THE TEMPLE OF MAGGIE STONE
Chapter 17: Part 1
The silence lasted a long time. Finally, Father Jacob broke it. “How are we going to get up the elevator with no power? Does this place have some emergency stairs?”
“No,” Randolf said. “But Ralph, there should be a maintenance ladder in the elevator shaft, right?”
“Yeah,” Ralph, the last security guard, said. “If the whole building didn’t fall on top of us.”
“I doubt it,” Randolf said. “The levels below the theater are laced with so much concrete this facility is practically another building in and of itself. The loft was the most vulnerable part of the complex.”
“Pinkerton,” Maggie said. “I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you,” Pinkerton said. “But I’m not the one in the rubble. She didn’t have to...” His voice drifted off, and Maggie heard the young man sigh a take quivering breath.
She wanted to give him a moment to grieve, but there wasn’t time, and she thought the best thing she could do for Pinkerton was get his mind focused on their situation. Besides, something was bothering her, but she couldn’t quite figure out what it was. “It’s like they knew,” she said. Maggie wanted to see Pinkerton’s face. She wanted to read his expression because she was hoping her words might trigger some intuition inside of him. She was so close to realizing something, but her brain was too shocked and too tired to organize itself into coherent thoughts. Yet no matter how hard she stared in Pinkerton’s direction, it was still too dark to see anything. So, she deiced to ask him a question. “Pinkerton, these demons, can they read our minds?”
“They can, but it doesn’t matter. They’d want to kill us regardless. Why?”
Maggie stammered. She was hoping he’d realize something, anything. “I…I don’t know. It just seems odd that they knew to cut us off at the fire escape.”
“They’ve been in the complex for months. They know the layout.”
“She’s suspecting a spy, Pinkerton,” Randolf said. Maggie turned her head in Randolf’s direction and blinked. Was that what she was thinking? It may have been. But why would they need a spy if they could read their minds? And what good would it do? When could a spy get the chance to tell the demons anything? Things were moving so fast. Maggie thought about it for a moment and realized that the demons might have possessed one of them just in case they escaped. If they, somehow, managed to get out of the lab, the spy could attack them when their backs were turned. She couldn’t be sure of this, but the idea made a certain amount of sense. Randolf went on. “There may very well be one, but even so, these demons weren’t using him or her because didn’t have a very good plan. I saw, at least, thirty of the bodies in that fire escape, that was a bad place to try and make a run at us. If there’d been two gunmen, even if we missed every shot, the ricochets would have killed them all anyway. I got several by myself, and Sal just killed the rest of them in one move. For all we know, the entire horde was up there. I think they weren’t expecting the amount of resistance they received, so they panicked and decided to charge the fire escape on an impulse. Mind readers wouldn’t do that.”
“What are you getting at?” Pinkerton asked.
“They’re reacting,” Randolf said. “They had a plan, at first, sure. They baited us to the elevator and cut us off, and if the four security guards hadn’t shown up, they would’ve killed you and Maggie, and at the very least, surprised me and the priest. But that’s just it. They didn’t know about the guards. Somewhere along the way, they lost their intel.”
“So, they had a plan in the beginning, but they didn’t have one later on?” Maggie asked.
“It shouldn’t matter,” Pinkerton argued. “There are demons crawling all over the place. You’ve seen them on the walls. But you’re right. They should’ve told the bodies about the guards. Why didn’t they?”
Randolf laughed. “Look at me, schooling you at demonology when I didn’t’ believe in this stuff an hour ago. You spend so much time around monsters I bet you don’t remember what it’s like to be human. The bodies can’t hear the demons. Think about it. We can’t. So, why would they? I think they possessed those bodies and realized they couldn’t hear each other after the fact. So, they did the best they could with the original plan, and if they do have a spy, they only possessed one of us at the last second…sort of as a failsafe in case we got out. If Maggie’s right, then the question is who’s the turncoat?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Father Jacob said.
“What? Are you serious?” Randolf asked.
“I am. It doesn’t matter because you’ve said something more important. They can’t talk to each other which means they don’t know where we are, and Sal may have just killed every last one of them, and even if she didn’t, then the chances are good that the rest are on the lower level which means all we have left are the mangled bodies at the front of the complex. And even if some of the perfected bodies survived, they’ll all have come up through the elevator and join the horde.”
“Unless they’ve left a few behind to roam the halls,” Pinkerton said.
“I doubt it,” Father Jacob said. “Demons aren’t altruistic, so why would they put some of themselves in harm’s way but not others. When they broke from the group and went to the cafeteria and the living quarters, they were acting on a plan and information. But when they’re…reacting as Randolf said, I bet they have to move as a group or not at all.”
“That’s thin, priest,” Pinkerton said.
“Maybe, but they weren’t waiting for us when we fled the upper level. This would’ve been a perfect opportunity to jump us, but they’re not here. I bet if there are any left, they’re downstairs. So, even if they had a spy. That spy couldn’t tell them anything. They are just as blind as we are.”
