Project: Phantasma

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XIV. Slice, Dice, Baby

“Ugh…” Gab muttered in pain as he stood up and rubbed his nape. “Oh, man… Where am I?”

He fumbled for his flashlight and unholstered Rose’s Beretta. He held the flashlight in a stab-grip, beneath his gun that pointed forward. He didn’t know why but he’s seen it held that way in horror media. A rusty smell lingered in the air as the dirt and pebbles crunched with his every step.

Kim and Lloyd have been taken away from me…, he thought. If only I could bring them back.

He cautiously and briskly walked along the empty hall, following the no-choice path that he wished was shorter. People don’t get everything they wish for in this world, really. He already had his chance with the League. He already had his chance with a pretty girl. He already had his chance with meeting worthy friends. He still has his chance on his wish of a survival horror game-like experience. The first few chances mentioned had been taken away sooner, though.

The rancid smell grew mighty uncomfortable for his nose as a sound of something or someone dropping off from the starting point echoed through the halls. Upon checking a turn, he grabbed a piece of paper that read: I chopped the plank barring your safety back in the asylum. Time to chop the safety off your head.

With the sound of a blade screeching hard against a wall and a deep, rhythmic beat of feet accelerating, his adrenaline shot the signal flare to run like hell. He knew it was the butcher.

Shit. Run. Run. Run. Run. Run.

It felt like the butcher was gaining on him even on his full speed. The sound was a lot closer now, too close for comfort. Blood was pulsing though his temples his flashlight bobbing up and down as his gun hand (right) swung back and forth frantically. He knew he’d regret looking back. As he turned left, he caught a glimpse of the burned man with an apron and a cleaver jumping towards him. Onslaught narrowly missed and chopped the wall. With his cleaver stuck, Gab turned around and opened fire.

Gab was dizzied by the continuous recoil of his and slightly took pleasure in firing his first few shots ever on a living -- perhaps non-living, thing. The first few bullets zipped through Onslaught’s ear. The big man tanked the other four that chucked blood out of his hit shoulder. He successfully pulled the cleaver out with his leg against the wall but dropped to his knees, supported by his weapon.

Gab wasted no time and tried to reload while running. He jumped across the gaping pit of uncertainty, ignoring the cardboard cutouts of pigeons and the joke on the ceiling directly above it that had a reference on Assassin’s Creed. He couldn’t cock the gun with all his force, not with all the tension and his natural weakness. He looked towards the butcher who was already upcoming, headstrong. He finally cocked the gun as it jumped over the hole with ease. Gab aimed to the air and unloaded the clip, getting lucky headshots and a chest hit as the butcher landed on the edge of the pit, wobbling his hands and the cleaver to get balance. Influenced by Resident Evil 4 and 5’s flinch-and-melee system, Gab ran towards him and executed his first ever full-force Spartan Kick on a human, knocking the butcher down the hole like SWAT would a door.

A sudden surge of fulfillment filled his head as he panted while sitting near the hole. He reloaded his Beretta and counted 4 more clips left. He didn’t know how he got there but he knew he did a pretty good job… Or not. An underground jolt with a metal-to-concrete sound of impact broke his short-lived smile. He looked down and saw nothing but darkness, but he could have sworn it was the butcher climbing up. Successive slow jolts and impacts made him stand up and start running again. He ran past what seems like an asylum door and shut it close. There were no locks. He quickly inspected the environment. A letter was on the ground. It read: I fear your deductive powers might shoot through me, so I’m leaving the work to half-dead half-muscles. He should be slamming through the door riiiiight… Now.

Onslaught tackled the door and rolled inside, but he comically fell down panting and bleeding. His shoulders were moving like… Like he was laughing. He was laughing. “I’m not asking for a fight… Yet.” He said as he stood up and threw his cleaver down. It stuck on the ground like the Excalibur. “Good luck for being number 308. Mr. Harley, number 307, passed here before you. He did a pretty good job shutting Twitch down. Looks like he doesn’t see gender as a hindrance. Well, equality is equality, right? So when a girl tries to kill you, you have all the reasons in the world to do practically anything you want… Tch. Girls. They would whine about equality if it favors them but ignores the whole equality-shit when it puts them in the losing side…”

Gab looked rather confused for the sudden friendly-talk. “Harley? Who’s Harley? And what 307-308?”

