Ever since the executives of the Consortium placed him and his modest lab at the depot in order to be near the freight station in Atlanta, the remoteness of the location had always been the site’s greatest defense. It was so isolated, in fact, that the closest anyone had ever come to the basement door was the teenage couple that he’d unexpectedly stumbled upon two summers prior. They were parked in front of the main depot building, kissing passionately in the front seats, when he’d exited the front door mere feet away. It had been late at night and the couple didn’t noticed him—preoccupied as they were—while on the dash radio, Billie Holiday drowned out the hum of the generator as she purred about her lover man.
Caught off guard, Dr. Oberth had just stood there like a slack-jawed statue until the building’s front door slammed shut, startling both him and the amorous couple. Looking up with shocked, coffee-saucer eyes and seeing him—nearly seven feet tall and holding his trusty lantern—they’d screamed at the top of their lungs while the young man frantically fumbled with the ignition before peeling off in a cloud of chalky red dust. As the car drove away though, the doctor had memorized the license plate, which he then promptly reported to the Consortium Department Chief as required in the handbook.
A few days later, in his laboratory beside the depot that also served as his quarters, the doctor overheard a report about a horrific automobile accident involving two local teens on his little shelf top radio. At the time, although the radio announcer had said that it appeared the driver lost control of his vehicle and went over the side of the Hatchery bridge, Dr. Oberth knew that the real reason the teens were dead was because of his phone call. After that incident, he’d felled several large trees down across the overgrown dirt track that had once been the only road in and out of the depot property, virtually eliminating unexpected trespassers. Even the two new “Project Supervisors” the Consortium had sent tonight to collect the status update on his work had been forced to walk for nearly a mile through the dark woods to reach the spartan lab.
Such precautions were necessary of course; not only to protect his work from the people, but also the people from his work. Since the end of the war, when the Americans had found him in the bombed-out ruins of his Berlin laboratory, his life has been dedicated to the KM biological weapon series. Currently, the prototypes were still far too volatile, too hard to control. But, he was getting closer—426 was proof of that. He only needed more time.
Now however, his worst nightmare was becoming a reality: outsiders had found their way down into the secluded basement cells. The problem might not have been so terrible but for the fact that it happened on the same night as the new supervisor’s initial visit. He already didn’t like the short American with the greasy, curly hair—making his snide remarks about the lab—and the quiet, older man—clearly in charge of the pair—had been making him nervous since he’d arrived at the site an hour earlier.
All the doctor had wanted to do was hand over the month’s bio-data readings and quickly get the stodgy Americans out of there, but now—standing at the top of the stairs and watching the two young boys turn and run back down the hallway—that was no longer going to be a possibility. He was pragmatically weighing his options—trying to decide how best to proceed—when the basement erupted in a series of deafening explosions. The blasts were concussive in the enclosed space and for a moment the doctor was back in Berlin, huddled inside his laboratory as the cement walls shook from the falling bombs.
“No, stop! Stop shooting! Do not wake them!” In his excitement, the doctor’s accent had gotten thicker, and he pronounced the w’s with a heavy vee sound. He was frantically grabbing at the men’s arms—trying to get them to cease firing—but they both easily shrugged him off and continued shooting down into the hallway.
To Dr. Oberth, it felt as if the shooting would never stop, and each new explosion threatened to send him running for cover out of instinct. Eventually though, both pistols only made metallic clicking sounds as their hammer’s fell onto empty cylinders. Acrid blue smoke hung in the air as the doctor leaned back against the wall, breathing deeply as he tried to calm his nerves.
“Do you fools have any idea what’s behind those doors? Well, do you?”
The curly haired man didn’t reply, he just peered through the smoke down into the basement as a billowing cloud of dust formed. The older man lowered his gun slowly and looked at Dr. Oberth. “We were briefed,” he said coolly, “but which do you think is more important right now? Whatever you have behind those doors,” he gestured down the steps with his head, “or the obvious security breach?”
“There is nowhere to escape down that way. Besides, it was only two youths,” the doctor said, bristling at the unspoken suggestion but trying to remain professional, “perhaps instead of foolishly shooting them, you might be kind enough to simply acquire them for me. 426 is closer than I’ve ever been, but I’m still not there yet. I need more trial subjects and I haven’t received any new ones in over a year.” The doctor squinted down into the smoke and dust and said, “Those two will suffice for now.”
