The air became heavy, not only heavy but alive like they were running through a thick stew of static electricity that should’ve been causing the hair on their heads to stand on end; the hallways randomly became darker and lighter with no correlation to the dim light around them. Every second, it felt like something was going to happen, something was going to jump out at them, a wall was going to explode, or the floor was going to crumble beneath them. Her heart pounded, and her skin was moist with a cold sweat. There were times the air felt so cold she was sure she could see her breath, but in the next moment, the air would grow warm and damp. The confused environment around her was enough to make her stomach turn. She decided to try to have a conversation with Pinkerton. He probably wanted her to keep quiet, but she couldn’t take the dead tension.
“What happened to Albertson?” she asked as they moved down the halls.
Pinkerton, who was clearly out of breath from moving as fast as his broken body would allow said, “The demon knew he had a problem with lust. She used his flaw as a path into him. It’s one of several ways possessions can happen.”
“So, a demon can possess you if you do something wrong?” Maggie asked.
Pinkerton shook his head. “It’s a long con. The sin has to push the person pretty far.”
“But that doesn’t make sense. She only talked with Albertson for a minute,” Maggie said.
Again, Pinkerton shook his head. “They’d been working on him for a while. He’s the answer to our first question. Albertson was…using the bodies.”
Maggie stopped jogging. Pinkerton stopped as well and looked at her. “The demon didn’t have enough energy to enter one of the bodies on its own. If Delphin wasn’t willing to do a ceremony for it, then it had to find another way in. So, it picked one of the bureaucrats who had a problem and planted the idea in his head. In fact, this whole thing might’ve started before Dr. Lane ever met Delphin. Why do you think there’s so little security? Do you really believe Dr. Lane would take so much care for her lower level and ignore the second level where her life’s work is located? No, security was one of Albertson’s responsibilities. I imagine he and Dr. Lane fought over the bottom level, but the bureaucrat was just distracting her, and eventually, he let her set the lower lab up the way she wanted, but what he really wanted was on the second floor. I wouldn’t be surprised if the government was more interested the bodies than in whether or not Dr. Lane could transfer a soul. Trust me when I tell you the government would never allow such an invention to be bought by anyone who can pay. Uncle Sam didn’t really care if Dr. Lane succeeded or not. They wanted what she already had. If she succeeded, great, they’d find a way to use it, if she didn’t, they’d find a way to use the bodies, and Albertson was using them for his own purposes and intentionally laxed the security so he wouldn’t get caught. The cameras don’t matter so much because the guards watching the footage work for him anyway. He probably paid them to destroy the footage once he was done, which is why my team never saw him near the storage rooms. But the door locks needed to be old fashioned so there was no electronic record of him moving around the complex. Such information would have been in the employee records, because Dr. Lane would be worried about her staff trying to steal the bodies. Albertson must have insisted on the old locks and told her the cameras were enough.”
Fine,” Maggie said. “But what about the demons?”
“Lust leaves a path,” Pinkerton said. “It may have taken a while, but the demon probably directed his attention toward one body in particular, and after repeated use, there was enough energy around that body to give the demon a way in.”
The cynical part of Maggie wanted to argue against this, but then, she thought back to the way Albertson had looked at the girl the day she’d woken up. At the time, Maggie thought he was excited about the possibility of discovering life in the lab, but now that she thought about it, the man didn’t look excited, he looked hungry. And why not? His toy had woken up. It was like having a favorite doll come to life in the worst possible way. He wasn’t interested in creating life, he was interested in using that life for his own ends. That perverse nature wasn’t the typical testosterone driven energy, it was something evil, and she understood how the demon could have used that degeneracy to find a way into the body he was using. It wasn’t that the body was tainted somehow, it was that the body was now connected to his darkest fantasies, and those fantasies created a life of their own, something the demon could use.
From there, it was a matter of creating enough fear for the other demons to use, but the fear had to be geared toward the bodies themselves which was why they’d chosen to stay in the bodies and put on a show, rather than jumping into those behind the one-way mirror sooner. When Pinkerton spoke of finding a way in, what he meant was that the collective thoughts of everyone involved had to be directed toward an object. So, the more the demons paraded in their new puppets, the more everyone talked about the bodies with a sense of dread, and that created a link the demons could use to make their worst dreams come true. But when they entered the observation room for the last time, the demons realized their game was over, so they immediately began looking for someone else to jump into so they could get away. That was why the girl had tried to lure her first with the shark eyes. It meant to use her fear as a way in, but Pinkerton knew what was going on and had thwarted its attempt. He’d also tried to stop Albertson, but Albertson argued with him, and by the time Pinkerton knew he was going to have to physically pull Albertson out of the room, it was too late. But this led to another question.
“Pinkerton, why did you try to interview them, again? You knew they would try to possess one of us, so why did you risk it?”
