Elbert paused in the intersection at the end of the hallway, wondering which direction Abner might have taken. Overhead, the naked light bulb only managed to cast an anemic glow a dozen feet in either direction, and the inky darkness consumed the basement beyond where he stood. Taking a deep breath to calm his nerves, he could taste the musty earth as stagnant air filled his lungs.
He was just about to turn left when something that he hadn’t noticed down the hallway to the right caught his eye: a hundred feet further back into the shadows along the left wall, an ethereal green light spilled out from one of the rooms. While the hazy emerald glow wasn’t bright enough to illuminate the hall, it was still obvious to Elbert that there was an open door down there.
That’s probably as good a place to start as any, he said to himself. Of course, he might have missed the green light like I did and gone left instead… damn it, Abner—where are you?
But before he could decide, the door at the top of the stairs opened before noisily shutting again. Elbert’s stomach sank and—without thinking—he quickly ducked out of the intersection, slipping around the corner to the right. With his back pressed against the brick wall, he could hardly hear the man’s footfalls as he descended the wooden steps into the basement over the pounding of his own heart.
He glanced back across the intersection—briefly wondering if he might have missed something in that direction as well—before turning back towards the green-lit room. Well, that settles that, he thought to himself. He couldn’t make it back through the intersection without being seen, and the longer he waited, the closer the man got.
With no time or options, Elbert raced into the darkness of the hallway towards the green light, cautiously holding out his hands for any unseen obstacles. Reaching the doorway, he rushed into the room without slowing down—and then froze dead in his tracks.
Inside, the room wasn’t much larger than his own bedroom at home, and most of the space was occupied by large medical-looking machines set against the walls. One of them, a tall, boxy machine sitting in the corner, had a rounded glass screen on its front like a miniature television, glowing with electric green light.
On the screen, a thin line bounced up and down, leaving a wake of jagged, pointy peaks and valleys behind. Atop the machine, a small roll of paper was unspooling into a metal tray while an ink-needle scratched back and forth, erratically tracing an identical zig-zagging line to the one on the screen.
Elbert heard the man’s footsteps out in the hallway as he frantically looked around the room for somewhere to hide. Seeing a darkened space behind the boxy machine in the corner, he hoped for the best and rushed over. Quickly wiggling backwards into the impromptu hiding spot, his eyes locked onto something large rolled against the far wall sandwiched in-between a pair of smaller, dormant machines.
It was difficult to see inside the dimly lit room, but he was almost certain that he was looking at a type of metal bed—like he had seen in the hospital a couple of years prior when his Aunt Clara had needed hip surgery after losing her balance and falling from her front porch.
Elbert’s mother had forced him to spend a week’s worth of afternoons in the hospital sitting at her bedside while she convalesced, and he could tell that this bed was similar: a thick metal frame mounted on four small wheels, it could be manipulated into different positions as needed.
On top of the mattress, a dirty white sheet lay draped over a hulking mound. The mound was so large and misshapen that at first, Elbert just assumed it was more equipment for the lab—then his heart stopped as he watched the lump slowly rise and fall with the barely perceptible movement of respiration.
What the—, he thought with alarm as he watched the sheet quietly move.
Just as Elbert’s brain began to make sense of what he was seeing, the man walked through the doorway with the hissing lantern, filling the room with harsh white light that burned his eyes. As he sank lower into the shadows of his hiding place, the man set the lantern on a small table before turning the dial on the front, diming the globe until it went out completely. For a moment, the green screen was again the only source of light in the room until he walked over and flipped a switch on the wall, and a pair of short fluorescent bulbs sputtered to life overhead.
Abner strained to listen further down the adjacent hallway but there was only the sound of dripping water, echoing in the dark. If he was right, and the first person that he’d heard pass through the intersection had been Elbert, then the second had definitely been the tall man. That meant that while he stayed wedged behind the pipes, they were down that basement wing together—and there was nowhere for Elbert to escape.
