Discover more from Gary Paul Varner
The Temple of Maggie Stone
Chapter 16: The Living Quarters
The group ran in silence until they saw a small sign indicating the living quarters were to their left. After making a final turn, the hallway opened into a wide lobby with a single open doorway on the far end leading to a flight of stairs.
Naked corpses littered the floor. Blood was everywhere, and the smell of gunpowder was thick in the air. Most of the bodies were centered around the door. There was a small crater a few feet in front of the doorway in center of the lobby. Mangled bodies and limbs circled the crater like satellites made of flesh. Agent Sal sat on one of the steps leading to living quarters with Joe’s head cradled in her lap. The tattered remains of his arm hung dripping blood. Half of it was missing below the elbow.
Pinkerton and Maggie ran ahead of the others and met the two agents. Sal had tied a tourniquet around Joe’s armpit and was slapping at his cheeks, trying to tell him to keep the arm elevated, but he wasn’t responding. His face was pale, and his eyes looked up at the ceiling. Tears dripped from Sal’s chin.
“Is he dead?” Maggie asked.
“No,” Sal said quietly, not looking at them. “But he just lost consciousness.”
Pinkerton knelt down and undid the tourniquet. Then he twisted the plastic bar tied to the black cloth several times. He yanked hard before hooking the bar back into the cloth. Joe came to life, screaming.
“Glad, you’re back,” Pinkerton said, smiling. “Don’t fall asleep again, stupid. Sit up and lift your arm.”
“I don’t know if I can,” Joe said faintly. All the same, Sal helped him up, and Joe lifted the tied remains of his arm as best he could. Sal immediately began fashioning a sling out of some cloth from the large leather bag.
“What happened?” Pinkerton asked Joe.
Joe had to work to stay focused, but he got through the story steadily enough. “We looked all over the place for the…bad guys. We couldn’t find them. So, we worked our way here, thinking they might’ve tried the living quarters first. We met Dr. Lane and Dr. Blake at the stairway. They’d grabbed the attendance log, so Sal went with them to make sure the horde hadn’t already entered the living quarters. I guarded the door. It was quiet for a long time. Then, they came. All of them. They made a rush for the door, and I opened fire. There were so many. I threw a grenade, and that scattered them for a minute, but they came again. They gained a lot more ground the second time. They were swarming the door by the time I threw the second grenade. One of the bastards caught the thing and held it. He smiled at me like he caught a fly ball at a baseball game. The others fell back. I couldn’t get away fast enough. I got him and several others with the second blast, but it took my arm. Sal was here a few seconds later and started opening fire just as they were making another charge. Then they scattered.”
“They must be looking for another way in,” Sal said.
“There might be a ventilation system,” Pinkerton said. “I don’t suppose Dr. Lane grabbed some blueprints while she was in Harrison’s office.”
Sal shook her head. “Of course not.” She turned and looked at the carnage in the halls. “I haven’t counted the bodies, but I bet we got at least half of ‘em. Point for us.”
“You’re the only ones who’ve scored anything,” Pinkerton said. “They outwitted us on our end. Apparently, Dr. Lane kept her…scraps in the lower floor. So now, not only do we have a bunch of demons with fully formed human bodies, but we have a bunch of deformed creatures to contend with. Father Jacob and Randolf managed to kill about twenty or so, but there’s no telling how many elevator loads are left. I sent our survivors back to the cafeteria, but they had five of their bodies nearby. They killed everyone.”
Sal sighed. “Well, shit.”
“That just leaves the fire escape,” Pinkerton said. “Unless there’s another exit Dr. Lane hasn’t told us about. We also need to reconsider our strategy. This isn’t an evacuation. It’s a battle, and our enemy is one hell of a strategist who has instant communication with all its forces.”
“Yeah,” Sal said. “Well, let’s not waste any time.”
Pinkerton nodded. “We’ll count the bodies here then meet up with the doctors.”
Father Jacob and Randolf made the count. When all was said and done, there were thirty-five bodies with a few extra limbs lying around, indicating that at least ten of them were wounded.
“Thirty-five minus seventy-nine,” Pinkerton said. “That leaves us with forty-four hostiles.”
“Well hell, things are sure turning around,” Randolf said.
No one appreciated the sarcasm, still Pinkerton gave the man a polite smile. Sal pulled out a collapsible gurney from the bag so two of the security guards could carry the wounded agent. The security guards loaded Joe onto the gurney, and they all started up the stairs.
When Delphin took Maggie and Robert through the living quarters, she’d thought they were not much different from the hotel rooms above the theater. However, in the red lights, the rooms were unnerving. The shadows danced along the walls, seemingly independent of the group. As they went from room to room, they picked up stragglers along the way. They all had the same story. A few minutes after Sal had left the two doctors, everyone in the living quarters hid in their rooms. Twelve staff members had joined Pinkerton and the others when they came across the first room with bodies. There were three corpses. They’d tried to barricade the doors, but of course, it had done no good. One male and female had had their necks broken, the third was not so lucky. His guts were torn apart. His entrails were scattered on the bloodstained carpet. He’d been left to bleed out, his face frozen in an expression of unimaginable pain. Everyone stood in place, shocked. Until there was a scream to Maggie’s left.
