XII. Odors With The Wind
He thought it was Kim who was crying but she was visible from the couch, just an arm’s reach from him. She’s snoring lightly. He suddenly thought of a pair of slowly opening demonic red eyes, rivers of blood, trembling, creeping grime and a spooky girl. He tried to scan around by making as little movement as possible with his eyes opened just enough to see a slit of what’s happening.
Nothing out of the ordinary. Just Rose. The tough-looking Rose was crying. Gab stood up and made a little moan as he stretched his body. He didn’t want to startle her. He approached her.
Rose noticed. “What are you doing? Get some sleep,” she said as bossy as she could, sniffing and wiping her tears as poised as she could. She couldn’t hide it, but she tried her best.
Gab and Rose spoke to each other despite seeing only their silhouettes, as there weren’t much light in the first place.
“You don’t need to act strong. You already are, but you’re not invulnerable. I know you’re tired, Rose. Get some rest and let me take watch for the night… Well, if it ever really is a night.”
“Thanks but… I can’t even sleep with all these shit, you know. I just realized I was too conceited towards my assertion of being at the top. Until now. I learned to smile them off.”
Hiro woke a little from the rocking chair and murmured something. It could have meant Go to sleep, guys or There are lots of hot girls in Japan. He returned to his sleep.
Gab put his hand on her shoulder. He felt a jump on her, as if she wasn’t expecting it. “Just trust me okay? I’ll scream like a girl when I see something hostile.”
Gab raised his index finger near her nose. “No. If you can’t sleep just relax, leader.” He smiled, and she smiled in return.
“Thanks, new guy.”
“It’s Gab. Call me Gab.”
“I trust you, new guy,” She said as she they exchanged spots.
Gab sighed and smiled. He looked through the window that showed the starless, dim sky. It looked like it hasn’t changed ever since.
Will my life end here? I sure hope hunger and not mutants get to kill me. If ever I survive, how? In a train? On a lucky hitchhike? What if… It’s not just here. What if it’s… worldwide? What if-
He could feel himself smiling at his dark reflection on a mirror on the wall. He knew he didn’t want to smile, but he couldn’t stop. He could feel the stretching of his cheeks and the discomfort of his jaw. Then something alarmed him. The reflection’s background was the view of outside.
He started to realize it wasn’t his reflection at all. It had Rose’s face.
He grabbed his new flashlight and followed the beam towards the figure.
The thing whose smile he was copying lost the grin and became just a silhouette. It moved away from the window, looking like a very tall, grotesquely hunched back figure with draping arms. Gab fell to the ground as the silhouette exited the view. His flashlight rolled its beam towards Rose’s face.
The ground was wet. There’s blood all over the floor. He looked to the couch where Rose rested. Her head was dangling from the arm rest. His face was gone. All that remained were bloodshot eyes, a bump for a nose, and a grin that ripped its way towards her ears. The cheeks looked as if they were just part of a plastic bag that was tore off.
Looks like the Sculptor got her. He was let go for some reason. Nausea pushed him down the floor as he stared at where Rose’s face once was. Darkness ate through his vision and soon into his consciousness.
Gab woke up in an empty room. They’re all gone. The bed sheets look forcefully stretched. Gratings and scratches were all over the place. There’s blood on the rocking chair, the couch and the side of the bed. On the spot where Kim was, her glasses laid with a note beneath it.
It read: The Sculptor did his warning shot. He is growing impatient. Your new friends are hanging out in the corridor. They let us take your old friend.
He put the glasses inside his pocket with trembling hands and contempt.
What?! Kim?! And they LET it happen? He thought.
Gab quickly grabbed his flashlight and Rose’s Beretta on her couch. Aiming the torch forward and rushed outside, stopping a bare second later to get a darker meaning from the letter. “…Your friends are hanging out in the corridor.”
Rose, Christy and Hiro were all hanged by fish hooks all around their body. Blood collected right beneath them as Rose’s feet twitched and stopped completely.
No. No. NO. WHY!?
It all happened under his nose, he thought, and he couldn’t do anything. A fourth body was hanging. At the sight of tattered straitjacket, his quivered and his feet were jumpstarted as it fell to the floor writhing and shambling. It’s Twitch.
Knowing what’s best for him and his capabilities, his feet lead the way as the four strapped blades flowed behind the pursuer. But something’s just not right. Twitch was noticeably slow. Gab didn’t feel the same thrill as being chased. It’s as if he was being guided through the hallway. The dead end grinned at him like Rose last night. It gave his feet a hard time resisting trembling. Written on the wall with blood like the chiller font (wasn’t much of a good font anyway) were the the words “Look down.”
A pair of shoeprints were right in front of him. Black moths gathered as Nightmare gradually materialized. Twitch just stood there behind him, watching.
The fearsome eyes he knew so well started to open. “Just trust me. You’re not going to hell… Only deeper.”
Gab was inflicted with the paralysis that comes with the dreaded stare. Both of them cried out blood. His eyes felt hot and were swelling. The grime covered the place as it shook violently.
Inches from his face formed the fully opened eyes that he dreaded for a long time. The channeling completed with pulse that passed through everything confined by the grime, apparently a means of defining a borderline, with Gab passing out. The corridor that once had things moving in it was left as just a corridor of doors, dirt and blood.