The supervisors both looked at each other and shrugged. Tucking his pistol back into his belt, the older man said, “I’m out of bullets anyway, and I’m not walk—”
The first scream was always the worst. Dr. Oberth was used to their chilling cries, but when other people heard them for the first time, their reaction was always the same. With thinly veiled satisfaction, the doctor watched as the color drained from the curly haired man’s face—so much so, that even his thin, arrogant lips turned a pale blue color. Instinctively, the man’s pudgy hands flew up to cover his ears and, as the piercing scream continued, his chubby jaw opened in horror.
Likewise protecting his hearing, the older man was only slightly more brave. As he stared down into the darkness, his light blue eyes narrowed suspiciously and he clenched his square jaw as though he were preparing for battle. When the first prototype attempted to break out of its cell with a forceful crash against the door however, the doctor could see the thin fabric of his trousers trembling like an autumn leaf on a tree.
As the hallway erupted into a thunderous cacophony, the two rookie supervisors looked at each other in wide-eyed terror. The older man turned to the doctor and shouted over the din, “Do something! Make them stop!”
Long since used to the blood-curdling screams, the doctor no longer covered his own ears against the noise. Tonight though, there was something different about their cries, and he ignored the pleas of the two frightened supervisors as he strained to listen more closely. He’d never heard them so angry before. Even earlier, when they had gotten worked up into a frenzy—no doubt the work of the thoughtless trespassers, he now thought to himself—he had been worried that he wouldn’t be able to calm them back down before it was too late.
Turning back to the supervisors, he said, “I’m not sure if I can. That’s what I’ve been trying to report to Headquarters for the past year; they’re too unstable. They won’t listen to me as they did before they were multi-genetic coded specimens.”
The curly haired supervisor stepped closer and began to yell over the noise. “Listen asshole, I don’t care—”
The older gentleman cut him off with a raised hand and looked at Dr. Oberth incredulously. “Why did you let them get so big, then? If they’re as unpredictable as you say they are, they should never have lived this long.”
Anger flashed across the doctor’s face. “’Let them’? Do you know the first thing about genetic splicing? The complications? Of course not, you’re just like everyone at the Consortium— all you want are the killing machines with no thought of how hard it is to create.”
“Watch it,” said the man with the gin-nose, threateningly.
“Or what,” the doctor asked, motioning down the hall, “you’ll replace me? I don’t think so. I’m the closest thing that the Consortium has to a solution.”
The two supervisors looked at each other and chuckled noiselessly amidst the booming. The older man smiled smugly and said, “Do you think this is the only KM lab? Hell, KM isn’t even the only program within the Consortium,” and both men laughed again.
Dr. Oberth tried to conceal his surprise. All this time, he’d been led to believe that his lab was leading the way for the Consortium’s clandestine operations. After tonight, he would demand a meeting with the directors to set things straight. “That may be true,” he said in an attempt to sooth his pride, “but if my prototypes manage to break through those cell doors—a possibility that grows increasingly likely by the minute—neither of you will live to see any other program.”
Without waiting for a response, the doctor walked past the men and stood on the first step. Peering down into the noisy hallway below, he yelled at the top of his voice, “Sei ruhig!” If the creatures heard him however, then they chose not to obey. Shaking his head, he turned back to the suits. “This might be bad,” he said with his heavy accent, not bothering to mask the worry on his face.
He tried several other commands—ones that had worked on different KM models at different stages of development—but the creatures appeared to be feeding off of each other’s hysteria. Each time one beast became louder and more aggressive, a sympathetic wave spread down the hallway as its siblings joined in with renewed rage. Standing there listening to the pattern of hostility, the answer suddenly clicked inside the doctor’s brain.
“That’s it,” he shouted as he turned back to the men. “They must be alone! All this time, how could I have missed it? The most vicious of the genetic material came from solitary hunters such as jaguars, vipers, and the like. But, between the human and wolf material, they’ve developed into pack creatures.”
His face dropped into a confused look, and he seemed to be talking out loud to himself. “But then, shouldn’t they see me as the leader? By all estimations, they should view me as their creator, their Papa.”
The greasy man broke his concentration, “Hey asshole, now isn’t the time. Shut these damn things up so we can go take care of those kids.”
“I told you, I’m not sure that I can.” He turned back to the hallway, desperately searching his memory for another command. “Du wirst mir gehorchen!” The words disappeared into the darkness, swallowed whole by the banging of doors and inhuman cries. At first there was no noticeable change. Then however—to all three men’s surprise—one by one the creatures began to settle, and the screeching and pounding faded in intensity. As Dr. Oberth peered down towards the intersection in the distance, a smile crossed his lips.