The pain and tingling in his legs had stopped a few minutes prior, and now there was hardly any sensation left in them at all. He feebly tugged on his stuck ankle once more, but his strength was ebbing and he could barely mount the effort.
Frustrated and scared, he leaned his forehead against the old rusty pipe and began to sob quietly in the dark. Fat tears dropped from his eyes and landed on his folded knee before soaking into the dirty blue denim.
I should have listened to Bert, he lamented to himself in the dark, now look what I’ve done; me and my best friend, trapped down here with some crazy scientist or doctor—and whatever the hell is in those rooms. Idiot, I am such an idiot.
The last time Abner had been inside of a church had been at his own baptism seventeen years earlier. While his parents were professed Christians, they weren’t practicing ones, or even very good ones for that matter. The baptism itself might never have come about had it not been for his maternal grandmother storming down from Atlanta and—in her insistent, southern-matronly way—declaring that Abner would indeed be washed in the blood of the lamb, or she’d know why.
Since then, Abner had always wrestled with the idea of God, reluctant to commit to such an obstinate lifestyle without definitive proof. In a town like Sigbee however, it didn’t pay to voice your doubts about the almighty, and so he’d always kept his skepticisms to himself. Now though, desperately stuck in the dark recess behind the pipes in the basement of the depot, Abner began to pray.
The tall man stood at the table next to the hospital bed shuffling through a few loose sheets of paper. As he scanned the pages, he casually walked over to a small machine on the far wall and pushed a red button on the front. When he did, a soft whirring noise started as a pair of large audio tape reels began to spin clockwise.
“The date is still May 10th, 1952 and the time is now twenty-three thirty-five,” the man began in a clinical tone. “So far, subject KM-426 is responding as the others have. Heart rate and breathing are slightly elevated, but normal. Brain function appears to be present and within the target minimum.”
He spoke with the cool indifference of a professional, and Elbert could hear a heavy accent in his voice. He thought it might be European, but the only European people he’d ever heard speak before were at the picture shows—and they weren’t even actual Europeans.
The man set the papers down on the table and walked over to the bed against the wall. He gently lifted the sheet away from the head and slowly pulled it down towards the foot of the bed. When Elbert saw what was underneath, bile rose in the back of his throat and he had to muffle a frightened gasp.
There on the hospital bed was the most grotesque creature that Elbert had ever seen. Although nearly twice the size as normal, the body had the basic shape of a human,: two arms, two legs, a torso, something of a head, and yet nothing about it seemed human to Elbert.
Completely naked, wispy black hair covered the entire body—too sparse to conceal the thick veins throbbing overtop bulky muscles. Looking at the three wide straps restraining the beast, Elbert feared that they might not be enough if it decided to try and get up.
Beneath coal black eyes that stared vacantly up to the florescent lights, the creature’s nose and mouth formed a stubby, pseudo-muzzle that protruded out from the face a few inches. Elbert realized for the first time that the thing had no ears on its head—only a slimy red gash where an ear would normally be found. Had it not been for the slow rising of its chest, he might have assumed it was already dead—or at least very near death.
With the bedsheet pulled back, the overhead lights bore down into the empty black eyes until—slowly at first—its head began to rock back and forth. The room began to fill with a pungent stench that reminded Elbert of a combination of the deer that would sometimes get hit on the highway by his house—rotting under the hot sun for days—and horrible body odor. The man calmly studied the creature for a moment and then continued:
“Like the others, KM-426 responds negatively to any light stimuli, and I suspect his ability to see in total darkness is equally proficient if not more so.” The man reached forward and gently lifted the ragged flap of skin that served as the creatures upper lip, exposing two rows of long, needle-like teeth. “The gums appear healthy—,” the monster snapped its jaws at the man’s fingers with lightning speed, and the crack of the clenching teeth echoed out into the hallway. Experienced with this sort of thing however, the man quickly jerked his hand back before casually returning to the table as the beast laid its head back down.
