No sign of life. That's all I recall from when I first entered the abandoned, lifeless ruins. That's all I can remember of that fateful moment.
That and the smell of death, the stench of burning corpses unseen by the human eye. The smell was so strong that I gagged immediately upon my entrance. The instinct was impossible to ignore. I'm surprised I didn't suffocate within minutes. Or at all for that matter. Having to breathe through my nose had become quite the torture, one on par with the Chinese Torture of 1000 Cuts.
For some reason, none of the other members of my team died then either. Not yet anyway. There was four of us, all meticulously selected for this mission. Agent Thomas James—the Secret Service agent leading this mission—told us each that we were selected for our expertise. But by this time, I had already come to believe that we were being thrown to the wolves, used as sacrificial lambs by a sadistic cult within the government I work for. It was an instant that was reminiscent of an animal locked in a cage so a group of mad, uncaring scientist can study it, perform all sorts of experiments on its body, not caring about the result, as long as they get to study it. Even if the result is sudden death.
But I'm not sure if anyone else agreed with me. I'm not sure if any of the other members of my team had figured it out yet. Even though the mysterious Agent James stayed behind at base camp. How fucking obvious does he have to be? Hell, how much more fucking obvious could he get?
Still, the rest of the team seemed oblivious to the suicide mission that lay ahead. None of them seemed aware of the fact that we were all fixing to become the latest inhabitants of a mass grave that was burned to the ground a long time ago. Looking back, I wonder if I should have said anything. It probably wouldn't matter though, since I doubt anyone would have listened. That's what happens when we're forced to put our duty before common sense, thus sacrificing any form of intelligent thought.
Now, as for the team, like I previously said, there were five of us with me as the youngest, although not by much. I, Pvt. Jacob Warren, was only 19, fresh out of boot camp, which only further proved my belief that this was nothing more than a suicide mission, that we were all being used as the prey for an unseen, unfathomable predator, an evil that which no one could possibly predict. But aside from Sgt. Frank Pitts, our commanding officer, the rest of us just seemed to be new recruits, just snot-nosed kids fresh out of basic training, like a newly born phoenix being birthed from the ashes of its prior death. But even then, Sgt. Pitts seemed young to have achieved his rank, being at the tender young age of 25; he was probably promoted just minutes before being assigned to the duty in question.
And then there's the rest of the team. First, there was the 20 year old Pvt. Chris Turner, the only black member designated to the team. I personally have always wondered if he was only assigned to help appease the affirmative action law. Next, there was another 20 year old, with Pvt. Eric Wilson. My first impression of him was that he was an arrogant prick. And if you were there when I met him, you would definitely agree. But then there was the last member of the team, Pvt. Michelle Richards. She was actually the first person I met, and in your usual story, you would expect her to be my love interest. It's too bad that I decided long ago to never fall under the hellish curse known as love. So any sexual attraction to her had by this time become irrelevant.
Together—each wielding AK-47s while carrying each a canister of water, a flashlight, a communications radio, and a hunting knife—we, all of us, entered the front entrance of the abandoned ruins of what once was the words most maximum security prison, Carnate Island. We walked beyond the threshold of the gargantuan door which sort of reminded me of the entrance to a church or temple. Only there was nothing attractive about it. Like for instance, the doorway was partially blocked by a bunch of charred, yet still hard as marble rubble. And I'm surprised that the arch at the top of the door didn't give way either. It just seemed as if it was going to collapse any moment. Hell, it seemed as if the whole building was going to crumble to dust at the next gust of wind. A simple breeze could serve as the straw that broke the camel's back so to speak, the bloodthirsty angel of death come to claim its next victim. Except in this case, there would be five victims. I just wish I wasn't one of the victims.
But truthfully, the previously mentioned event was not how this started. Hell, it had nothing to do with how this started. And it shouldn't be a result of the instance either. But that's another story altogether. More on the origins of my current hell, the place where I'm currently being forced to suffer for what feels a thousand torture-filled lifetimes.
It all began a couple years ago. This was just a normal prison, albeit one that still had the death penalty and one with ten times more security than any prison ever built. It was built on top of an island, making it sort of like the modern-day Alcatraz.
A new inmate had arrived. His name was Torque—his first name slipped my mind a long time ago—and he was slated to be executed the following day. The warden had just recorded Torque's arrival to his cell when all hell broke loose. An earthquake shook the island. If the earthquake had been any bigger, the island probably would have sunk like a rock to the bottom of the sea. Or at least part of it would have.
But that's not all. The prison immediately lost contact with the outside world. And the longer it was out of contact, the more everyone else feared the worst, that somehow everyone on board had died, disappeared into the depths of the ocean without a trace. Carnate Island had literally become hell. The walls were on fire, burning with flames far greater than the hotness of hell. Which is probably a mere exaggeration.