Elbert was desperate. If he were wrong, or ran out of time, then it was almost certain that he’d die down in the basement. Even worse, he was starting to wonder if Abner was actually looking for something to lower back down to him or not; he may have simply made it to the front door and never stopped. Elbert remembered the strange look on his face before they separated and he still wasn’t sure what to make of it.
That particular problem wasn’t important at the moment however, and so he pushed it out of his mind in order to focus on the task at hand. If he failed to buy him and Abner some time, the men would quickly figure out where they had escaped— and then simply hunt them down outside. Their only hope was if he could distract the men long enough for the boys disappear into the pitch-dark woods surrounding the depot where they couldn’t be followed. If by some miracle he made it back to the room and there was no sign of Abner… Well, I’ll just have to cross that bridge if I make it that far, he figured. As he raced back down the adjacent hallway, he could still hear the men talking at the stairs. There’s no turning back now, he said to himself.
Catching his breath after climbing to the top, Abner sat on the ground just outside of the chute. He was so relieved to finally be out from the basement that he was starting to almost believe it had all been just a bad dream. As he listened to the generator humming on the other side of the building, his eyes glanced over to the front door. Thinking about the men and the terrifying creatures downstairs, he imagined himself dashing through the door and out into the night—his leg muscles tensing at the thought. He wouldn’t stop running until he reached his truck. Then, he figured, he probably wouldn’t stop driving until he ran out of gas.
But, Elbert… he told himself, hoping again to forge the guilt into courage. He stood up and peered back down the chute but there was still no sign of his friend, only the dirty basement floor below. Sticking his head down the shaft to listen, all he could hear was the rushing of the air. How long has it been, he wondered, one minute? Two?
Still standing at the top of the stairs, the doctor had at last succeeded in calming the many different KM prototypes still housed in their cells. He sighed with a mixture of relief and satisfaction before turning to the Consortium men. “There, now would you quietly secure those two trespassers? You can wound them, but please do not make the wounds mortal, the process is… hard on the host.”
The men nodded and shrugged as if to say, “easy enough,” before slowly descending the stairs. At the bottom, the hallway looked longer than it had appeared from the top of the steps, and the man with the round nose patted his pockets to double-check that he was indeed out of extra bullets. Leading the way, the older gentleman slowly walked towards the sound of dripping water in the distance. When they had made it halfway down the hall, he stopped and looked back to Dr. Oberth.
“Up ahead, where does that hall to the right lead?”
Dr. Oberth just put a finger to his lips and slowly shook his head.
The white haired man looked confused, but he took the doctor’s answer to mean that it wouldn’t be a problem and resumed the slow advance. The trio had only gone a few more steps when the intersection in front of them erupted into a fiery inferno with a loud whoosh! The corridor went from murky darkness to blindingly bright as angry flames belched towards the men, licking at their shoes as they back-peddled and shouted at one another in a hasty retreat.
There had been less lantern fuel remaining in the can on the table than Elbert had hoped, but it was enough to temporarily stop the goons. As he listened to the men yelling in confusion—arguing with one another as they scrambled for safety—he raced back down the hall towards the storage room. Flinging the door open, he heart immediately dropped to not find anything protruding down from the chute in the ceiling.
Damn it, Abner, he thought as he ran over to the hole. Looking up at the depot roof above, he called out as loud as he could. “Abner! Abner! Hurry up! Where are you?” The door was still open and—as smoke began to seep into the room—he could see the flames in the distance. Despite the initial blaze, the flames now were quickly dying. He started shouting frantically up into the chute for Abner, hearing the panic in his own voice.
Stopping to cough from the smoke, he glanced out into the hallway again and saw that the flames were almost entirely out. Maybe Abner ran after all, he thought to himself. Oddly though, rather than feeling abandoned or betrayed, as he would expect, he actually felt proud—almost defiant. Good. Go, Abner. At least these goons won’t get the both of us. Come back with an army and make the bastards pay.
When he finally accepted what needed done, in a sense, he felt relieved, as though the entire macabre game could end at last. As he crossed the room to the open door, it seemed as though it were someone else’s body moving, and he was merely spectating from afar. From his mentally detached position, he watched himself step through the doorway and out into the hall, illuminated by the wispy flames of the rapidly dying fire.
“Any other surprises we should know about, genius doctor?” The man with the gin-nose was sweating even more profusely now as the black smoke billowed overhead, escaping through the aging gaps and crevices in the basement ceiling.
