Photograph Credit: Pixabay.com
The grinding, crunching, and squealing of a machine hard at work nearly burst her eardrums. Pain. Excruciating pain surged through her body in growing waves and a thick inky darkness overwhelmed her vision. How could she be experiencing such agonizing torture and still live? In fact, was she even still alive? These treacherous thoughts briefly flitted through what shaky consciousness remained as all other senses were being torn to thin shreds.
Relief coursed through her body when the crushing sounds echoing around her abruptly cutoff. That single good feeling was short-lived, wrenched away, replaced by the chilling realization of being unable to open her eyes. Her lips parted to scream her horror and she was surprised when no sound came forth. A cold, hard lump grew in the pit of her stomach, adding nausea to her already overwhelmed system.
‘What the hell is going on?!’ pierced through her foggy mind. ‘Where am I? What happened? Why can’t I remember anything?’ quickly chased the first thought. Unspoken words continued to reverberate through her mind, one tumbling after the other, creating a chaotic squall that threatened to consume her. The furious interrogation came crashing to a halt as another more haunting question rang loudly in her head.
‘Who am I?’
Sounds of approaching footsteps interrupted her jumbled thoughts, not allowing her to dwell further on those last sickening words. She forced herself to remain still, feeling her stomach tighten, contorting with nausea. Her heart racing faster threatened to explode in its frenzied pace while she listened to the impending step draw near. If she could disappear that instant, she knew she would do so. She would do anything to avoid feeling like her body was being ripped apart once more.
A quiet stillness enveloped the vicinity surrounding her as the unknown entity reached their destination. She nearly released her bladder when whoever it was started mumbling to themselves and attempted to calm herself. She strained to make out what the low harsh voice was saying. A soft click punctuated the eerie grumbles and a few seconds later the whir of the machine started to echo startling her. The grinding noises increased in tempo and fear gripped her heart again, forcing her to realize her torture was not yet over. She wondered one last time, why it was she could not scream, thinking through the unbearable haze that, if she could it might give her some release.
Humming under their breath, her captor continued their heinous assault on her form, each new pain tormenting her. The clicking and grinding continued for what felt like eons to her and, every so often, when she felt like she could let herself drift off into the dark seducing abyss, the sound of her torturer chuckling would snap her back to reality. She wished that she would cease to exist from the agony pounding between her head and feet, every inch resounding with the all-consuming pain. She was sure she and the machine were becoming one and was extremely surprised and slightly dismayed when it finally stopped. She considered what was to come next while the ear-shattering noises dissipated, and the quiet whir of the contraption ceased, powering down.
She wasn’t sure how long she floated in that dark welcoming silence while flashes of half-made memories jumped up to beckon her. She was comforted by what she saw. A warm smile, strong arms that lifted a laughing child, a mother softly whispering a lullaby caressed her mind in a warm, soothing embrace. ‘Who are these people?’ slipped in uninvited, wrapping itself around her mind, choking off the peaceful contemplation. She let the warm feelings evaporate as she swam back up the line of questions already demanding answers.
A clanking bang echoed around her and she felt herself falling into a heap on the damp and cold floor. She felt a presence close at hand and the loud breathy grunt close by fluttered the hair near her ear. She shivered, a chill running up her spine as the overwhelming scent of death and decay reached her nose. She started to gag and was about to empty everything in her stomach when a quick hard prod to her ribs made her choke on her own bile. Another heated grunt issued forth from whatever creature was nearby and she was roughly shoved back to sit against a wall. Her stomach threatened to regurgitate again when something spongy and dripping wet slid over her face, coating her eyes with its slime. The appendage stroked down her cheek tracing her lips first before prying her mouth open, forcing a thick liquid down her throat. It was rotting her tongue out of her mouth she was sure of it. Whatever it was, the taste caused her to almost vomit it back up.