The rancid smell of blood filled the air, a mixture of old and fresh, from different sources. Lloyd laid still, feeling his surroundings. He didn’t know where it was. It was dark and dirty. It was cold and silent. The silence was unnatural. Nothing was making any noise, but the usual deafening sound of silence wasn’t there. His apprehension of bumping on a hostile being was sinking into him. He fumbled for his flashlight and switched it on, aiming it forward. He gasped as he saw what kind of place he was in. It’s a small corridor just wide enough for the common arm span, with walls covered in moist dirt and the dreaded scent of blood and sweat. He tried to see the end but it was too long, escaping the torch’s range. Behind him is a cold wall, telling him to just walk forward.
What happened, again? Lloyd thought. He could remember being dragged through the sewers, hence his dirty uniform. Some parts like that on the shoulders have been tattered a little.
That thing that dragged me seemed to have a plan rather than to just kidnap and eat me… I wonder if Kim and Gab is fine. I’m pretty sure he can handle it though, Lloyd thought.
Each step felt like they gradually intensified the rancidity in the air. He’s hoping he would see a door leading to open space, but his hopes have been in vain for too long. There were occasional moments where he could hear a scratch or a scurrying sound, making him stare at that spot for a few moments. To him, it was just an endless corridor. Then he saw a wall.
The path continued to the right. Fearing that something might jump out from the corner, he backed all the way to the opposite wall and leaned, ready to run if ever there was a something like Slenderman or rabid singing chipmunks. His gut wrenched a little in anticipation for something alive that may never come. He saw something along the way that made him hold his breath.
Oh… God, Lloyd thought as he approached it.
It was a concert poster of boys who all look the same, except for their campy hairstyles, with some ripped parts and holes. He turned it around and saw something written in pencil graphite.
Oh… God, he thought again.
It read: Hurry. The butcher has started from your starting point.
Intense dread flooded his veins. He could feel a particular sensation on his nape as he heard fast, faint stomping. He knew what he had to do. His feet worked like it was his last run, with a bobbing cone of light leading the way. He was sweating despite the coldness. He was afraid uncertainty yet he was running deeper into the unknown.
Something different was suddenly on the way. A giant gap on the floor. It spanned all the way to the sides of the walls. There were cardboard cut-outs of pigeons on the edge and something was written on the ceiling directly above it. “Leap of faith, young Ezio.”
Wondering “who the fuck” Ezio was, he was preparing for more momentum as he heard a voice bellow and echo through the halls. “I SEE YOU!!!”
Lloyd stepped on the edge to boost his jump, the maw of uncertain darkness waiting below. He caught the other edge and struggled as he pulled himself up. Hope was fading and much time was wasted anchoring himself up. He expected a single pounce attack to crush him, but the rhythmic steps of the butcher ceased. He got up and was surprised to see a heavily burned man wearing a blood-stained apron. He threw his cleaver to the ground, chipping off some concrete as it stood like Excalibur. His ripped sleeves showed deteriorating, darkish red biceps. His face was burned beyond recognition, some flesh blocking his right eye. Lloyd felt a strange sense of momentary peace.
“W-who are you?” He stammered.
“I go by the name of Onslaught,” the man said, his gravelly voice echoing through the corridors. “You might be wondering why I haven’t pinned you down with my cleaver, jumped there and then strangled you.”
“Thanks for the narration of what I’m fearing right now,” Lloyd said as he realized that this must be the butcher Gab was talking about.
“I’m sorry but the joke’s over. Buying that poster could have been impossible if I haven’t had that annoying student’s skin flayed. We were just happy that, at last, someone did not cower on the corner of the starting point ’til I chopped their head off. You’re the 307th, and the first to make it this far. But it was arranged so that 308 - Project: Phantasma would hit the mark. We do hope the 309th project never gets to open. But looks like it will.”
“What 307th? Are you crazy? And what project are you talking about? And where am I?”
“You’re being watched by and tested by a group of people that are already dead, and I believe I am one of them, so yes, I probably am crazy. We need people with more resistance to fear and are skilled enough to stop something we cannot. If they cannot, they’d rather die than be an inevitable victim.”
“Who are you talking about? You guys have already killed 307 people but could not stop one man?! What kind of-”
“You better respect someone who can kill you right now…” Onslaught said, his fist audibly tightening. “By the way, I’m talking about someone who wants to carve his face on everyone and collect all the faces of his victims. His victims end their own lives after seeing their new faces and some bleed to death. We are but helpless instruments to ensure someone stops him. Here’s the deal. You beat this nightmare, kill something arguably equally scary as this and your trip home is safely secured. If you aren’t dead by then. You guys won’t even remember anything after the head chop. We don’t necessarily take lives. We prolong the others.”
“Why don’t you kill me now? I mean, that’s what you guys want to test, right?”
“You displayed a high rate of survival. It would be unfair and a waste to kill you outright.”
“Then why don’t I just jump there and die?” Lloyd said, threatening a suicide as he leaned toward the abyss between them.
Onslaught laughed hard. “You’d prefer being mauled by ten thousand rejects than die in quickly? I thought you were intelligent, Lloyd Harley.”
Lloyd couldn’t think of a response. He just stared at the darkness.
“Be careful of Punchline. He’d do anything to achieve our mission. He won’t show any mercy and would do absolutely anything to ensure our safety. His safety. Well, except attend the concert of the poster you saw earlier.” Onslaught pulled the cleaver and started to walk away. “I’m giving you a head start while I deal with the next visitor. Run, and remember that I just caught up to you. And I will again if you don’t move fast.” He vanishes in the darkness, away from the cone of light’s range.