Discover more from Gary Paul Varner
THE TEMPLE OF MAGGIE STONE
Chapter 15 Part 2: Evacuation
What leapt out of the elevator was a mangled mass of human flesh that her wide eyes had trouble forming into recognizable shapes. Dr. Lane often bragged about how she’d created synthetic human forms, but Maggie had never asked herself, much less Doctor Lane, what came before. How much trial and error did the good doctor have to go through to create the perfect human body? The answer to that awful question came rushing toward her in the form of a diabolical, twisted, mob. Some of the creatures had bulbous heads like an oversized baby with tiny, bent limbs. They crawled on swollen joints oozing puss from innumerable lesions. A few of these more humanoid shapes were able to walk upright, and they shambled slowly toward their prey, reaching with limbs that were either too large or too small but were all lumpy and misshapen like sausage links filled with rocks. Others had half-melted skulls with bulging eyes and limbs which were swollen and covered with countless sores as if the monsters had been stung by bees. A few of these abominations carried no human shape at all. They poured from the elevator, rolling or crawling or bouncing as amorphous sacks of skin. Bones penetrated their thin veils of flash. Some of them had feet or hands sticking out in random places. Some even had dead, white eyes hanging from swinging nerves which jostled up and down as the beasts moved. Tuffs of grimy hair protruded from the tops of multiple lumps of skin like wispy wheat on a sweaty mountain crest. One particular abomination looked like a snake and a spring rolled into one. Its body tried to slither toward them, but as it did so, bones creaked and screamed inside of it as if the whole thing were made of a twisted spine. Bone or cartilage or something stuck out of the cylinder body, making tiny mounds of human flesh that rolled and shifted as the thing crept toward them. Where the head of the snake was supposed to be was a single, giant, lidless eye. It stared at her, right at her, no one else.
The oncoming cacophony of sickening thuds and footfalls, gurgles, groans and screeches was muted by a hail of gunfire. Most of the bullets met their marks, but nothing from the mob dropped, and why not? In such a twisted mass, who could tell where anything vital was located? Maggie finished screaming when she ran out of air and felt light-headed. For a moment, she thought she was going to swoon again. Maggie shook her head violently and bit her tongue hard enough to let out a surprised yelp. Sure, it hurt, but she was not about to faint on them. She was supposed to carry Pinkerton. He needed help and couldn’t afford to be an extra burden for the priest and bodyguard. After spitting out a glob of blood, she looked down and realized she’d dropped her gun. She sighed and fought back a wave of hot tears. She was proving next to useless.
Maggie picked up the gun with shaking hands and fired, but she couldn’t tell if the bullet actually hit anything. She fired once more, took a long, deep, measured breath and fired again, but each shot was the same. Maggie counted herself lucky the gun didn’t lurch to the side and hit one of her comrades. She looked over at Pinkerton who hadn’t fired a single shot. His eyes were calm, focused. He waited. He waited until one of the more human forms got close enough to make a grab for Randolf’s rifle. Then he fired a single round from the shotgun. The body flew back and bounced off the wall. It didn’t get up. He waited until another one of the human forms got close enough, then shot his last shell. He tapped Father Jacob on the shoulder and signaled for the priest to fall back with him. Father Jacob tapped Randolf on the shoulder and the two men slowly started walking backwards, following Maggie and Pinkerton to the nearest bend in the hall. They never stopped firing. Just as Maggie was about to turn the corner, she saw the elevator at the far end lower. How was that possible? Were there more of them?
When they were around the bend in the hall, Pinkerton said, “Maggie and I will run to the cafeteria. Slow them down but don’t waste too much time and ammo. They’re too deformed to move fast.”
“We need to clear them out, so we can use the elevator,” Father Jacob argued.
“No, I bet there’s more,” Pinkerton said. “They’ll be using the elevator to come up. There’s a fire escape in the living quarters. We’ll take the survivors there. We need to find Dr. Lane and Dr. Blake anyway.”
“Have you seen the normal bodies yet?” Randolf asked.
“No,” Pinkerton said. “Which means they’re almost certainly near the living quarters. Hopefully, Sal and Joe managed to clear them out. They may be faster, but ironically, they’re easier to kill.”
“Okay. We’ll keep them busy for a couple minutes then meet you back at the cafeteria,” Father Jacob said.
