Carl wrings his hands around the cold shaft of metal. The weight of the pipe comforts him and he draws renewed strength from the sturdy cylinder. He wills his feet to inch forward along the floor, fighting with each step against the paralysing fear that threatens to engulf him.
'Move… move… move...' The rhythmic mantra he chants in his head, a point of focus in the darkness. He prises one hand from the pipe to wipe away the sweat that gullies down his face, tickling his skin and stinging as it pools into his eyes. He stretches out his hand; searching blindly for the wall he knows ought to be beside him. Sweat-slicked fingers glide over the flat panels of the bulkhead and again he finds consolation in the permanence of the structure.
The only sounds to reach his ears were the rustle of his uniform and the scuffing of his boots on the grating beneath him. Carl realises he has been holding his breath to keep quiet, in the eerie silence his heavy respirations had echoed like a clarion call. He inhales deeply of the stale air and exhales slowly, trying to breathe out the tension in his body, but even his lungs quiver with dread.
The ever-present hum of machinery and electrics that he has grown so accustomed to is gone. He could almost believe he was the only one left alive, but he knows well enough there are others lurking somewhere. Whether or not they are living he can't say for certain, but they are out there, searching for him. His boots crunch over something as he creeps slowly down the corridor. His heart skips a beat as he takes another tentative step and finds more of the same.
'The crushed bones of my fallen comrades!' Carl fights against the irrational fear that bullets through his brain. With timorous hands he scratches at the stubble on his chin that itches with dry sweat. Carl concludes logically that the broken fragments beneath his feet must be the lights that had blown out.
Those creatures were responsible for the complete loss of power. Carl's attempts to bring vital systems back online had resulted in a massive energy surge, which not only failed to restore power, but knocked out the emergency systems in several sectors. The panel he had been working at had blown up in his face and he was lucky to have escaped with minor scratches and singed eyebrows. Lucky to escape with his life at all as the interference had been a beacon to his enemies. Carl had rushed blindly into the darkened warren of corridors, shaking his pursuers from his trail but becoming lost in the gloomy maze.
How long had it been since then? He doesn't know anymore. At first he had kept count of the minutes in his head, another game designed to help him keep hold of his sanity. But he kept losing count and after a while it just seemed pointless. So he focuses on keeping himself moving, one step at a time, and one foot in front of the other.
'One…two…three…' He counts his paces silently, anything to keep his mind from wandering, to not think about the creatures that are after him. To not give into the fear that threatens to reduce him to a quivering wreck.
He rounds a bend and in the distance, to his unbelieving eyes, he sees blessed light. Carl is not foolish enough to believe it is daylight, but if he can see the panels on the wall more clearly he can garner his location and seek the right way out. Cautiously he moves toward the end of the corridor, the hum of a portable generator reaching his straining ears. It looks like someone has setup a temporary work station, with lamps and monitors running off the generator. Carl chews at his lip with uncertainty, the light would be as attractive to his pursuers and perhaps they lay in wait for him in the darkness beyond the intersection.
'If I give up, I'm as good as dead', He decided at length and he creeps forward cautiously, '…sixteen…seventeen….' As his eyes adjust to the bright light, he can see past to the pulsing red glow of the emergency lights in the corridors beyond. Carl's stomach somersaults, he is almost free of the blackout.
'Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven.' His legs jerk forward with a sudden burst of hope, his pace increasing.
Steel rings against steel, the clang echoing down the hall behind him. Carl jumps at the sudden noise and presses himself flat against the wall. He tries to be as still and quiet as possible but he cannot halt the trembling in his limbs. Gulping back a whimper he strains to hear any other warning of pursuit. He waits in the dark until he is sure there are no other sounds except the hum of the generator and the rush of pulsing blood in his ears.
Peeling himself from the bulkhead he resumes his slow plod toward the intersection, hands mercilessly throttling the pipe in his grasp. A cold wind wheezes down the corridor, blowing at his back and he shivers as it chills his sweat-drenched clothes. He fights the urge to run headlong toward the bright lights, to the mirage of safety.
'Thirty-three…thirty-four' Carl can feel the rise in temperature, even though it is slight. The sudden warmth makes the breeze at his back all the more chilling. He is clearing the blackout and entering into an area that still has emergency life support. The air is recycled and clean and he pauses to appreciate the difference to the sour, tainted air he has been breathing for so long.
Blazoned on the far wall in bold yellow lettering is the designation for this sector, "E-3". He is not far from the greenhouse then and through there he can make an easy escape outside. Even if they are watching all the exits, there is plenty of cover in the greenhouse. Cautiously he skirts around the perimeter of the lights trying to reach the next corridor.