And when someone finally got sent out here, the bodies of almost ever resident—prisoner, guard, doctor, and warden alike—were discovered severely mutilated in gruesome ways. All except one. Torque was nowhere to be found. He had disappeared off the face of the planet, never to be heard from again.
But that hardly seemed important anymore. I'm not even sure if that had to do directly with my current hell. But it's quite a coincidence.
Well anyway, my consciousness was soon bought back into the present. I was returned to a time that I might as well call the calm before the storm. For the simple fact, that it was. The stench of death served as nothing more than a warning sign of the nightmare to come. It's too bad that we ignored the warnings, or just didn't give them enough thought to obey them. Calling that a mistake would be a major understatement.
Because soon hell collided with my own reality.
Pvt. Turner was the first to parish. He never saw what was coming. Sgt. Pitts had sent Chris ahead to be used as a point man. And following orders was the last thing he would ever do. Mere seconds after walking out into the charcoaled former courtyard, he vanished. He disappeared into the earth below.
Some unrecognizable creature had burrowed through the ground and chose Pvt. Turner as prey. It dove out of the ground so fast, I wasn't able to notice any detail before it hit him. But I could tell that it appeared to be wrapped in a burlap sack, somehow still managing to dig through the hardened concrete.
"Oh shit," those were his last words as the snatched his ankles. It pulled him, kicking and screaming, into the ground and dragged him through the concrete, leaving a trail of splattering blood in its wake. He was never seen alive again.
"Pull back," Sgt. Pitts commanded as soon as he partially got over the shock of what he witnessed, already showing his inexperience as a commander.
But by then, it was already too late. Our presence had become known, so the danger of this suicide mission had become even more apparent.
But the scariest thing of all was that we had no idea what we were fighting. We didn't know what it looked like. Nor did we know where it came from. Much less, did we know how to kill it—or what was later revealed them. All we knew—all any of us knew—was that we had become hunted men. We were being stalked by an army of the unknown, like what would be brought forth by the demented mind of Clive Barker, and none of us had any idea on what to do.
Oh wait, we each had one idea. It was the same idea; run like hell. And that we did. You could say, we all ran like our life's depended on it. But there's just one thing, it did.
We ran for the exit, me being in the lead and Sgt. Pitts in the back. There was just one problem; the exit was no longer there. The wall had collapsed upon itself, like I had predicted, leaving us with no easy way out, leaving us each standing just beyond the gates of hell. Only the other side was no longer visible.
And as a result, the lights were fading. They were already almost gone too. Darkness was quick to set in. But by that time, the sergeant was already pulling out his flashlight. Everyone else followed suit.
But unfortunately, that was where someone else was forced to die. This time, it was the inexperienced sargeant. Just as soon as he turned his flashlight on and the beam lit up the corridor we left, he was taken. An invisible force came down from the opening above and snatched him up immediately like a black widow praying on the latest fly to get caught in it's web. His departure announced by screams, he disappeared into a blackened hole in the ceiling. He faded from our presence too fast for anyone to even attempt to stop it. There was nothing we could do. He was swallowed up by an invisible abyss above.
This left Pvt. Wilson in charge, since he was the closest to being promoted to a Pfc. Or maybe he was just the oldest. Well anyhow, he had even less experience in a position of command, which soon became apparent to Michelle and myself. He ordered us to run into a doorway leading into another corridor. There was probably a doorway of bars there when the prison was open, but for whatever reason, there wasn't anymore. It seemed as if something had ripped the door off the hinges. Possibly a hurricane, but far more likely, something supernatural. Pieces of the concrete wall—surrounding the entrance—were missing as a result.
But then again, the walls had probably started to soften up over the years anyway, the constant exposure to the saltwater surrounding the island eroding the cement, like a termite slowly devouring the wood on a poorly kept deck. Or maybe just the deck of a lifeless ghost ship giving way to the weight of an undesired crew of clueless explorers.
The floors seemed to be eroding too. The same as the ceiling. So naturally, I was starting to feel a bit paranoid, but for some reason, couldn't bring myself to say it to any of my team mates, something I probably should have done. I was starting to worry that the floor could give away any moment, swallowing us each into an empty abyss below. Or maybe, the ceiling could give way, crushing us all beneath several tons of dried concrete. And recent events had convinced me that something could possibly break through one of the walls any minute. I don't remember which possible death disturbed me the most; I just remember not wanting to face either fate. Looking back, I kind of wish I did die though. Because then, at least, I would be at peace.
"Hurry," Eric commanded, his heart probably pounding at a phenomenal rate in his chest. He was in the lead, running the fastest of anyone, panting harder than he should.