Two of the more human bodies appeared around the corner. In that same instant, Randolf and Father Jacob turned and unloaded their magazines into the creatures. They had to empty their magazines into the beasts, but they fell and didn’t stir. Pinkerton and Maggie took that as their cue. They both ran down the hallway. Maggie had to pace herself to let Pinkerton keep up with her, and as soon as they were around another corner, Pinkerton stopped and said, “Maggie, I need you to carry me.” Maggie didn’t hesitate. She knelt down on her knees. Pinkerton tucked his cane into the back of shirt through the neck and wrapped his arms around her throat and his legs around her waist. She stood up and started carrying Pinkerton, piggyback, down the hall. He was light, far too light for his age. The demon must have been telling truth when she said he was bulimic. If he broke a hundred pounds, it wasn’t by much. She found herself sprinting down the hall with ease, the sound of gunfire growing fainter as she did so.
They made their way back through the hall and to the cafeteria in less time than she expected. She saw the cafeteria doors were closed, and she could only assume they’d been locked as well. She put Pinkerton down, and they slowly made their way to the entrance. Then she heard a crash inside the cafeteria. She heard voices and shouting. It was faint, muffled by the doors themselves, but still there. She looked down and saw a small, thin-screened monitor placed in front of one of the doors. She looked at Pinkerton who was already reloading his shotgun. He started for the door on his left, but at his second step, the monitor turned on. It wasn’t connected to any wires. It didn’t appear to hold any batteries, but it was on just the same. She looked down and saw the image was from a security camera inside the cafeteria. Five naked men chased the last of the survivors around the tables. The bodies of Dr. Lane’s staff lay lifeless on the floor. The people who remained screamed as the large muscular children of Dr. Lane chased them around the room. Pinkerton didn’t waste any time watching the screen. He threw his shoulder into the left-hand door. Of course, it was locked, but it wasn’t just locked. The door didn’t move at all. He tried again and there was no give in the wood or hinges.
“Get back!” Pinkerton screamed.
Maggie jumped back as Pinkerton unloaded both barrels into the knob. As Pinkerton reloaded his gun, Maggie tried the door. It still didn’t move. She threw her own shoulder into it with no results. Maggie tried several more times, then stepped back. Pinkerton fired a single shot into the highest hinge. Pinkerton didn’t fire his next shot. He loaded another shell into the shotgun as Maggie watched the computer screen, helpless. Three of the men had grabbed a female nurse and were stabbing her with butcher knives from the kitchen. Another naked man was beating a male staff member to death with a frying pan, his body twitched as the cast iron fell.
Pinkerton fired again, and this time, the remaining two lower hinges were blown clean off. Still, the door stayed in place like it was…levitating! Pinkerton threw his shoulder against it a final time. The door did not move. He gave up. He loaded the gun again and watched the screen with Maggie. The last to be killed was the doctor who had been so vocal before. Two of the men had knifes and stabbed him repeatedly while the other three beat him to death with whatever kitchenware was on hand. When the man was dead, all five men stopped and looked up at the security camera, their faces were stone. They didn’t say a word. The door then came down with a loud crash, and Pinkerton faced them, seething, the shotgun aimed. Maggie raised her own gun as well, not expecting to do much good. The five men came at once, screaming with malicious smiles. Pinkerton fired the first shot then the second. Two men fell. Maggie started unloading her own magazine, trying to buy Pinkerton enough time to reload his gun. One bullet struck a man in the shoulder. Another struck a second man’s leg. They stumbled back, but it wasn’t enough. The third man charged. Maggie stepped in front of Pinkerton, hoping to buy him another second, but just as the man was about to leap on her, an unexpected shot rang out, hitting the charging man in the head. His skull exploded, covering Maggie with bloody debris as he fell. Maggie swallowed hard, ignoring the gore, turned, and saw four security guards standing behind them. They finished the other two in no time.
When they were dead, Pinkerton stared at the corpses, frowning. He sighed, took a breath, then turned and addressed the four men behind him. “Thanks.” Pinkerton then ran into the cafeteria.
No one had survived. Most of the staff died from multiple stab wounds. Pinkerton collected their name tags, and when he was finished, he started walking back toward the rest of the group who were standing solemnly by the door. Maggie saw tears in his eyes as he passed by. Before Maggie had the chance to think about what she was doing, she put a hand on the young man’s shoulder. He took the hand in his own and squeezed it gratefully; although, he refused to meet her eyes. There was silence. One of the guards, for some odd reason, picked up the broken door and did his best to cover the vacant frame.