“Which means they’re all going to be in front of the elevator if we try to escape,” Ralph said.
“But they’re all bunched together in a hallway,” Randolf said. “That gives us only one direction to shoot.”
“What if they hide in the rooms?” Maggie asked.
“I don’t think that mangled bunch can handle doors,” Randolf said. “They might break into a room if they all slam their weight against the door, but they can’t use their hands, not much anyway. At least, if we find ourselves trapped, we’ll have some time to shoot before they get inside.”
“And if there are any of the real bodies left, they won’t have time to reach the rooms if we hurry,” Father Jacob said. “If we make a run for it. We might just escape.”
“It’s a coin toss,” Pinkerton said with a sigh. “But you’re right. We can deal with the spy later. As long as we watch our backs, the man or woman can’t do anything. For now, let’s focus on getting out of here.”
“But those bodies at the elevator were so hard to kill,” Maggie said.
“We don’t need to kill them, we just need to make a hole,” Pinkerton said.
Someone started shuffling in the darkness. Maggie tensed for a second until she heard the black bag unzip. Then something rolled across the floor and hit her knee. She picked the object up. It was a flashlight. She clicked it on and moved the beam around until she saw Pinkerton sliding flashlights to the others.
“I only have five,” he said. “So, someone will have to do without. Dr. Lane, I think it will have to be you.”
“Fine,” Dr. Lane said. “I’ll take one for the team, sure.”
Everyone turned on their lights and replenished their ammo. Randolf handed Maggie one of his rifles and several magazines for both her handgun and the rifle. “You may not be able to shoot, but you can think under pressure,” he said. “You’ll improve with practice.”
“Thanks,” Maggie said. “Shouldn’t we give a gun to Dr. Lane?”
“No,” Pinkerton said. He shot a hot look at the doctor. She can’t shoot, and she’s not good under pressure. Just let her move to the front, and we’ll cover her if we get into trouble.”
Dr. Lane gave him an angry look but didn’t protest. Everyone stood and huddled together. The doctor moved to the front, and they all started down the hall, leaving the empty leather bag behind. They moved silently, listening for any kind of noise.
Over time, the shadows that had been dancing along the walls began darting around the narrow beams of the flashlights. All the shadows seemed to concentrate in front of them. It became a terrifying distraction. The beams resembled strobes. Faint heads and limbs could be seen as the shadows streaked by. As they pressed on, Maggie heard audible gasps from different members of the group. The air felt heavy. Maggie had been keyed up on adrenaline for so long that she hadn’t noticed how tired she was. Her legs were lead. She wasn’t quite panting, yet, but she would be soon. She was ready for this whole thing to be over.
“Hey,” someone said.
Maggie turned to her right. “Yeah?”
“Come here,” the voice said. It sounded empty, airy, without tone. Maggie turned around trying to ascertain the direction of the voice.
“Ignore it,” Father Jacob said. “It’s not human.”
“But Randolf said we couldn’t hear them,” Maggie said.
“It’s not their real voice. It’s a projection. They’re pulling the voice from your own mind,” Pinkerton said.
Maggie tried to ignore the voice, but it was hard. It kept jabbering, becoming a chorus of incoherent greetings and taunts which became more frequent the more she noticed them. Soon, she heard the walls popping and creaking like a tin roof heated by the sun. Then loud thudding noises echoed throughout the hall. The whole group stopped. They stood, frozen, listening in the dark.
“Keep going,” Pinkerton said. “Listen for footsteps. Everything else is a distraction.”
The group began moving again. The thuds and bangs kept going, growing louder. It sounded like objects were being thrown behind them.
“They’re getting stronger,” Father Jacob said.
“Yeah,” Pinkerton replied. “But stay focused.”
The thuds continued as the shadows danced and the voices murmured. Maggie saw a T-section at the end of the hall. She kept her eyes focused on it. The whole group kept their eyes forward as the noises carried on around them.
They made it to the T-section and Maggie turned to her left to see the leaning door, leading into the cafeteria. They were halfway to the elevator.
“Father Jacob,” Pinkerton said, smiling.
“The Lord’s Prayer might be nice.”
Father Jacob nodded. He started the Lord’s Prayer. It was like acid to whatever was tormenting them. The shadows started darting around the beams like an angry swarm of bees. The voices stopped, but the thrashing and banging continued, becoming more frequent until it was like a tuneless orchestra. Dr. Lane whimpered. Maggie didn’t blame her; in a few moments, she might start whimpering herself. Then they heard the thing they feared more than all the shadows and noises put together. There was gurgling, growling and hissing at the far end of one of the bends in the hall.
“Stop,” Pinkerton said. “Get ready. Here they come.”
“Should we try and hide?” Father Jacob asked.