Pushing herself to her knees, she heaved, wanting to rid herself of the contents causing her so much discomfort. Just as she was about to succeed in her attempt, the same damp and malleable thing slapped over her mouth trying to push her back down to the ground. A startled grumble reached her ears and, fighting wildly to free herself, her hands flew up to scratch at her attacker. She felt her stomach squeeze in fear, realizing she had no clothes on and breaking out in a cold sweat, she twisted her body, writhing to escape the warm slick appendage that held her in place. She didn’t want to know what other tortures were being conceived by her captor.
Out of nowhere, a hard thump to her temple caused flashes to dot her eyes. Falling back limp, she fought to remain from slipping into the alluring embrace of nothingness once again. She could barely make out the sounds of something being dropped near at hand, accompanied by an angry grunt and a heavy gait retreating past the ringing in her ears. She dared not move, wondering if her unknown assailant would return as she slowly recovered. The aching in her head held her in place for what felt like hours to her and, during this time she let her mind begin to wander again. Question after question rolled past one another. Who was she? Where was she? What was that thing? Why was she being held here? She had to know.
Sluggishly, she lifted one eyelid open and was surprised to see she could make out the shape of the room she was in. Looking to the ground nearby, she searched for the lump of the thing the unknown entity had dropped. Reaching forward, her fingers brushed rough fabric and pulled it closer to her. She was curious when she saw it was a brown stained bag and grew even more perplexed upon opening it, peering in with bleary eyes at the contents within.
‘Why would they give me a flashlight, a gun, and what is that? A knife?’
Using the nearby wall for leverage, she managed to get herself into a standing position, bag in hand. She slipped the long rope that made up the handle around her neck and over her shoulder. Reaching inside she pulled the flashlight out, silently hoping that it would turn on. A relieved sigh escaped her lips as the thin beam of light flashed on, illuminating her surroundings. She squinted barely able to see, her eyes watering with her effort to focus. Pushing off from the wall she slid her feet across the smooth uneven surface of the floor beneath and stumbled forward slowly.
She paused before the only hallway leading out and glancing back, shined the light around taking in the small room. She blinked her eyes, trying to clear the blurriness that persisted and noticed what appeared to be a table with raised sides, forming a trough, in the middle of the chamber. A chute extending from the ceiling above it dripped something unknown and she was not curious enough to shuffle back to inspect it closer. She heard a machine kick on and a red chunky liquid spewed out of the gaping hole, filling the boxed in area below it. Revulsion churned her already queasy stomach and turning quickly she entered the darkness ahead of her leaving the room behind.
She was unsure of how long she had wandered down the dark hallway when she noticed her eyesight had cleared, allowing her to inspect her surroundings better. The halls were coarse and the ground slightly uneven, appearing to have been carved straight from the surrounding bedrock. She let her fingers trail over the soft, cool stone, seeking to draw strength from the hard walls themselves. Unwanted questions popped into her head while she traversed the murky passage.
‘What did I do to deserve this? Was I really that horrible? If I wasn’t, then why I am here? Does this fucking hallway have an end? Wait, what was that?’
Her feet came to a halt as a faint noise floated out of the darkness, her heart flipping under her breast. Casting her light around, she saw the stone hallway open to the right up ahead and could hear a soft slurping noise. She quickly backed up against the wall and shakily turned her flashlight towards the ground. She took her free hand and pushed hard against the cold lump still sitting in her stomach while she bit her bottom lip debating on what to do.
‘I guess I should check out that gun and why does my shoulder itch?’ A small spot had started to irritate her and reaching up, she scratched her nails across the area, temporarily relieving it. Pinning the flashlight between her chin and shoulder, she slipped her hand into the bag hanging around her and grew excited when her fingers brushed the gun. She raised the gun up into the light, inspecting it. Noticing no obvious safety, she pressed the release to eject the magazine and brought it close to her face to quickly count the bullets.