Dr. Oberth was unimpressed, however. “They can’t have too many tricks left. Stop being a damned kleinkind and get back down there and get them,” he said as he jabbed a pale finger down the hall. The evening’s events had made him bolder than he would normally be towards the Consortium men, but there was too much at stake and he was losing patience. His work was not only vitally important, it was also incredibly dangerous. And tonight, everything seemed to be spiraling out of his control. I will not have another Berlin, he thought to himself bitterly.
Resuming the lead back down the hall, the white haired man had reached the half-way point when he stopped. Just around the corner ahead, he heard what sounded like a wet gurgling noise. The noise reminded him of something heavy being pressed down into runny mud. He craned his head to listen and realized that the noise was getting louder. Whatever it was, it was coming closer. He turned back and looked questioningly at Dr. Oberth. When he did, he saw that the doctor’s face had turned as white as a sheet as he stared in horror towards the empty intersection.
“What is that,” asked the shorter one, his voice starting to tremble. The doctor didn’t reply though, and only a weak whimper escaped his lips.
The man with the neat white hair turned back to the intersection just in time to see a massive clawed foot stomp down on the floor and smother the last tiny cluster of flames. As KM-426 stepped into view, his grotesque body seemed to fill the entire intersection. Dark globs of viscous fluid oozed to the ground in wet plops as it snapped its crude snout full of pointed teeth menacingly. Black, soulless eyes bore holes into the three men as 426 reached a deformed claw up to the light bulb and squeezed. There was a short popping sound, and then that end of the corridor went completely dark.
As the men started to backpedal in horror, 426’s heavy footfalls shook the ground as it started to advance closer. Reaching out to the sides with boney fingers, it scraped the wicked-looking nails against the walls as it slowly approached, digging in so deep that heavy chunks of brick crumbled to the ground. When it reached the first pair of opposing pocket-doors, the beast stopped. Then, without taking its soulless eyes from the men, 426 slashed down simultaneously with both claws and the heavy metal locks clattered to the floor.
The monster advanced a few more threatening steps towards the men before both doors flung open so hard the walls shook as the doors slammed into their recesses.
“Shit, shit, shit—” The greasy-haired supervisor tried to pull his partner in front of him, but the taller man resisted and shoved him back between himself and the monster. The pudgy man stumbled rearward a few steps before trying to lunge back into the safety of the group, but it was too late.
With speed that seemed impossible for a creature of its size, 426 darted forward and wrapped a boney claw around the curly-haired head before jerking him back. The man tried to scream but the creature squeezed his skull so quick and powerfully that his neck twisted sideways as his lower jawbone snapped neatly in half with a sharp cracking sound.
The short man’s legs kicked briefly and then went limp as he hung there, suspended in the air by the 426’s grasp. The beast reached out and grabbed ahold of the man’s arm, and there was a quick blur of movement accompanied by a wet popping sound as the limb was torn clean from the torso. While a thick stream of blood poured from the gapping socket, 426 briefly regarded the appendage before tossing the limb over a shoulder to the eagerly awaiting siblings. When it landed on the floor with a limp thud, the two immediately snarled and snapped at each other over the bloody limb.
When the monster dropped the greasy man’s lifeless body to the floor, his older colleague decided to go out fighting. Brandishing his empty pistol by the barrel like a club, he charged towards the waiting beast. Dr. Oberth knew that it was a foolishly suicidal move but even if he had been able to speak—which he was too scared to do—his scientific curiosity wanted to see how 426 would react; he wasn’t disappointed.
Before he even managed to get within striking distance, there was another murky blur of movement and, like a magic trick, the older man was suddenly being restrained by the arms by the other two beasts. When he realized what was happening, the man looked up at 426 as if to plead for his life, but before he could speak, both arms were simultaneously torn from his body. Bright crimson fountains of blood spurted onto the dusty walls as he finally began to scream, standing there before the three monsters like an armless Greek statue.
426 regarded the screaming human quizzically for a second and then reached out and wrapped a massive claw around the man’s face. As the claw quickly squeezed tight, the screaming stopped and spongy gray matter burst all over the beast’s grotesque hairy body.
Dr. Oberth had been slowly retreating further back the hall, making it all the way to the stairs. When the older man’s headless corpse fell to the floor with a sickening thud though, he knew there was no use. All three creatures began advancing towards him, their black eyes fixated on his every move. As it passed each door, 426 swatted the locks away as if they were mere playthings. Soon, amidst the bodies of the Consortium men and shattered locks, the hallway was filling with different prototypes.
