This story is by Luis A.J. and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Helen returned from today’s scavenge run.
She entered the lab dragging Billy inside, while Lu and Mark covered her rear. They flipped the side-switch to close the steel doors behind them and made sure they weren’t followed.
It was quiet.
Helen didn’t stop; she ran towards the center of the room, turned on the monitor and placed Billy in front of it. The screen read “Connecting to Dr. Manning…” for a few seconds before it beeped and displayed a battered down old scientist with a gray beard.
“How did the expedition go this time?”
Helen was trying hard to stop Billy’s bleeding. “Not good Doctor, Billy got clawed and I can’t stop the blood.”
“I see,” he said. “how many antidotes do you have left?”
“We had two, but Billy dropped his and Mark has the other one.”
“Well, that’s a problem,” he said. “If Mark doesn’t give you his soon, the boy will turn and you’ll have an even bigger problem on your hands.”
“I know that Doc but if we do that we won’t have any antidotes left.”
Dr. Manning ran his fingers along his beard in thought. “I guess you’ll have to—”
“I know… But, I just can’t do it.”
“The thing is Helen, you must.”
Lu and Mark watched as Helen placed Billy’s deceased body in the incinerator, showing tears in her eyes—he was, after all, her scavenge partner. They were all that remained from the initial five teams of two, and the fewer numbers only made it harder to scavenge.
Mark gripped his antidote firmly inside his pocket. “You made the right call.”
Helen looked up at him with cold eyes. “It’s not like I had any other choice.”
Lu rolled her eyes and walked past Helen to close the lid. She looked back at them and took their silence as consent; she turned on the incinerator and walked to her corner closing a curtain behind her that read “Do not annoy”.
Mark walked towards Helen and knelt beside her. “Are we gonna talk about it?”
“Talk about what? About how we just let Billy die for nothing?”
“It was the right call. He was past saving, we couldn’t give him the only antidote. It would’ve forced us to scavenge twice as much just to keep him alive and you know it.”
“I would’ve gladly done it for him.” She said.
“To be honest, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t ‘gladly’ do it for either of us.”
Helen looked away and towards the incinerator. “Maybe you’re right.”
The supplies they had, if managed correctly, could last them four to five days. Dr. Manning told them that they should make an expedition for the sole purpose of retrieving the antidote Billy dropped. After a brief discussion, it was decided that they would do the run in two days and, if possible, go out of their way for some supplies.
For their scavenge runs, they wore gas masks to protect themselves from the violet gas that filled the corridors, and they had to move quietly—noise would attract the beast. None of them had seen the monster up close, but they had glimpsed parts of it: the long muzzle, its big red eyes, and its sharp claws for nails.
They drew straws to decide who would be Team Leader. Lu won.
They opened the doors and crept through the corridors—months of scavenging helped them know their way around. The antidote Billy dropped was last seen close to the supply rooms but none of them got a good look where. They moved like trained soldiers—light on their feet and ready for anything. As they went further out, the gas got thicker, making it harder for them to see. Lu signaled for Mark to scout the area ahead. She watched as he vanished into the gas, and waited for his go-ahead.
Mark was taking too long.
Worried, the girls moved into the denser gas. Helen was behind Lu keeping an eye on their surroundings when a hand grabbed her from the back and yanked her to the side. It was Mark. He raised his index finger in a shushing manner and stood still. Helen saw as Lu—unaware of what was happening—kept moving towards a pair of red lights above her. As she disappeared into the thick gas, the pair of lights rushed her. All Helen heard was a thud on the wall, followed by the sound of a body being dragged away.
Helen and Mark didn’t move until they knew it was safe. They had a mute discussion and decided to go after Lu.
Helen took the lead. Each stood at their own side of the corridor, making sure they could stay in visible range of the other. The corridor opened to a hall that connected to all other corridors. Mark joined Helen and they bordered the hall keeping their backs to the wall. Something made the gas swirl in front of them; they stopped. Helen heard steps and growling in front of them.
At the entry to the next corridor, there lay a supply bag. Mark was the first to see it and rushed after it. Helen signaled for him to stop but he didn’t notice. As he was about to reach the bag, a sound of glass breaking echoed throughout the hall.
Helen got close enough to see what caused the noise and saw the crushed antidote vial under his shoes.
Mark turned to face Helen. “I’m sorr—” Claws—the size of a paddle blade—struck him on the back, pushing him to the wall next to her, making him cough blood inside his gas mask. “Please… help.”
Helen signaled him to keep quiet and helped him up. She scanned the gas-filled hall and noticed a big white light coming from the other side. Assisting Mark to move, she crossed the hall. Growling noises echoed, mixed with flasks breaking and metals clanking. The light turned out to be a wide-open room. She caught a glimpse at the pair of shiny red eyes next to her before going in. The beast struck her on the side, cracking her ribs and launching them into the room. Through the pain, she stood up and closed the door, leaving the Beast outside.
Mark’s body began spasming. “Quick… give… me… antidote.” Helen took off his gas mask and started to remove hers as well.
“Stop…” said a faint voice from her side. It was Lu, also injured. “If you take your mask off”—cough—”you’ll start hallucinating.”
Helen hadn’t noticed, but the gas from outside was filtering in from a hole in the wall.
“It’s how he makes you see the monster”—cough, cough—”he’s been playing with us this whole time.”
“Who!?” Helen asked. “Who are you talking about?!” Lu pointed in Mark’s direction before the flickering light in her eyes faded as she drew her last breath. “Lu!” Helen searched for the antidote in Marks vest and crawled away from him.
“Wha… you… doing?” Mark struggled with each breath. “Give… me… antidote.”
“What did Lu mean?” she said.
Mark was as confused as her. “Wha… talk… about?” he muttered. “Anti… plea—” He spat blood once more and laid still, not showing any signs of moving ever again.
In all the commotion Helen hadn’t realized that someone had entered the room. “I think,” a voice said. “Dear Lu intended to point at me.”
Helen turned towards the familiar voice. “Dr. Manning?”
“Hi Helen,” he said, taking off his own gas mask–it had bright red visors and a long muzzle. “Nice to finally meet you in person. The last one standing.” He carefully placed a steel cane chained to a steel claw on the table.
“This ‘test’ if you will, was designed to find the most formidable participant from each Laboratory and prepare them for scavenging runs in the outside world.”
“What about the other kids?”
“Oh, no need to worry. They are very much alive.”
“Well we do beat them up a bit, but they are just sent into a sort of coma.”
“What about the ones we’ve burned in the incinerator?”
“It’s all special effects, no need to worry. Your ‘incinerator’ connects to this lab; after you thought you burned the bodies and left, I simply opened the hatch from this side to collect them.”
“Sick is what you’ll experience outside these walls.”
“Where are the others?”
“At the center of this facility.”
Helen stood up, took off her mask, and walked towards Dr. Manning. “Show me.”
“I’m afraid I can’t—” Helen bashed his head (continuously) with her gas mask, inhaling purple gas as she did; finally seeing him for what he really was—a monster.
Helen dragged Mark and Lu out of the room and locked the beast inside. She moved them to the supply room, where she would wait for them to wake up. They were going to need lots of supplies when they rescued everyone else.