Pinkerton sighed and stared at the ground. “I shouldn’t have done that. I meant to kill them. But once we got there, I realized I still didn’t know who Delphin was referring to when he died. I needed to be sure it was the demons who told him to put everyone to sleep and not some agency who has plans for Silas. I thought I could get the information out of them, but they moved too fast.”
“The puzzle pieces were falling into place, and you got cocky,” Maggie said. She gave him a faint smile and hoped her statement didn’t sound like an accusation. She couldn’t judge him. A few hours ago, she didn’t believe in any of this and a part of her was still hesitant to accept it. She could empathize with the young man because they were all out of their depth.
“And I was curious,” Pinkerton said. He looked up at her and shrugged. “Curious and cocky. That’s me. Now, Albertson is blind, but to be honest, I don’t feel too bad about that. It might be good for him. I just hope nobody dies because of my mistake.”
Maggie shook her head. “I’m not an expert at stuff like this, but I doubt anything you’ve done is going to make the situation worse than it already is, and if it weren’t for you, we would’ve died anyway.” She fought a sudden urge to tremble when she realized just how true her words were. She needed to say something fast before her own thoughts caused to run shrieking toward the elevator. “Do you think Albertson might know who Delphin was talking about?”
Pinkerton smiled. “Later. First things first.”
“Right,” Maggie said.
They began running again and rounded another bend in the hall. Once past the corner, they saw an open door. Maggie entered the room first. When she looked inside, she fell to her knees. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she might have swooned just like a heroine in a melodrama. There were bodies. They were lying about the small lab in twisted heaps. Eyes stared vacantly in all directions. Mouths hung open in frozen screams. Blood congealed on the counters, walls and floor. Some of them had had their necks broken, others had had their stomachs ripped open. Two had their throats torn.
Pinkerton stepped inside. It was a long time before he spoke. “Count the bodies and collect as many name tags as you can,” he said at last.
Maggie didn’t say a word. She did as she was told. There were ten bodies total. She was only able to find seven name tags. When they were finished, Pinkerton surveyed the room. He pointed at the doorway.
“The employees tried to barricade the doors,” he said. “Which means they were chased.”
“How did we not hear the commotion?” Maggie asked.
“It must’ve happened while we were on the lower floor,” Pinkerton said. “They were out before we spoke to the bodies the second time. We’re lucky we didn’t run into them.” He sighed and shook his head. “We need to go.”
He left the room and started down the hall. Maggie stood up, took one last look at the carnage around her and ran into the red light. They wound through more twists and turns, checking every room they came across. There was no one. At last, Pinkerton said, “I think we’ve checked every room on this wing. Let’s head back to the cafeteria.”
With every turn, Maggie expected to find a horde of naked humanity running toward them, but there was nothing. They made their way to the cafeteria in peace. When they neared the last corner, they heard a noise. It sounded like a large chorus of voices. Pinkerton stopped a few steps ahead of her and looked around the last turn in the hallway. Maggie did the same a second later and saw the rest of the staff hovering around the cafeteria entrance. Apparently, no one had evacuated, but they’d assumed something had gone wrong and were waiting for someone who had answers. Pinkerton handed Maggie his shotgun.
“Stay here,” he said. He marched toward the herd and began shouting. “Hey now! Hey now! What is this? I thought Dr. Lane told you all to go outside!”
“We haven’t been told anything,” one doctor screamed, turning to face the young man. “Who are you?’
“Apparently, I’m the one in charge of fixing this mess. I was told the entire department was supposed to take the elevator and meet at the front parking lot before the generators quit. You all need to hurry. I wouldn’t want to be down here when everything dies.”
“Where’s Dr. Lane?” the doctor demanded.
“She’s with maintenance. Now, I suggest you all hurry to the elevators before the power dies. Is everybody here?”
“We’re missing ten,” the doctor replied.
“We’ll escort you if that’ll make you feel better. Then, once you are all out, my partner and I will go and look for your missing employees.” Maggie, taking the hint, sat the shotgun down and walked around the corner, hoping none of the staff would recognize her in the red light. Pinkerton looked at her and nodded. “Lead these people to the elevator. I’ll head up the rear.”
“Yes, sir,” Maggie said and moved to the front of the crowd.
The doctor eyed the two of them suspiciously, but nobody seemed willing to object to the plan. So, one by one, the staff began to move away from the entrance of the cafeteria and followed Maggie down the hall. She looked through the crowd and saw Pinkerton head back to the bend in the hallway to retrieve the shot gun. He did his best to hide the gun behind his back as he stayed a few feet behind the crowd. She was confident she could find the elevator. She’d been up and down the old thing a dozen times, at least.
She rounded a corner and saw two figures at the far end of the hall sprinting toward her. Maggie’s first instinct was to run, but she took a deep breath, and as they drew near, she saw a white square centered in the middle of a high, black collar. It was Father Jacob which meant the man beside him must’ve been Randolf. Maggie stopped the group and waited for the two men to reach them.