Some of the early versions had slightly longer snouts, some shorter. Several of them, the result of a particularly misguided winter project, had a single hooked talon for hands. One especially unpleasant KM prototype was even engineered with hooved feet, the same hooves that were at that very moment clunking through the blood on the basement floor as they drew nearer to the doctor.
Elbert made it back to the storage room and slammed the door shut behind him. Unstrapping KM-426 had been the scariest thing that he’d ever done in his life, but he somehow got the feeling that the monster had a bigger bone to pick with the men in the hall than with him and Abner. He’d gambled his life on a gut-instinct that he couldn’t explain. Now though, if he couldn’t find a way up the chute and away from the depot, he was certain that he’d be next when 426 was done with the others.
He raced back over to the hole in the ceiling but there was still no sign of Abner. Desperate, he tried calling back up to him but there was still no reply. He thought he heard a short scream in the hallway, but he didn’t dare to investigate. Suddenly, everything got eerily quiet, and the only sound was his own heartbeat thumping loudly in his chest. He sensed someone or something standing on the other side of the door. Even though he couldn’t see it or hear it, he knew it was there.
Slowly, he took a step towards the closed door, half expecting it to fly open at any second. As he watched the handle, it almost looked as though it were turning, ever so slightly. He swallowed hard, ready to accept whatever came through with as much courage as a frightened and exhausted boy could muster.
Just then, from behind, a loud clanging shattered the silence as a heavy wooden post slammed into the floor from the chute above. On the other side of the door, there was a startled shuffling sound, and the handle stopped turning.
Elbert didn’t waste any time. Running over to the thick post, he jumped up and grabbed ahold of it close to the ceiling. Without looking back at the door, he scrambled up as quickly as possible, kicking little bits of rotten wood down into the empty room.
Upstairs on the main level of the building, as him and Abner hurried to reach the front door, they could hear the blood-curdling screams in the foreign language over the running generator. Even though it was impossible to know what the tall man with the lantern had been shouting, to Elbert the cries sounded more heartbroken than anything.
Abner and Elbert sat in the back of the sheriff deputy’s patrol car sipping from cold bottles of Coca-Cola. In the warmth of the morning sunlight, Sigbee patrolmen were scouring the empty depot property, calling out to each other from the bushes and dilapidated old buildings. When the boys had recounted their story from the night before, Sheriff DeKalb had acted more than a little disbelieving, but he did agree to check it out when the sun came up. Now however, Elbert was starting to feel foolish and crazy: they should have found something by now.
The sheriff finished his conversation with one of his men and wiped the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief before walking back over to the patrol car with the boys inside. “My guys have searched over the whole place. There’s clearly been a fire down in the basement, just like you boys said, but that’s pretty much it. We did find some trash and broken bottles, so my guess is that it was just some other kids, out here having a good time away from the grown-ups. Hell, they probably didn’t even know y’all were out here too.”
Part of Elbert had been expecting this, and he had already stopped listening. He knew it wasn’t their imagination or the night playing tricks on them. Shaking his head, he just dropped his eyes and waited for the sheriff to be through. Before he looked up though, his eye caught something unusual.
Abner had never liked his sincerity to be questioned, and Elbert could tell that he was getting irritated. “Look, sheriff, I know what we saw, I know who—”
Elbert cut him off sharply. “Abner— just, never mind. It’s probably like the sheriff said, we just got confused is all,” he said dismissively. He looked up at the sheriff, using his hand to shield his eyes from the sun. “It was dark and windy, sheriff. Seeing it all in the daylight, everything looks a lot more normal than it did. I’m real sorry for dragging your guys out here.”
There had been no wind the night before, but the sheriff simply looked at Elbert and smiled with satisfaction. “Now that’s better. You boys wouldn’t be the first kids to think they stumbled onto something nefarious while out exploring this town’s history. Truth be told, though, the imagination is far scarier than the things that go bump in the night. I’ll have Deputy Sanders give you boys a ride home. And in the future, remember, this is no place for kids to be messing around. It’s too dangerous out here.” With that, the sheriff slapped the top of the patrol car and adjusted his wide-brimmed hat. As the deputy’s car pulled away, the sunbaked gravel crunching underneath the tires, Elbert forced himself not to look down at the crimson blood on the sheriff’s shoes.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I truly hoped you enjoyed reading this story half as much as I enjoyed writing it. Next week: Some short-cuts can take a lifetime: The premiere of “State Road.” And, as always, don’t forget to find The Written Revolt© on Instagram. Thank you again to all of my readers and supporters around the world!
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