“Why,” Pinkerton said. “They’ve already heard us.” The flashlights went out. The deformed army in the dark broke into a sprint. Mangled bodies scraped along the ground as they rounded the corner. Their gurgles, growls and hisses sounded like cries of triumph, a Rebel War Cry from Hell. Maggie realized the monsters could see them. She and her friends were blind, but the forces from hell were at home.
“Last push!” Pinkerton screamed.
Those who had guns moved formed a single line except for Pinkerton who stepped behind the group with Dr. Lane, eyeing the horde and holding his shotgun low across his chest. Maggie assumed he was waiting until one of the creatures got too close like he’d done before.
“Fire!” he shouted.
Father Jacob, Randolf, Ralph, and Maggie began shooting. The flashes revealed the size of the mob. It was much larger than the first bunch. It was more than she could’ve imagined. How many elevator trips did it take to get all those beasts up to the second level? They filled the entire hall and past the corner.
“Pinkerton!” Maggie cried. “There’s no way!”
“She’s right!” Randolf shouted. “We can’t punch a hole! We don’t have the ammo!”
“Okay, hide! Go for the doors!” Pinkerton shouted. “Back away slowly until you’ve got some distance then turn and run!”
Father Jacob, Ralph and Maggie began to move back as they fired into the mob, but Randolf stayed in place. Maggie could see his grinding teeth through the flashes from his rifle.
“Randolf!” Father Jacob cried. “Didn’t you hear Pinkerton?”
“Put in a good word for me, priest!” Randolf screamed.
Father Jacob stopped and lowered his rifle. After a moment, he lifted it again and said, “God be with you!” He continued firing.
Maggie continued shooting her rifle until she ran out of ammo. Then she turned and ran. She looked back and saw the mangled horde charging them, shuffling at a surprising pace. Father Jacob sprinted past Maggie and scooped Pinkerton up, carrying him under his arm like he was a ball as he bolted past Dr. Lane.
“Ralph, don’t waste your ammo!” the priest shouted. “Run! We can bottleneck them if we make it to one of the rooms!”
Ralph either did not hear him or chose to ignore him. He stopped and stood his ground as the horde shambled toward him.
Randolf killed many during his last stand. Maggie only saw glimpses of the battle as she sporadically looked back. But soon, the battle was over. Through the brilliant flashes of light, the horde swallowed Randolf like a wave. His last words were, “Round two begins in hell!” Then there was a sickening thud.
Ralph didn’t last much longer. His rifle fired until Maggie heard his last word. “No!” Then there was a single shot, and Maggie was left in total darkness.
She put her hands on the wall and fumbled through the black. The sound of crunching bone and ripping flesh echoed behind her. She thought about reloading her rifle, and making a last stand of her own, but she realized Randolf and Ralph had used their weapons to draw the monsters toward them, buying the rest more time. If she turned and fought, not only would she be wasting their sacrifice, but she would only succeed and drawing all the monsters toward her at once. Still, if Randolf and Ralph had sacrificed themselves, why couldn’t she? She’d lived longer than both of them put together.
A second later, she felt her hand glide across a door. She narrowed her eyes and noticed Dr. Lane standing by the door as if she were waiting for her. Then she heard a door open to her left. Maggie turned and heard Pinkerton shout, “What are you doing?” There was a loud thud, and the door slammed shut. Then there was an explosion of gunfire and more brilliant flashes of light. When Maggie’s eyes readjusted, she saw Father Jacob shooting at the horde.
“Hurry! Get inside!” he screamed.
Maggie wanted to argue but there wasn’t time. She opened the door and pushed Dr. Lane into the room. Then she entered the room herself and closed the door behind her, expecting to hear banging at any moment. Instead, she heard the gunfire growing distant. Then she heard the monsters pass them by. The gun fire kept moving further away, and the gurgling, hissing, and shuffling grew fainter until everything fell silent. Then she heard Father Jacob scream, “Pinkerton, I was wrong about the bodi…” There was a cry of agony, then silence.
Maggie leaned back against the door and slide down to the floor. For some time, she buried her head in her knees and cried. Then she noticed the darkness around her grow just a bit brighter. When she he lifted her head, she saw that two monitors had turned on. Grey light illuminated the room.
Maggie stood up and made her way to the two monitors resting on a countertop beside a plethora of equipment she didn’t recognize. On one monitor was Pinkerton. He was in an office, sitting in front of his door, waiting for who knew what. Maggie assumed he was trying to listen for the monsters in the hallway. Judging by the way his chest heaved, it also looked like he was crying. On the other monitor was a picture of one of the observation rooms. Inside was the girl who’d first woken up. She was talking to someone. It took Maggie a moment, but she recognized Dr. Lane. The image on the monitor began to fast forward, showing Dr. Lane enter and reenter the room. Horror and realization flooded Maggie as Pinkerton’s words came back to her. “Possession is a long con.”
“It’s over,” Dr. Lane said.