'Forty-two, forty-two, forty-two, forty-two, forty….' The number stutters in his mind like a broken record, the digits beating a rhythm with his racing heart. Carl blinks back the tears and perspiration that blur his vision as he peers into the endless red vein before him. There are two of them moving in the shadows further down the corridor, blending together as they toil over some fiendish task. Pressing himself behind the entrance to the tunnel he cranes his neck so that his eyes peer around the edge, watching them work. A great drop of cold sweat trickles down between his shoulder blades, imitating the terror that slithers down his spine.
Carl has no choice, he will have to take the longer route to the greenhouse, but first he must cross over to the third and final corridor. In three steps he can make it past but can he do it without them seeing him?
'Courage Carl, you can do this, you have to move now.' Trying to reach a compromise between speed and silence, Carl almost trips over his own feet. He reaches the other side, but his heart sinks as a great inhuman wail erupts from the corridor. He wants to clap his hands over his ears and squeeze his eyes shut. Let them find him like that, huddled in the corner, weeping great sobs of fear. Luckily for him his legs react instinctively and he begins to run full pelt into the next corridor, the baying of the creatures and the terrible pounding of their feet upon the steel floors giving renewed speed to his flight.
Through countless twists and turns he passes and at every intersection it seems that more creatures add their howling to the hunt. He does not know how many now pursue him and he dares not imagine. The howling suddenly stops and though his lungs feel spent Carl does not slow; he fights to keep himself moving. It is probably some sort of trap to make him think he is safe. He won't stop until he has found a place to hide. He bursts onto the Concourse and a quick scan proves there is nothing lurking in the red gloom. Carl does not know why, but perhaps out of childhood instinct, he darts into the public toilets.
His boots squeak across the tiles as he slides into one of the cubicles and locks the door behind him with trembling hands. He sits on the toilet lid and draws his feet up so that no-one will observe them should they glance beneath the door.
Carl sighs with relief to see that he did not drop his pipe during his recent panic and he wedges it between his knees and chest as he attempts to dry his slick palms on his coveralls. He can feel his legs cramping as he sits in the dark cubicle but he will not move to stretch them. A solitary tap drips in the darkness, the relentless dribble pounds against his shredded nerves. He cradles his head in his hand, fingers tearing through his short-cropped hair.
"Why me?" He whimpers with trembling breath as tears fall freely from his eyes.
'Why-why-why?' Carl pummels his brow with the heel of his palm. 'You've got to stay calm... Why? Get a grip! Stay calm… I… don't… panic… wanna die.'
The door to the toilets slowly creaks open and Carl's head snaps up. His lower lip trembles as he listens to the steady dripping of the tap. He grips the pipe in one hand as the door oh-so-slowly creaks closed again, thumping softly as it settles in the frame.
Crouched on the toilet he knows that there has to be something in here with him. He almost screams when he hears the first slow shuffle against the ceramic, fresh tears squeezing from his eyes. Carl throws his hand over his head in helplessness before thrusting his fist into his mouth to silence any sobs.
Another slow shuffle, it lumbers cautiously through the toilets. He bites into the flesh of his fingers as the shambling moves closer to his cubicle.
'Can't scream, can't scream, can't scream!'
The creature moans and Carl throws out his hands to the cubicle walls to balance himself before he trembles from his perch. He waits in the dreadful silence that follows; it seems the monster has stopped moving. All he can hear is the awful tap and all he can feel is the pulse of his heartbeat as he shivers in the dank, dark cubicle.
'Well done Carl.' He berates himself despite his mindless terror. 'You've trapped yourself.'
The silence seems unending and he fights the urge to stand and peer over the top of the door. He shuffles uneasily on the seat, legs demanding to be stretched, body screaming to relax and brain unable to handle the suspense any longer.
A hand claps under the door, the impact resounding like thunder as mangled fingers and bloodied nails dig into the base of it. Carl cannot hold back his strangled scream as the door strains outward, the hinges protesting as a strong arm pulls the dead weight of the creature underneath. He screams again when he sees the bloated flesh and black, lifeless eyes turning to regard him.
Somewhere in the back of his brain he recognises the rotting, mangled features as those of Barry Remington, one of the tech boys. Barry's lipless mouth stretches open, emitting the foulest stench as his long teeth gnash loudly together in rapid succession. For a brief moment Carl is hypnotised by the mad chomping. His poor abused mind is ready to break, on the verge of crumbling at the sight of such horrors but as Barry begins to close on him he again reacts instinctively. His right arm swings down with all his pent up stress, the pipe smacking squarely into Barry's skull. Carl does not pause in his attack, even as he hears Barry's skull splitting open he strikes and strikes again, unrelenting. He vents his fear and hatred of these monsters, channelling it all into the heavy metal pipe. It rains down upon Barry, blow after blow until there is seemingly no head left to strike and Carl is beating the top of his shoulders.
