Discover more from Gary Paul Varner
THE TEMPLE OF MAGGIE STONE
Chapter 18: The Final Lap
They tied Pinkerton’s flashlight to the end of Maggie’s handgun but decided to not turn it on until it was time to fight. They cleared the barricade and opened the door. Right away, a faint voice cried, “We hear you!”
It sounded far away, but not far enough. Maggie took off down the black hall with Pinkerton on her back.
“Turn on the light!” Pinkerton said. “The jig is up!” Maggie did. The shadows went wild again, darting in front of her beam like an angry swarm. The voices erupted in a violent chorus, whispering and screaming, “We’re Coming!” We’re Here!” “Look Out!” “Behind You!” “Turn Around” “Shoot Now!” “It’s too late!” “You’re going to die!” They even added faint, maniacal laughter to the song. Maggie ran, fighting the urge to panic. The air felt like a lead blanket. A wave of weariness hit her, a lethargy which made her want to curl into a warm blanket and die. She fought it. She fought it with everything she had, terror fighting exhaustion.
Maggie felt something soft against her foot, and she stumbled and fell onto the ground, landing in a puddle of warm liquid she knew to be blood. She heard Pinkerton land somewhere with a harsh thud. Warmth spread over her stomach. She was bleeding again.
A thought, clearly not her own, said, “Stay down. They won’t see you amongst the bodies. Take off your clothes. You’ll be safe. Don’t worry. Just stay down.” And why wouldn’t that work? She was one of the bodies, after all. Perhaps, she really could make it.
She shook the thought away violently and staggered to her feet as the air grew thicker. It seemed like she was drowning in lukewarm soup. She fought for every breath. “Pinkerton!” she cried, panting.
“I’m fine,” Pinkerton said. “I’m over here.” He grabbed her hand, and she let out an embarrassing scream. Within seconds, he was on her back, and they were scrambling down the hall again. The flashlight swayed back and forth as she ran. The shadows continued to dance. Soon, she saw the last bend in the hallway. They were almost there. She made the turn and lowered Pinkerton to the floor. She shined the light toward the elevator, and already, the monsters were heading their way. Both her and Pinkerton fired their guns, the demons’ hideous features being revealed with each brilliant flash of light. Some of them went down, some of them didn’t, but she and Pinkerton kept moving forward. Pinkerton threw his shotgun to the ground, unclipped his grenade from his belt and pulled the pin. He tossed it into the horde. There was a loud explosion and a brilliant flash. Body parts flew in all directions. The explosion blew a hole in the middle of the herd. Maggie could hear even more voices now. They weren’t the disembodied toneless voices that whispered and shouted in the halls. They were real and horrible. They sounded like bears and lions trying to form words.
“We’re on our way!”
“We’re going to get you!”
“It’s too late!”
“You’re going to die!
“You’re going to die!”
“Go!” Pinkerton screamed. “Get out of here! I’ll cover you!”
“Shut up!” Maggie snapped and knelt down in front of him. Pinkerton didn’t argue. He climbed on, and she sprinted toward the closing hole in the middle of the horde. There was a loud bang above her. Maggie looked up and saw Pinkerton firing her handgun. When had she dropped it? Her ears rang. She kept going.
The monsters were on either side of them, reaching and pawing, and snarling and growling. Maggie tried to keep her eyes forward, trying to focus on the darkness that was the elevator entrance.
Something grabbed her shoulder, then her leg. She tore away from the first two, but something else grabbed her ankle. More shots rang out, and the hand let go. Then something bit her shoulder. Pain rushed up her neck and into her temples. Stars flickered in front of her eyes. Then something bit her leg, and she screamed. Pinkerton was screaming too, but it wasn’t with pain. It was rage. Maggie looked up and saw him stabbing at something with the knife in his cane. He was beating something else with cane’s shaft in his other hand. She kept inching forward. Then something else grabbed both her ankles, and she fell. Pinkerton rolled off her back and vanished behind a forest of twisted limbs. It was over. Hideous faces surrounded her in an instant. Hands clawing. Mouths biting. Pain was everywhere. She screamed. She heard Pinkerton screaming. She waited for the end, hoping it would be quick, but not really expecting it to be. Bizarrely, a strange peace filled her. She’d had her time, and it wasn’t fair for her to try and cheat death. The reaper’s words rang in her ears. “You cheated.” This was only just.
Her vision was beginning to fade when something grabbed one of the monsters and threw it into the air. Maggie blinked, surprised; the world returned with sharp clarity. A set of hand’s grabbed another creature’s neck and broke it. One by one, the monsters were pulled off of her, and Maggie looked up to see five naked humans. She wanted to scream, but all that came out was a single croak. She lifted one miserable hand to try and fight the things looking down on her.
“Maggie, I’m here,” one of the males said.
Maggie heard the voice and couldn’t believe it. “Ray,” she whispered. “Why? What is this?”
“More time,” Ray said.
She looked at the other humans. They smiled, and she instantly knew them to be Sal, Father Jacob, Randolf, and Dr. Blake.
Ray helped her to her feet, and she hugged him, weeping. He pushed her away gently. “Get the boy and go.”
“Ray, I love you,” she cried. “I believe.”
“I know,” Ray said. “Goodbye, Maggie. I love you, too.”
He turned, and as hard as it was, so did she. She found Pinkerton a couple feet away. At first, she thought he was dead, but he rolled over and reached out to her with a weak trembling hand. She took it and threw him on her back as best she could. She staggered toward the elevator entrance. She turned and saw the five bodies fighting the horde as well as the ten demons that had been chasing them. She forced herself to look away and stepped into the dark opening. Then she fell.
It wasn’t far, perhaps three feet, but her back landed hard against something metal and was she sure she heard a bone pop or even break inside her, but she was too tired to scream. She reached out blindly, and her hand wrapped around a steel cable. Apparently, the elevator had jammed between the two floors when the power died. Whatever creatures could get out of the elevator must have already done so, but some remained trapped inside. She felt and heard them jumping and shifting, trying desperately to get at her and Pinkerton. She rose to her feet, knees shaking.
“Maggie, the ladder is over here,” she heard Pinkerton say.
She saw his silhouette climbing up the ladder. She followed him. As she struggled to climb, Maggie took her final look into the hallway. Ray’s body was the last one standing, but he was still managing to fight them all off, for her.
With tear-filled eyes, she whispered, “I love you.” Then she turned her head and continued up the ladder, but she had no idea how they were going to open the elevator doors on the ground floor.
When Pinkerton reached the top of the ladder, he stopped and stretched his hand toward the closed doors on his left. He couldn’t reach them. Looking down at her with wide eyes, he said, “Maggie.”
“I know,” Maggie said. She was too tired to be frustrated.
Pinkerton looked up and stared at doors, helpless. At last, he said, “Just give me a—” Something metal sprouted from between the crack in the doors. Both Pinkerton and Maggie watched a knife widen the crack, until a gloved hand forced its way through the gap. Light filled the shaft. Maggie had to cover her eyes with a bloody hand. The orange glow of the evening sun was so bright it hurt, but, at least, this light was real, and it meant salvation.
At last, the elevator doors sprang open, and a strange looking woman with blond hair, a large-brimmed hat, and a black leather duster stepped into the bright square of light. She’d drawn her guns, but when she saw Pinkerton and Maggie, she holstered them.
“Pinkerton!” she gasped. “What the hell?”
Maggie’s courage left her. She wept.