Sitting in the car was difficult with so many objects protruding from me, and far from comfortable. Jake dropped us about two miles from the first guard post.
We slid into the shadow of the tree line and ran through the knee-high grass that followed the road. The stench of coagulated blood permeated the air. It was difficult to tell whether it lingered on the surrounding environment from the day of our escape or if it was fresh… well, as fresh as coagulated blood could be, in any case. We moved carefully, following the growing smell.
It didn’t take long to come across the source of the rotting scent. One of the creatures lay beneath a gnarled old oak, the head rested half a dozen feet from the body. I continued past with a grimace and led the way toward the looming fence of the laboratory’s compound.
Nothing alerted us to any danger; no noise or scent. There weren’t even any nocturnal animals scurrying around. In no time at all we were at the edge of the trees, peering out from the cover of the foliage.
The looming shadow of the building seemed to creep over me. A shiver danced along my spine. Memories flitted in front of my eyes, causing rage to kindle in my chest. If I had my way, the building would be shattered piece by piece then burned to the ground.
The tall chain-link fence had been ripped from the tall poles at some points and wrenched from the ground at others. Some gaps were large enough for a car to drive through.
The building had been damaged more than we’d realized at the time of our escape. One of the walls and a huge portion of the roof had caved in. There were no signs of life. The moon reflected off the shattered glass that littered the grass; no children would ever play there again if I had anything to do with it.
We had been so close. So near. We could have been free—we never would have laid eyes on this place again. I couldn’t help but feel like we’d never be free to live our own lives.
The building was still. Barely any sound whispered from the crumbling structure, just some sort of static from a machine that still ran; it made me strangely claustrophobic. Our eyes caught and I knew exactly what Mouse was thinking, it matched my own thoughts: we were going in.
I drew my gun and, like in the laser tag maze, I went first. I ran in a half crouch across the wide expanse of grass. We’d approached the clinic from behind and I was able to take shelter in the shadow of the little cottage set in the very corner of the compound. I reached the shadow and dropped low. I swept my gun from one side to the other, searching for any sign of movement.
I couldn’t hear anyone and I hadn’t seen anyone either. On my signal, Mouse sprinted after me.
We crawled under the fence, staying low in the shadows. From the cottage we took turns sprinting for the protection of the crumbling walls.
We hadn’t expected them to completely abandon the labs. Mouse and I picked our way over the rubble of the fallen wall. She pointed up, a questioning expression on her face. We had never been past the first floor; the second and third floors had been off limits. I nodded but signaled that I thought we should go downstairs first.
I activated the little bulbs of my headlamp. My eyes were good but I needed some amount of light to distinguish the outlines of different shadows and where they merged with others. Brightness illuminated our surroundings, exposing just how decrepit the labs had become.
The stench of rotten creatures lingered in the air, hidden from the wind that would have dispersed it by the walls that still stood. Blood splattered the walls, despite the fact someone had attempted to wipe it clean.
It wasn’t until we were a significant distance into the labs that I realized I was wrong. We came to an area of wall where blood had been sprayed. In the remaining brown stain were two hand prints and in between those there were the marks I’d assumed to be someone’s half-hearted attempt at cleaning. It looked like someone had tried to lick the blood from the wall.
I swallowed back the vomit forcing itself upwards. I couldn’t contain the shudder that shook my body. We shouldn’t be here.
The stairs had caved in during the quake, or perhaps at some point after. Either way, they were out of the question. We couldn’t use the elevators either. One lay crushed at the bottom of its shaft and the other was jammed. We couldn’t even force open the doors. The only way down was to descend through the shaft housing the shattered metal box below.
I tested the last cable hanging from somewhere above us. It held, and nothing fell on me—both good signs. I gripped it tightly in my right hand, twisting the metal rope around my knuckles as I lowered my body into the shaft. Hand over hand I repeated the motion all the way to the bottom. Mouse followed my lead, climbing onto the cable when there was space for her above me.
It was a quick descent, but I had to admit, my arm protested a little as I disengaged at the bottom. My gun was in my hand again the instant my feet touched the ground. I stretched it across my body, sweeping the cavern in front of me.
My eyes widened and I couldn’t suppress the sound of surprise that slipped from my lips.