“Damnit!” Sal cried, slamming her fist against the wooden door frame. “That’s why they rushed the stairs! They already had people up here and needed me gone!”
“Do you think those demons are still here?” Father Jacob asked Pinkerton.
“I imagine they’re hiding in one of the rooms, so keep your gun raised.” Pinkerton placed a hand on Sal’s shoulder. “It was a catch twenty-two. If you hadn’t helped Joe, they would’ve overrun him and come up here anyway. You made the best call you could.”
No one said anything to this. Pinkerton quietly closed the door, and they went on to the next room where they found another four bodies.
After Pinkerton had closed this second door and the group was standing in the hallway, trying to collect their nerves, Sal said, “We’ve got to find the ones who are up here and fast. Let’s split up.” She turned to the security guards. “Do you guys know your way to the fire escape?”
The first guard nodded. “We have keys, too,” he said. “Dr. Lane should have a set of her own.”
“Good,” Pinkerton said. He pointed to the security guards. “You guys will escort the twelve we have and whoever else you happen to come across while the rest of us go hunting. Randolf, how much ammo do you have left?”
“Enough,” Randolf said.
“Go with them,” Pinkerton said. “Maggie, you, too.”
Maggie looked at Pinkerton, shocked. “What, why?”
“There’s nothing else you can do,” Pinkerton said. “Get out. I have people outside who will take you in, and we’ll meet with you later.”
Maggie wanted to stay with Pinkerton, but she knew better than to argue with him in front of his team. “You should keep, at least, one of the guards with you,” she said. “You, Sal and Father Jacob aren’t enough.”
“Most of the bodies charged Joe then took off down the hall,” Sal said. “There’s must only be a handful on this level, otherwise we would’ve heard them moving around. This won’t take long. Once we’ve cleared this floor, we’ll get out, and get even. Right, Pinkerton?”
Pinkerton nodded. “It’ll be fine. Go.”
“Please, I’d feel a lot better about leaving if it wasn’t just you three,” Maggie said.
Pinkerton shrugged. “Any of you saps dumb enough to stay behind?”
The skinny guard with the black and grey hair raised his hand. Pinkerton took Joe’s rifle and handed it to the guard along with a couple of magazines. “Satisfied,” Pinkerton asked, smiling. Maggie returned his smile with one of her own.
The two groups split up. Maggie stayed close beside Randolf with the pudgy guard behind them and the other two security guards behind their boss, carrying Joe. Randolf didn’t bother checking any of the doors. He marched straight down the middle of the hall.
“We’re almost there,” he said after a few minutes.
Maggie heard soft sobbing. She looked up and saw a half-opened door as they reached a T-section in the hallway. It was the door furthest down on their right. Without thinking, she ran toward the noise.
“Maggie!” Randolf hissed.
She barely heard him. She opened the door and saw Dr. Lane on her knees, weeping. Leaning up against the wall was Dr. Blake, dead. His stomach had been torn open, and his guts lay scattered on the floor. Maggie froze. Tears welled up in her eyes as well. She’d liked Dr. Blake. She’d liked him a lot.
“We’d had an affair,” was the first thing out of Dr. Lane’s mouth. “But he loved his wife. Hell, I loved her, too. That’s why we called it off. We loved each other, but we loved her more. She never found out. What am I going to tell her now?”
“He was brave,” Maggie said automatically. “He was good.”
Dr. Lane looked up at Maggie. “What about me? What would you call me?”
“You’re brave, too,” Maggie said. “You were confused, but you’re also brave in your own way.” Dr. Lane nodded but said nothing else, so Maggie went on. “Doctor, we have to go. You can’t do anything for him now. But you have to live to tell his wife how brave he was. Can you do that?”
Dr. Lane said nothing. She refused to look at Maggie, but all the same, she slowly got up. Maggie nodded and turned just as Randolf ran up to her.
“What the hell are you doing?” he snapped. Then he saw Dr. Lane and Dr. Blake. He frowned then turned and looked down the hallway.
“How far are we from the exit?” Maggie asked.
“It’s literally on the other end of the hall. The security guys are already there. Come on, we need to go.”
Maggie and Dr. Lane followed Randolf to the opposite end of the hall where the pudgy security guard was messing with his own set of keys. When they caught up with the group, there was a tense moment where everybody wondered if the keys were even going to work. To everyone’s relief, the last key turned. The door swung open, and a harsh buzzing noise rang throughout the hallways, an alarm.
“If those things didn’t know where we were before, they do now. We need to hurry.” The pudgy guard said. He started up the steel stairs that were surrounded by concrete walls which led to a square, barred door above them. Five broken rays of sunlight shone into the stairway, and as Maggie looked up, she noticed the square gate was padlocked. The pudgy guard noticed it, too, “I’ll have to unlock the gate,” he said halfway up the stairs. The two guards carrying Joe followed him. When the pudgy guard got to the gate, there was another tense moment where everyone was unsure of the keys, but thankfully, the guard managed to unlock the barred exit, and everyone let out their held breaths.