It was Pinkerton who broke the silence. “I suppose you were watching from one of the security offices,” he said.
A guard nodded. He was a short, pudgy man with a bald head and a thin black goatee. “We saw the five men walk into the cafeteria. Then the monitors went dead, but it didn’t take a genius to know they meant to do.”
“No, it didn’t,” Pinkerton said. “Are there any more of you?”
“No,” the guard said. He shook his head and laughed. “The rest called in sick. Lucky them.”
“I suppose,” Pinkerton said.
“So, what now?” the guard asked. “I take it you’ve been put in charge.”
“I guess so,” Pinkerton replied. “We need to get to the living quarters. There’s seventy-nine hostiles left, not including a nasty-looking horde that rode up the elevator, and there are probably more of those things on the lower floor. Who knows how many of Dr. Lane’s experiments are left down there. By the way, that was good thinking, locking the elevator doors on the first wave.”
“It didn’t do a whole lot of good,” the guard replied.
Pinkerton smiled. “I wouldn’t say that. If you hadn’t thought fast, the first horde would’ve run our group down. So, thank you. All we can do now, is focus on the remaining survivors. Dr. Lane and Dr. Blake were supposed guide everyone left in the living quarters through the fire escape and return with a printout of who was on the current shift. But I think anyone who was in the lab when everything shut down is lying dead in that cafeteria. We found ten bodies in one of the medical units, but we haven’t seen anyone else. We can only assume the rest of the staff are inside the living quarters. I’m hoping my agents were able to intercept them.”
Father Jacob and Randolf appeared out of the darkness. “We managed to wipe out the first bunch,” Father Jacob said. “But we thought we heard a second batch come up the elevator, so we decided to high tail it back here. I’m hoping they’ll get lost in the halls if we let them wander around.”
“Not likely,” Pinkerton said. He pointed at the door with his cane. “We were outflanked.”
Father Jacob and Randolf looked at the destroyed door. Slowly, they walked to the entrance and peered inside. Both men went pale.
“What happened!” Randolf demanded.
“They sent five bodies to come in behind us and take out the survivors once they returned to the cafeteria. They knew we’d stay behind and shoot whatever came through the elevator. They made Maggie and I watch as they killed them.”
“Who’s they?” the guard asked.
“The things inside the bodies,” Maggie replied.
“Demons,” Pinkerton said plainly. “And they are a hell of lot smarter than any of us; at least, in a way.” He shook his head. “We’re in trouble. Real trouble.”
“Demons.” The guard said skeptically. “Are you sure? Maybe, the bodies just sort of came to life because they’re practically complete humans anyway. Maybe, they’re just operating on instinct like predators.”
“Predators don’t speak a bunch of different languages,” Maggie said sadly. “I’ve had a hard time believing it myself, but there isn’t another explanation.”
“Wait! If those bodies are really a bunch of demons, how do we know she isn’t one of them!” one of the other guards, a skinny man with black and grey hair, asked, pointing at Maggie. So much for hoping no one would recognize her in this strange light.
Maggie stuttered, unable to answer the question. Her eyes met each of the guards, not caring for their expressions. She looked at Pinkerton for help.
“You don’t,” Pinkerton said. “But I doubt a demon would throw itself in front of another demon just to save me.” He smiled at Maggie and Maggie tried to smile back; it felt more like a grimace.
“Well, should we take the chance?” another guard asked. He didn’t exactly raise his gun, but he lifted it just a little as he looked to each of his friends for support.
“We’re not killing anybody on mere suspicion,” Father Jacob said firmly. “If we do that, then we’re no better than them.”
“I disagree,” the first guard, the one with goatee, said. “I intend to get out of here alive.”
“Well, then you better not shoot her,” Randolf said, raising his rifle and pointing it not three inches from the first guard’s ear. Maggie was surprised, and more than a little touched by the violent gesture.
“We’re wasting time,” Pinkerton said. There was a faint popping sound like someone was setting off a bunch of firecrackers, somewhere in the dark. This was followed by a slightly louder bang. The walls around them shook, and the red lights flickered. “Let’s go. Maggie, stay in the front,” Pinkerton said.
Maggie nodded. She and Pinkerton led the group down the hall. There was more popping, and a second bang followed by another tremor. The lights flickered again. Maggie had a terrifying thought. The generators wouldn’t last forever. What were they going to do once the lights went out?