“KM-426 still does not recognize me,” the man continued, talking to the recording machine, “and, like the others, I suspect that I’ll have no actual control over him. By all accounts however, 426 is a very capable killing machine, perhaps our best one yet. Strong, fast, able to see in the pitch-dark—blood-thirsty. Yet I still can’t get them to remember who I am.”
The man bent down and peered over into the bloody ear hole and said, “I’ll conduct more thorough auditory tests tomorrow, but it appears as if 426’s cochlear transplant was a success, and he should hear as well—if not better—than his predecessors.”
On the bed, KM-426 was growing agitated, and a wet, throaty growl arose from the snout as it continued to rock its massive head slowly from side to side.
“Entspannen,” the man murmured softly as he shuffled through more papers on the table. But if his attempts to mollify the beast had worked in the past, they didn’t seem to be working now, and the giant head began to shake more deliberately. Holding his breath in a mixture of fascination and terror, Elbert watched as it started to move its shoulders up and down as though it were trying to free an arm from the bindings.
With strong, hairy fingers, the beast opened and closed his hand repeatedly and Elbert could hear the sinister blade-like nails as they buried deep into its own flesh with a sickening ‘squishing’ sound. Soon, a stream of thick, dark fluid was slowly oozing from the clenched fist and onto the bed.
The man tossed the papers down on the table and walked back over as KM-426 continued to buck and thrash—so forcefully now that the bed jerked into the air with each new attempt. Wordlessly, he took a syringe from the top pocket of his lab coat and held it up to the light. Satisfied, in one fluid motion he swooped the needle down and poked it into the creature’s upper arm before pressing the plunger down.
The man stepped back to wait for the injection to work as the brute continued to strain and shudder under the straps. Elbert could hear the ink-needle on top of the machine start to scratch back and forth wildly across the paper, going faster and faster as the beast struggled.
After a minute with no change, the man furrowed his brow and pursed his lips before extracting another needle from his lab coat as 426 began to cry out in a warbled, high-pitched scream. Hiding behind the large machine, Elbert pressed his hands over his ears to lessen the pain of the noise, but it seemed to go straight through them.
“Interesting,” the man said loudly over the commotion as he held the syringe up to the light like he did the first, “30 cc’s of ‘Infirmiticol’ is normally enough to render a subject near-comatose—but there doesn’t appear to be any effect at all on KM-426.” As the screaming continued, he poked the fresh needle into the same bouncing arm and pushed the plunger down before pulling it out and tossing the spent syringe onto the table with a sigh.
Almost instantly, the thrashing began to subside as the pen above Elbert’s head swung slower and slower, eventually returning to its normal steady rhythm. “60 cc’s of ‘Infirmiticol’ succeeded in returning KM-426 to a sedated state,” the man said with a hint of amazement, “that’s more than double the amount ever needed in the past.”
The man stood there, patiently looking down at his creation with a puzzled and hurt look on his face and Elbert didn’t know if it was professional or personal, but he had his suspicions..
“You’re getting bigger. You’re getting stronger. You can see better in pitch darkness than any other animal on earth and hear a cough from four kilometers away. You’re a damned walking nightmare—a killing machine… so why won’t you listen to me?”
Even resting quietly on the hospital bed, KM-426 was a revolting mass of dark hair, large muscles, and fearsome weaponry, so Elbert was grateful when the man tenderly pulled the sheet back over top, concealing the horrible animal again. After switching off the recording machine, the man took a pack of matches from his pants pocket and lit his lantern again.
Elbert would wait until he left and—after giving him some time to walk away—try to find Abner so they could get out of there. As the man flipped off the light switch on his way out however, Elbert heard a noise that made the blood freeze in his veins: the strained squealing of the pocket door rolling closed. Paralyzed, he couldn’t do anything but sit there and listen as he was shut inside alone with KM-426.
Buy me a coffee?
If you enjoy my stories, please consider buying me a coffee so that I can sit around writing more for years to come. I'm a man of simple tastes, but I do enjoy a cup while I write. Thank you!