Gasping for air Carl lunges forward and unlocks the door. Without pause he wrenches it open and stumbles from the cubicle. His feet find themselves trampling over Barry's surprisingly pliable back and Carl feels the bile rise in his throat as he pulls his feet free from the spongy flesh.
Falling forward onto the tiles his stomach heaves up its contents onto the pristine white ceramic. He pauses only a moment to catch his breath before he is on his feet, almost slipping over again as he rushes to escape. He doesn't dare look back as he runs headlong through the Concourse, his mind such a jumble he can't register where he is, or where he is going anymore.
Carl half limps down the steel corridors, his muscles tight and burning from exertion. He spies a storage bay and hurries toward it, grunting with each step, forcing himself to move forward. He slams his hand against the control pad and the door slides open. Without hesitation Carl smashes the controls with his pipe, diving through the doorway as it seals shut behind him. He scrambles back to his feet and pushes a heavy stack of crates in front of the locked door. Satisfied, he stumbles against the far wall, his legs turning to jelly and finally giving way.
Carl lies on his back in the near darkness, concentrating on calming his breathing, letting go the tension in his muscles. He tears the sleeve from his coveralls and uses the damp material to clean himself. Bawling unashamedly he wipes Barry's blood and brains from his face and neck and throws the soiled scrap into the corner. The cold floor brings him no comfort and he begins to shiver, goose bumps making his flesh crawl. He forces himself to his knees and crawls around the small storage space, pushing aside boxes of tools and spare parts. Against one wall he finds an emergency aid locker. Carl rummages in his pockets for his access card. He swipes it in the panel of the locker and it beeps cheerily as the door snaps open.
Pushing aside bandages and vials he finds a blanket at the very back. He wraps himself up in the blanket and huddles in a ball on the floor. He sniffles and wipes his nose on the blanket as his shivers begin to dissipate. Finally warm and relatively safe his eyes begin to droop but he shakes himself awake, he can't afford to let his guard slip now. Time passes without measure as Carl fights against the lure of sleep. But at long last his eyes slowly press closed.
'Just rest them for a moment.' He thinks to himself, his eyes are so sore. Soon after, his breathing becomes a gentle snore as he drifts into a restless slumber.
He awakes again hours later, screaming and fending off a nightmare attacker. It takes him a moment to realise he was asleep, it was only a dream. That warm feeling of relief dissolves a few minutes later as he remembers where he is and why. He crumbles back to the floor, sobbing anew.
Carl licks at his cracked lips with a dry tongue. His throat is parched and he rummages through the emergency supplies. He finds three bottles of saline solution and after searching the rest of the store room, accepts that it is all the water he has. He tears the top off one and slowly downs it, but it hardly satisfies his thirst. He refuses to open another bottle, knowing it is better to save them. He believes that eventually help will come; surely someone will come to rescue him. He just has to hold out until then.
'But it could be weeks before that happens.' Carl shakes his head, trying to ignore the seed of doubt growing in his mind. 'They'll find you before help ever gets here.'
"No, no, no." He whimpers as he wraps his arms around his head, rocking himself gently. "Help will come." But he knows in his heart, he doesn't really believe it as he cries himself to sleep.
Carl's eyes slowly grow accustomed to his constant world of darkness, as well as his nose adjusts to the smell of his own body. He stank of rank sweat, blood, vomit and human waste, and in this claustrophobic space he couldn't escape it.
He felt utterly drained and could barely lift his hand to continue chewing at his well worn nails. He spent his time in the dark curled in a ball and shivering with relentless fear or drifting in and out of haunted sleep. One nightmare had been so terrible he awoke to discover he had soiled himself. At some point after that his last faltering sliver of hope had been snuffed out and he was resigned to the fact that he would be found by those monsters, or simply waste away, trapped in his own metal coffin.
Carl couldn't bear to admit it to himself that he might die, but if he had to, he hoped it would be the latter option. If those creatures found him, who knew what they might do. The thought that he could become like poor Barry brought forth more tormented tears from his swollen eyes.
He felt so helpless but was determined he wouldn't die wearing soiled trousers. He struggled feebly from his grimy coveralls, using them to wipe as much mess from himself as possible and threw the wretched rags into the corner farthest from him. He wrapped himself up tightly in his more than adequate blanket and propped himself against the cheerless grey wall. He reaches into one of the supply boxes nearby, rummaging for anything that might keep him from the realms of sleep.