“Harley being 307 means there have been 307 other people tested here. They all died. Tsk tsk tsk… How disappointing of you not to know your four-eyed best friend’s surname,” Onslaught said, sounding all too friendly.

“By four-eyes, which of the two?” They both gave out a brief laugh.

“Lloyd Harley,” the big man said in a suddenly grave manner.

The seriousness of Onslaught’s tone reminded Gab that this guy could cut him down or easily strangle him with one hand if he wanted to. His fear went back and he could fear his heartbeat going faster again. Sweat was dripping all over him, he suddenly realized. “I… I don’t even remember my birthday.”

“That rare condition of yours…” Onslaught stated with his arms crossed on his chest, showing his badly burned but still well-toned muscles that were slightly larger than a normal man would have. “Class-Zero Attention Deficit Disorder… How interesting. Things that greatly interest you become as easier to recall as your name, and unimportant stuff become trashed…”

“H-how the hell is that related to ADD? And what are y-you talking about… this Class Zero thing?”

“I have no fuckin’ idea. I just heard it from Punchline. Hahaha, ADD. You lack focus a lot, eh? How dumb could you get for not remembering your birthday? You’re a tragic but great detective, then.”

“Don’t m-mess with my condition, you tragic but great defective.”

Onslaught’s badly disfigured face flexed. “Ooooh… What a comeback. I bet you even forgot about the damsel you were with. Did you know that she doesn’t have feelings for you at all? You’re the only one assuming. Getting attention and being hugged in this situation is understandable. Which others could she do those to? Only you and Harley were the options. It was only that you were always there. ’Cause you left Harley for dead. I believe she’s dead now too, but it doesn’t matter now, does it?”

“She matters… I-I care for her!”

“Yet you forgot her surname.”

Gab stared at the dusty cotton laid waste all over the floor. “That… Name doesn’t matter. I can remember her face clearly. And she’s Kim. A-and that’s a stupid way of determining care.”

“You spineless three-timer. What about that lower-year, Ciel and that whore, Danielle?” Onslaught bellowed out a huge laugh that seemed to shake the whole room.

Gabs eyes widened in shock. “H-how did… Is Ciel safe right now!?”

“How would I know? I just overheard it. What about Danielle?”

Gab didn’t respond as his grip on Rose’s Beretta tightened.

Onslaught smiled. It looked as hideous as a baboon’s buttocks, unless you find them cute. Well, not that they looked really similar. “Someone among us crept around you and the others before you got here. She’s Twitch. The one who should be talking to you right now. Well, I think I did her job well. Good luck with the upcoming nightmares. The exit is that trap door. Go and catch up with Harley. Look for 4 missing steps in that spiral staircase. Jump across and you’ll be near a lift that will lead you to him. Good luck, Project 308.” He said as he pulled his cleaver up and walked away.

“Project 308?”

“Oh fuck. I broke the door. Too much for an epic entrance for a talk. I look so cool when I walk away, don’t I?”

“What’s the point of chasing me here?”

With his back still turned away, the big man let out a laugh. “Would you obey if I said that I should lead you to that dirty, dark cage of sweat, blood and madness? A crazy person inhabited that place for a veeery long time. Who knows how she dealt with excrements there? And more importantly, would you let a huge man with a cleaver lead you the way?”

“I’m not supposed to defeat you or anything?”

“You already did.”

Gab stared after Onslaught, relieved for his shockingly amiable demeanor. As the butcher disappeared from view, he looked at the trap door.

He opened it and scanned the inside with his flashlight. He noticed that the light was a lot weaker than before, prompting him to descend the stairs even in doubt. He couldn’t see the walls. He had a certain dread that it’s just empty space for kilometers or even lightyears, he wasn’t certain. Nothing was certain ever since, he thought.

After minutes of nothing else to hear but the creaking steps and his breath, he gasped upon seeing around three meters of missing steps. He backed a little, gathered momentum and jumped. He landed badly, losing his balance as he tumbled down around 10 steps, all the while gripping his flashlight tight. He got a firm grip on a railing and successfully stopped the painful but arguably faster descent. Dust danced in the air due to the disturbance in the stairwell. He rested his head on a rail and checked on his injuries. So far, the only injuries he got were from this stupid miscalculation and his emotional state. The butcher never hit him, nor the others. It’s either he’s really got survival skills or just lucky.