I was close behind and so was Michelle. We were running side by side, trying to keep up with our cowardly leader of temporary assignment. But keeping up was not an easy thing to do. He was running so fast—and with so much intent—that he dropped most of his equipment and didn't even notice. Or if he did, he didn't bother picking them up. I mean, he dropped his gun, his helmet, his water, his flashlight etc. Which to me, of course seems pointless. And ridiculously stupid too. Personally, I'd rather have a way to defend myself.
During the commotion, the flashlight to my side disappeared. It faded into the opaque blackness that surrounded us. And I didn't even notice. My rapidly growing level of fear, coupled with intense concentration, caused me to be unaware of her sudden disappearance. I don't even remember if she screamed or not. She just seemed to fade into thin air, disappearing into nothingness.
As soon as I realized, I stopped running for a moment, turning around with the flashlight held up close to my ear. There was nothing there, just a seemingly endless corridor with nothing inside. We—Eric and myself—appeared to be the only ones here. Hell, we appeared to be the only thing in the hallway other than endless walls of concrete. Not only that, but there wasn't any sign she was ever in there with us, just our memories. There were no stains of blood on the walls, the floor, or the ceiling, leaving me to wonder; Where the hell could she be?
But before I could wonder any more, a sudden growl in the distance brought me back to reality, back to consciousness. I turned around immediately and ran as fast as I could to catch up with my sprinting commander. And by the time, I had caught up to him, he had stopped. He was standing at a dead end in the corridor, where the doorway further into the prison was blocked. He seemed to be pondering over what to do to get beyond the door. But what he didn't notice was the open door to his right. He turned as he heard my approach.
"Where's the other one?" he whispered, as he saw only one flashlight.
"Damn you're fast," I responded, panting, desperately trying to catch my breath.
"Where's Pvt. Richards?" he asked immediately.
"I don't know," it's all I could manage to say, still panting with every word.
"Where is she?" he pressed on, showing concern for someone other than himself for the first time since I've met him, taking the flashlight out of my hand. He shined it back into the hallway behind and saw the same thing I saw earlier; nothing.
"She's gone. I have no idea what happened to her."
"Damn, I could have used her help too."
His response got my attention and not in a good way either.
"What?" I responded without a thought.
"We need all the help we can get," he explained. "We need to be able to get through this door."
"Okay," I could barely hide the angry sarcasm in my voice.
"It's too bad what happened to the rest of our team," he continued on. "We could have used each of their help."
As wrong as it sounded, I couldn't help but agree.
"Except for Sgt. Pitts. I've been enjoying my short time as commander."
I couldn't help but think his time as commanding officer was going to be shorter than he intends, very short-lived indeed. I had a feeling his command would only last a few more minutes at most.
But, ignoring that thought for now, I pointed over his shoulder at the door he overlooked. A light was shining inside, illuminating the area around the doorway.
"Okay then," he responded to his annoyance at his tunnel vision, his inability to spot what should have otherwise been obvious.
Then, he lead me inside, pushing the thin door out of the way. But before I could enter, I was interrupted by the sound of my radio.
"Help me," it was the fearful voice of my missing teammate.
"Hello Michelle," I responded into the receiver, completely ignoring protocol at this point.
"Help me," she repeated herself, as if she didn't hear what I was saying. "They're everywhere."
"Where are you?" I asked.
"Help me, they're everywhere."
"Where are you?" I said into the receiver again, this time a bit louder.
"Help me," for some reason, she remained unaware that I was talking to her. She was starting to sound like a broken record though. "They're everywhere."
I was about to ask where she was again when I was cut off by a rapid stream of gunfire coming from her end of the line. Only her gun didn't appear to be the only one being shot. I could hear another set, this one at a much lower pitch, much louder, and much slower.
And then there was silence. Both sets of gunfire came to an abrupt halt. Due to the lack of screaming, I couldn't tell if the radio died or if she did. I hoped it was the former.
"Son of a bitch," I forcibly put the receiver back on my belt and walked beyond the threshold, nudging the remains of the door out of my way with the nuzzle of my gun. But once I stepped inside, while looking around, I noticed something; Pvt. Wilson was nowhere to be found.
Not at first anyway. He was just missing. At first, I thought that he had found a way out and left me behind, sort of like a 'friend' would abandon me when we're both being chased by a bloodthirsty Kodiak Bear.
However, something soon came to my attention. This wasn't the cafeteria like I first thought. Or at least it wasn't anymore. There was a single table in the middle of the room. And on the back wall appeared to be a crucifix, hanging on the wall. Someone was hanging on it, his hands still dripping with blood, although slowly. There appeared to be a giant hole in his stomach.