The pudgy guard went through first and helped the guards behind him out with Joe’s gurney. Soon, all the guards were on the sidewalk above with Joe, and the pudgy man leaned over the opening and told them to start sending the survivors up. Two of them were through the door of the fire escape when Maggie heard a bang below them. She gazed down the stairway and heard a second bang in the darkness. There was third bang, then a fourth, then a fifth. By the time Maggie heard the eighth thud, she realized what was happening. The demons hadn’t went looking for vents at all. They’d gone down to Dr. Lane’s lowest floor which also led to the fire escape. Maggie looked up at the two stupefied survivors on the stairs.
“RUN!” she screamed.
The two started up the stairs again. Maggie rushed the rest of the survivors through the doorway. The banging continued. It grew louder, angrier, more frantic. Ten of the survivors were left in the stairway when there was a final bang. Maggie looked down and saw several naked humans sprinting up the stairs. “GO!” she yelled. The remaining ten bolted up the escape. “Randolf, slow them down!”
“Yep,” Randolf said, leaning over and firing into the darkness. He got two, but the rest of the bullets ricocheted off every surface. Dr. Lane’s Children kept running.
Maggie whirled and faced Dr. Lane. “Your keys!”
“Why?” Dr. Lane asked. “We can make it. We can get out!”
“No, we can’t! And if we try, they’ll kill Pinkerton and the others!”
Maggie saw a couple of the keys hanging out of Dr. Lane’s white coat pocket. She snatched the key ring while Dr. Lane stood, frozen. “Randolf, move!” Randolf stepped back, and Maggie slammed the door. She started trying keys, and of course, they weren’t working. She could hear the angry steps in the stairway growing louder. Maggie kept her breath steady, trying one key after another. Somewhere in the middle of the ring, one of the keys fit. She turned it and locked the door just as the first naked man stepped in front of the small rectangular window. He didn’t start banging on the door. He just stared at Maggie and smiled. Maggie flipped him the bird. It was juvenile, but she hardly cared.
“It won’t take them long to break through the door,” Randolf said, raising the rifle. “I don’t have enough ammo to kill them all. We need to find Pinkerton and the others.”
No one argued with this, and three of them sprinted down the hallway. They were around the first corner when the banging began again.
It didn’t take them long to find Pinkerton and his team. The four were just exiting one of the bedrooms when they turned and saw Maggie and the others running toward them. “What happened?” Pinkerton asked as they stopped in front of him, panting.
“We managed to get the guards and survivors out,” Maggie explained. “But the demons went back to the lowest floor and broke through the fire escape down there. The others got to the parking lot, but we were cut off. They’re trying to break through the door right now!”
Pinkerton looked at Sal who knelt and started unzipping the leather bag. It wasn’t nearly as full as it had been. She took out another small bag and unzipped it. Pinkerton motioned for everyone to get behind Sal as she worked. She took out two tiny, grey rectangles. She pulled out a metal wire from inside the first rectangle. Maggie recognized them to be a kind of booby trap, a trip wire of some sort. Sal stretched the wire from one end of the hallway to the other, somehow, suspending the wire on the wooden door frames on either side. Sal fiddled with the rectangular objects a little longer, and when she was finished, the grey rectangles were hanging from the adjacent doorways with a little clip sticking out of each of them; both clips were connected to the wire. The idea was obvious. The demons would run through the wire which would pull out the clips, then, boom.
Sal grabbed three more hand grenades and another metal wire from the bag, checked her ammo and handed the bag Pinkerton. The leather bag was now almost empty. She looked at the others. “I’m going to set another trap. You guys go secure the stairs. It will only take a minute.”
Pinkerton nodded and ushered the rest down the hall to the first stairway. They ran into the hallway. There, they stood in front of the stairway, waiting. Almost right away, they heard feet sprinting along the carpeted floor above. Then Sal screamed.
“Shit! Pinkerton, we didn’t kill the ones left on this floor!” There was silence for a few seconds, and Maggie imagined Sal running for her life. “The others are here already? Pinkerton, I’m sorry!”
“Sal, don’t!” Pinkerton cried.
A second later, Maggie heard two gunshots, then there were two loud explosions followed by a final explosion which happened less than a second later. The shock wave was enough to send Maggie and the rest stumbling back and falling to the ground amongst the corpses. The whole building shook and groaned. Maggie looked at the entrance to the living quarters, and at first, nothing happened. Smoke rose from the stairway like it was a dragon’s breath. Then there was a loud crash above them; dust and debris erupted from the stairway like a horizontal volcano. Boards, dust and metal flew past them, landing with a cacophony of loud clatters which echoed throughout the vacant hallway. Maggie opened her eyes a few seconds later and saw a pile of debris where the stairway should have been. Shattered wood and metal stuck out of the opening like jagged spikes. The living quarters had collapsed. Maggie heard sniffing. She looked at Pinkerton and saw his nose running and his eyes red, and why not? Sal was dead.
The red lights went out.