Or something else entirely. He smiled, dismissed the thought and stood up.

He panned his battery-powered torch down and saw the concrete dusty floor. He walked around 50 more and stood at the base. He couldn’t see any wall. The smell of iron and decay sizzled in his nostrils so much that his temples ached and he had to pass while covering his nose. He walked for a mile or so and found something for a change. At the end of the light’s reach was another lift with arms-length of area. He suddenly remembered his recent nightmarish encounter in a lift with that same space. It was open and was tinged brownish orange. Rust. He gulped and swore under his breath as he walked towards the lift.

There’s no turning back, Gab thought. Things like this in here have a purpose. Forget your fear and set your priorities. Get scared when it’s all over. Let’s gamble and see why everything seems scripted.

He stepped inside. A lever was on the left side in entrance-perspective. He pulled it down. A sound of metal unhinged was followed by sounds of rotating gears that felt like they have never moved in forever. The lift doors closed as it started to move down. He started to think what the whole area looked like, and somehow a wide room of fresh corpses neatly stored in fish hooks kept its presence in his mind. It made him lose a lot of confidence, but something made him lose a lot more. His flashlight was pointing towards the closed lift doors, but there’s a shadow of a girl in familiar height being cast upon it, as if there’s a girl in front of her.

He guessed there really was. And he knew who it was.

It started to flicker. He didn’t know how antagonists in horror cliché do this, but they really do it when the protagonist doesn’t want it.

Shit, he muttered, backing to the righthand corner, away from the doors.

A hauntingly familiar voice echoed inside the lift. “I…See…You.”

“I… Don’t you see you, though,” Gab said. His knees were shaking.

“I turned it off for you because I didn’t want to scare you… But I think I just heard a challenge, Mr. Sherwood… What a delight for our courageous… Hero.”

He realized what he said was a mistake. “No, wai-“

“My bad.” The lights flashed back on, but Nightmare wasn’t in front of him. She was on his left, her right arm around his neck, her mouth close to touching his ears. Gab stood frozen as the cold feel of her skin that pressed against his tingling neck pressed a little more. “That must mean I look pretty to you,” she whispered.

He was cemented in place. No muscle dared to move. “I-if you wipe the blood off, y-yes.”

A sweetly spine-tingling giggle tickled his sensitive-in-a-scared-way left ear. She spoke softly. “You’re sweet, Mr. Sherwood. I wish I knew you before this happened to me… I wonder what could have happened in that case.”

He panned his view toward her chest. Her skin was deathly pale but looked pristine. He felt a weird urge when Lilith covered her chest with her hand. She gave a chuckle as Gab looked away.

“Let’s do your sightseeing some other time, shall we. Or perhaps not. ’Cause I’m already… cold. Oh. How rude of me,” she whispered as she rested her chin on Gab’s left shoulder. She was leaning against him as she tip-toed. “I haven’t introduced myself yet. I’m Lilith Ashcrow, the one who has volunteered in watching over you. I’m sorry but… I tend to fall in love with wavy hair.”

Her index finger played with his hair and massaged it. Gab felt tingly yet terrified. She giggled as if she meant it. She slid a key on his breastpocket. “Take that key to Lloydie.”

Gab’s lower lip and teeth started shaking.

“Don’t disappoint us or you’ll be disappointed more than we would be. Carry on, Lloydie dear is waiting for you.”

A cold kiss from soft lips pressed against his cheeks. The sensation went around his skull as the lift came into a halt and the doors opened. The light flickered, and she was there no more.

Gab stood for a while, staring blankly without a blink on the entrance. Pale, he slid down against the corner slowly and cowered, shivering like crazy. He was sweating despite the low temperature, and somehow the dirt on the corner staining his polo shirt didn’t matter to him. He felt his numb left cheek with his shaking right hand and rested his head against the wall.

“You’ve GOT to be kidding me,” he muttered under his breath. His heartbeat that thumped against his thighs and chest was understandably fast. His pupils constricted and his breathing was irregular. It’s as if part of his falsely courageous soul has been ripped off, and he felt he needed to regenerate it, if he could.

So he gave his soul some time.

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