‘Okay 16,’ resounded through her head. She flipped the magazine over peering close in the dim light trying to see the size of the ammo. ‘And it’s a 40 millimeter.’ Sliding it back in, she pulled back on the upper receiver and released it, around entering the chamber. Grabbing the flashlight, she overlaid her gun hand onto the wrist of the one holding it, so that anywhere she aimed, she had light. ‘Good to go.’ Feeling more confident she approached the intersection and leaned around the corner to peer down it.
Her eyes grew wide and all previous assurances she had fled upon seeing the grotesque shape of what appeared to be a quivering flesh colored mound. She quickly glanced down the hallway she had been heading before allowing her attention to focus fully on the horror she was seeing. Her eyes narrowed, barely making out sets of skewed broken limbs and hands poking out from the creature and she raised her flashlight in her own trembling one to shine into the corner the distracted fleshy mass was shoved into.
‘I shouldn’t have done that,’ she thought as the jumbled mass swung around to face her. She opened her mouth to scream and was surprised when, this time, her voice echoed off the surrounding walls, shocking her into silence.
Five sets of hollow eyes stared out at her from bulging heads that were attached to parts of separate arms and legs, reaching out to allow it a closer look at her. Every head was vastly different from the next in their appearance and she shivered, noticing that each blinking black orb was locked onto her inspecting her warily. She let her gaze quickly take in the clumps of hair still lingering on their skulls, greased down in its filth. The skin covering each one was stretched thin, making them appear starved. She almost felt pity for the poor creature before one of the mouths split open into an evil grin and she heard it speak in a gravelly voice that made the hairs on her arms and back of her neck stand on end.
Terror gripped her, freezing her in place when she saw the quaking blobs speed in her dim light, various appendages bursting forth to help it half walk, half shamble towards her. She curled her finger, tightening it around the trigger once and a loud bang echoed down the hallway. The bullet hit one of the weaving heads, punching a gaping hole into one of the eye sockets spewing clots of thick red-black gooey liquid down the remaining fragments of bone and flesh.
Briefly regretting her actions from the ringing in her ears, she kept her gaze locked onto the being and saw the thin slits in the four remaining thin faces peel open howling their fury. The creature quickened its pace, crooked limbs flashing and its body rippling with each movement in its hurry to reach her. Swallowing hard, attempting to ease her still nauseous stomach, she took aim and pulled the trigger again, missing her target. She squeezed three more times, each bullet hitting the jiggling being, blood oozing from each new wound, and she was dismayed to see its headlong momentum increase instead. She turned to flee, her feet slapping against the floor mingled with the enraged screams behind her and glancing back shining her light, she shivered to see it keeping up.
She forced her attention forward, focusing on the rhythm of her breathing, trying in vain to block out her distorted emotions. Glancing behind her, her heart leaped to her throat and she urged herself to quicken her pace pulling further ahead. Noticing she had managed to put some distance between her and the horrifying pursuer she spun around facing the advancing monstrous mass again. She centered her dimming beam of light on it took aim, squeezing her finger around the trigger once.
She was rewarded with the shrieking of only three heads this time and a surge of excitement raced through her as she thought to herself, “I can do this!’ She fired twice more, her flashlight showing she had blown the jaw of one of the heads off, but the eyes still blinked at her light. She fired again and whatever life that had been there was gone. The two-remaining roared in their anger and she was surprised to see the one that had spoken had remained unscathed. Their eyes were mere slits as they crept closer, anger contorting their faces into grotesque masks.
“We will not go through again!” it shouted at her and a small voice joined it in agreement, “Yes, we cannot be disgraced again.” The patchwork of body parts lurched towards her closing the gap quickly, desperate to reach her. She panicked and let loose five more bullets in quick succession, each barely missing the heads as she turned to run down the dark hallway again.
‘You can’t miss now, you only have two shots left you dumb bitch!’ rang through her mind. She had been counting and was positive she had not missed one. Taking a deep breath, she swung around and planted her feet firmly, raising the gun and flashlight again, to face the gelatinous quivering mound of flesh one last time.