Uncertain of what he is touching, his hand wraps around a small smooth object, it feels like a metal pencil. He pulls it from the box and holds it close to his face to examine it in the dark. It is pointed at one end and has a small knife blade at the other. It reminds him of a scribe tool that the technicians would use to scribble construction directions onto metal and other materials. The knife edge seems dulled, which is why it is tossed away in this storage room he supposes. He runs his thumb along the blade, it does not cut into his skin, but it pulls jaggedly against his flesh.
Carl grips the scribe in one hand and turns the worn blade against his forearm. He presses the dull steel into his skin and slowly drags it down. He releases the pressure, and repeats the stroke further down his arm. He knows he is not drawing blood, just scratching the surface, but the pain reminds him that he is alive and it keeps his mind from wandering. Carl leans back against the solid wall and focuses on the steady strokes against his arm, until he can feel the blade digging into flesh he has already abraded. When there is no space left untouched he swaps the scribe to his other hand and begins on his fresh forearm.
Carl crushes the last empty bottle of solution above his mouth, hoping that there might be something left, but it is all dried and long gone. It seems like an age since he last had a decent mouthful of water. Twice as long since he'd eaten, but his stomach had stopped growling a long time ago, as though it had given up hope of ever receiving a meal again.
He picks the scribe up from among the folds of the blanket and goes back to work on his shins.
The creatures have been moving around outside his storeroom. Back and forth they lumber, occasionally hammering against the corridor walls. He tries to ignore the sounds and concentrates on his strokes, soon he can move onto his thighs and he doesn't want anyone to interrupt his important work.
The banging from the monsters becomes more frequent and is soon replaced by some terrible, unnatural scream. Carl claps his hands over his ears, trying to block out the noise that pierces directly into his brain. They growl incoherently at each other over the top of the shrilling and Carl finally snaps.
"Stop it!" He screams. "You torturous bastards, stop!" He pounds his fists against the wall as he screams until he thinks his vocal chords might tear. His palms slide down the wall as Carl drops to his knees like a broken puppet. He cries and whispers hoarsely to the wall. "Just kill me now, I can't take any more."
Carl blinks with surprise as he realises that all the shrieks, growls and hammering have indeed stopped. He kneels in the middle of the storeroom, staring uncertainly into the gloom. His hands suddenly shoot to his mouth, teeth tearing into his much abused fingers, for the next sound turns his insides to ice.
"Caaaaaarl…." One of the creatures moans wistfully. "Caaaaarl!" It is joined by another and another until there is a chorus of unearthly voices chanting his name. He wraps his head in his arms, blocking his ears and falling to the floor.
"No, no, nooooo!" He cries to no-one in particular. "Stop, stop it." But his protests are feeble, he knows they are unstoppable.
The shrieking begins again, this time right outside his door. They beat against it with some unknown force and it seems as though the whole rooms quakes. The hammering seems to become amplified in such a small space and all the while the chorus continues to cry out for him. "Carl! Carl! Carl!"
Carl beats his head against the floor in desperation; he can't bear to hear them anymore. With a great metal groan the door buckles inward and Carl scrambles away from it in a panic, hands clawing at his ears. He writhes on the floor, becoming tangled in his blanket and he feels something jabbing into his leg. His hand gropes through the folds of the blanket and he finds the scribe.
The door continues to bend and groan and it is a matter of minutes until they break through. The wails of the creatures only seems to grow louder and Carl realises there is only one way to make the sound go away. Without hesitation he takes hold of the knife end and repeatedly thrusts the sharp point into his ear. He misses many times, tearing large gashes down the side of his face. He cries at the pain but laughs simultaneously at the relief he achieves. Warm blood pools in his ear and trickles down his neck as he takes the scribe up in his other hand.
The door to the storeroom tears open and the room is flooded with blinding light. Carl's eyes squeeze shut against the radiance, but he can still hear them pouring into the room. He readies the scribe and gives a shout of victory as it thrusts unerringly towards its target. The last thing he hears is the shriek of one of his enemies.
And then their hands are upon him, pinning him to the floor, tearing the scribe from his hand as he slashes at them with it. Carl scratches and bites, screaming and thrashing as their needle-like talons dig into his leg, injecting him with poison. He can feel the poison over-whelming him, making his limbs heavy. As he feels himself drifting off to eternal sleep he grins triumphantly, he didn't go down without a fight; he could die with pride.