“Did you get Albertson out?” Maggie asked.
“Yes,” Father Jacob said. “The perimeter’s in place. A man took Albertson to a building on the other side of the street.” He looked at Pinkerton through the group. “I was told to tell you the surveillance you wanted is set up.”
“Surveillance?” the doctor who’d challenged Pinkerton asked.
Maggie ignored him. He seemed determined to sow discord. “I thought Pinkerton told you to stay up top?”
“I know what he said,” Father Jacob replied, still eyeing the young man behind the employees. “But I’m just as much a part of the team as Joe and Sal, and I’m here to help till the job is done.”
“What about you, Randolf?” Maggie asked.
“They killed Horace, and I had a few extra guns in my room,” Randolf replied. He and the priest both pointed a thumb to the rifles they’d thrown around their backs. They carried two rifles a piece. Maggie also noticed belts covered with magazines around their waists. “Also, this situation reminds me of a shoot-em-up game.”
Maggie smiled. She assumed he was referring to a kind of video game, but beyond that, she had no idea what he was talking about. “So, I take it you two took the elevator back down. It’s still working?”
“Yes, for now,” Father Jacob said.
“Then let’s get these people up top then find Dr. Lane and Dr. Blake.”
“Have you and Pinkerton seen any…”
Maggie held up her hand, knowing what Father Jacob was going to say. “We’ll talk about that after these people are upstairs.”
Father Jacob nodded. They all started back down the hall, Father Jacob and Randolf led the way.
They rounded more corners and bends. Maggie began to recognize the walls despite how monotonous they were. They were getting close.
A loud bang echoed through the halls. As they drew nearer to the elevator, the banging grew louder. The group rounded the last corner and saw the elevator at the far end. Maggie felt her gut twist when she realized the banging noise was coming from behind the metal doors. She turned and saw the entire group knew where the noise was coming from as well. She tried to look through the crowd to see Pinkerton. After a moment, she found him; his eyes were also glued to the elevator doors. He no longer hid the shotgun but held it in both hands.
They moved slowly toward their exit, the banging still growing louder and more frequent. The red light made the elevator doors look as if they were shaking with every bang. Father Jacob quietly asked her if they’d seen any of the bodies while checking their end of the complex. Maggie told him what they’d found. He nodded, but looked at the elevator doors, confused. She knew what the priest was thinking. Could they be inside? How could they have made their way toward the elevator without running into anyone? Father Jacob and Randolf would have seen them for sure. Maggie drew her gun, and no one said anything when Father Jacob and Randolf grabbed one of their rifles and aimed them down the hall. There was another bang, loud enough for everyone to freeze in place.
“What the hell is going…” the doctor started.
“Shut up,” Maggie snapped. The crowd murmured to each other, but Maggie ignored this as she raised her gun.
Another bang shook the walls. The red lights above them trembled with the impact, causing the twisting shadows to dance even more. Maggie saw a giant mound pop out of the steel doors, forcing the crack between them to widen and spill florescent light into the hallway. Vague shapes shuffled behind the opening crack between the doors. Something was in the elevator after all.
What the hell is that?!” the doctor screamed. Everyone began crying variations of the same thing. Pinkerton moved to the front of the already retreating group. “Get back to cafeteria! Now!” he shouted, raising his shotgun. No one argued. The staff sprinted back down the hallway.
“You need to go, too,” Father Jacob said. “You can’t outrun whatever is in there, not without a head start.”
“I’ve got two shots,” Pinkerton said. “I can do that much. Then I’ll go.”
“Maggie, go with him. Pick him up if you have to,” Father Jacob said.
“But I can help!”
“You can help by making sure Pinkerton gets to the cafeteria before those idiots lock him out.”
A part of her wanted to argue, but she knew the priest was right. Between the four of them, she was probably the only one who’d never used a gun. She stared at the doors, the banging still echoing down the hall as whatever was inside tried to break out.
“Why didn’t the doors just open?” Maggie whispered to Pinkerton. “They did for us.”
“Security must’ve seen whatever’s inside and locked the doors, which means the cameras are still working.”
“But it can’t be the bodies. Can it?” Maggie asked.
“No,” Pinkertons said. “We would’ve seen them.”
“Whatever’s in there is bad,” Randolf said. “That’s all we need to know.”
Everyone fell silent. The banging continued. Maggie saw another dent bulge out of the metal. The gap between the doors widened. Randolf fired two shots into the elevator. The first bullet bounced off the door, and Maggie heard a hissing close to her ear. The second shot hit something inside the elevator. There was a half-hiss, half-gurgle inside.
“Don’t!” Father Jacob said. “Wait till the doors open, or you’ll hit us instead of them!”
Randolf grunted. The banging continued. They waited. The noise grew more frantic. They waited. The noise grew louder. They waited. There was a final bang. The doors sprang open. Maggie screamed.