Rivers of bloody sludge ran down its appalling form, coating the floor beneath it as it advanced towards her. Chunks of bone and brain dropped from the skulls that were partially blown open each time it moved and sickly arms reached out to smear the walls, pulling itself closer. The head that had first spoken extended from a twisting limb attached to its body. Its voice was eager. “You won’t, it’s my turn,” it whispered, before lunging again at her. She fired once at the other head, just as it opened its mouth to join in taunting her and was relieved to see the bullet find its mark. Taking quick aim at the other one, she fired.
“Oh no,” quietly slipped from her lips as she saw she had missed. The creatures last mouth split into an expectant grin. She went to back up, her foot hitting an uneven portion in the floor and fell back, the gun and flashlight flying from her hands. Her scream echoed down the tunnel when she felt a cold hand grasp her ankle pulling her closer.
‘I can’t die, not after this! Damn it, why did I panic!’ She fought against the limbs trying to reach her neck. She could hear the last head panting and whispering excitedly, saliva and blood dripping from its face, landing on hers. She felt fingers grasp her neck, slowly tightening, as the voice spoke once more, “Yes, yes, it is my turn now. I will not go back through again, I won’t! I get to join them now.” She felt its grip start to cut off her air supply, a few tears slipping down her cheeks.
Suddenly recalling the bag that she had slung over her shoulder, she remembered that there was one item left inside its roughened cloth. She quickly reached in, slicing her finger as she grabbed the forgotten knife. The pain was welcomed as it gave her the jolt of adrenaline needed, and she gripped the knife more firmly in one hand, positive she could finish off the hideous gore-spattered blob. She reached up to place her other hand on the side of the remaining head that hovered over hers in the dark breathing its stench down onto her. She thrust as hard as she could, the knife sinking into the skull with a sickening pop, killing it instantly. Fighting to remain calm, hot tears poured down her face and she threw the knife away into the darkness, barely hearing it clatter as it hit the ground.
The crushing dead weight of the malformed creature was an unwelcome reminder that she was not yet safe. Pulling herself together, she squirmed her way out from under the suffocating mass and when she had all her limbs free, she sat up. She reached out for the flashlight slowly and her fingers paused mere inches from it when she noticed a dim light in the direction she had been headed. Gasping, her heart skipped a beat and she quietly hoped that this would be the exit out of this nightmare.
Trembling gently, she managed to get herself standing up and her knees threatened to buckle under her exhaustion. Feeling all the bruises covering her body she groaned rubbing at the spot on her shoulder that had begun to itch again and stumbled towards the light, flashlight forgotten. The single bright ray illuminated the end of the tunnel and her eyes watered with each agonizing step she took, drawing closer to the source. She was briefly blinded when she stumbled out onto a raised platform and raising her arms up, she shielded her eyes.
A thunderous cheer erupted from beyond the bright lights and blinking furiously, wiping teary eyes, she tried to see past the blinding beams. Horror filled her, and she felt her bladder finally release, the warm liquid sliding down her legs to form a puddle between her feet when she was finally able to see those who cheered so vigorously. Thousands of fleshy creatures like the one she had encountered before were writhing and flailing their limbs in excitement and had mouths split open howling in pleasure. Thousands of eyes were locked onto her, glazed in their ecstasy as bodies pressed against one another in the crowd. Her horror switched to dread as she felt something touch her shoulder. Tearing her gaze away from the hideous forms shrieking their delight in the distance, she glanced at what it was.
She saw a hand laying there, yet, it was not like hers. The fingers were much longer and slimmer with sharp hooked nails, and casting her gaze up the arm connected, she noticed pink healing scars connecting the pieces. Following the patchworked limb to its origin, she saw it poking up over the shoulder that had been bugging her. She felt a cold pit grow in her stomach as the itching started up again. A head appeared, extending from a second limb attached to the lower back part of her shoulder, and a grin split its face. Black eyes peered into hers and she faintly noticed that its teeth were sharp points as it said, “We are the winner.”