Walking closer, I realized I knew who it was. I recognized the trench coat-laden person dangling from the nails from earlier. It was Agent James, the ass hole secret service agent who sent us on this suicide mission to begin with. Yes, I know I shouldn't speak ill of the dead, but in this case, I can't help it. He deserved a much worse fate than he got, that's for sure.
Still, I couldn't help but feel a little sick at his grotesque sight. I almost threw up at the sight of his open stomach, the exposed intestines hanging out, still dripping with rapidly drying blood. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear he was still alive though. He just seemed to be trying to plead for me to help him, to cut him down, or something; I don't know.
It doesn't matter anyway, because as I walked closer, I glanced down at the table. There was something—or someone—lying on it. And there was a man I felt I should recognize standing to its side looking down. He was wearing a black ski mask, so I couldn't really see his face, much less tell his identity. But still, I felt as if I knew him from somewhere. And also, he was wearing an all black outfit; black sweat shirt, black sweat pants, black gloves, black boots. The only things visible were his eyes. So I have no idea why I recognized him. But I did. I sure as hell had no idea where from though. Not only that, but there was a needle in one his right hand and appeared to be a gun on a holster on his leg.
The next step I took alerted him to my presence. He met me with his eyes almost immediately. But at the same time, I saw what was lying on the table. Or I guess, who would be more appropriate. It was the slowly dying body of one Pvt. Eric Wilson. A needle was in his neck, and appeared to be dangling from the internal artery in his neck. He was slowly—but effectively—bleeding to death.
"Be quiet now," a familiar voice whispered to the dying man in a soothing tone.
The masked figure soon looked at me however, his unholy stare seeming to burn a slowly scorching hole in my chest.
"I've been expecting you," the man explained, pulling an unrecognizable gun out of the holster. The shock of what I was witnessing made it so I didn't have time to respond, as he aimed the gun in my direction. He pulled the trigger, and I fell over unconscious. But, for some reason, not dead yet.
I dreamed while I was out. My consciousness drifted back even further from what I remembered in the papers, even further back in time from what originally happened here. My mind was sent back in time to what lead to Torque being sentenced in the first place.
He was on trial for the brutal slayings of his young wife and two children, both boys of eleven and eight. And he was being charged with three counts of first degree murder. The autopsy report said that his wife was the first to die, that he had cracked her skull on the end of the dresser beside the bed, causing fragments of the skull to puncture the outer layer of her brain, killing her instantly. And next, he drowned his eight year old in the bathtub, slowly suffocating the child beneath the surface. The last one to die was the eleven year old who was thrown out the fourth story window and came crashing down to his death. That last one was what alerted the police to what was going on.
The only problem is that he didn't remember doing it. He had no idea what happened in fact. I should know, for I was sitting on the jury on that day. I was juror number six to be exact. So in a way, I'm partly responsible for his own death sentence, which is possibly responsible for my own prior hell. But like I said, he was sentenced to die by the electric chair, one of the last to be executed in such a manner. This prison never existed long enough to reach his execution though. It turned from a minor nightmare to a major one in an instant. Torque has been free, yet missing, ever since.
My unconsciousness soon faded away, drifting into a sudden awareness, my eyes being blinded by a bright, shining light above my head. I'd try to speak, but there's a weight on my mouth, currently keeping it shut. The man is holding his gloved free hand over my face, making it not just impossible to speak, but also making breathing a chore.
"Be quiet now," he explained under his breath. "This will all be over sooner than you think."
Still, the urge to struggle was strong. I couldn't resist wanting to fight. But I was being held down. Something was tying me to this table. It was almost as if I was a schizophrenic being strapped to an operating table for a very important operation. That thought's sort of fitting considering I just witnessed one of my teammates being operated on in a sense. By this time, I had already assumed him to be dead. The masked man took his hand off my mouth.
"Why are you doing this?" I barely managed a whisper.
"You don't get it," he responded, admiring the needle in his hand. "Do you?"
I responded with dead silence, honestly having no idea what he was talking about.
"You must have a bad memory," he continued. "You see, you remember the trial so vividly, not because you were a juror like you believe." Leaning close to my ear, he whispered, "You've been lying to yourself Jacob, or should I say Ryan."
That was a name I hadn't heard for quite some time. It was a name I never thought I'd hear again. I thought the name was just a part of my past, a skeleton I buried in my closet a long time ago. I'd forgot it ever existed.
"Oh," he continued with his antagonistic tone, a hint of eagerness in his tone. "I see you remember. Don't you? Or are you just starting to remember?"
Before I could respond—as if I could possibly come up with a response—he removed his mask. And that left me staring up at the one face that is probably more familiar to me than any other. It left me lying on that table looking up at what seemed to be my own reflection. I was staring at a face that could only be my own, although a couple years younger.
"I guess you remember completely now, huh?" it was said in a monotone, with a hint of acceptance emanating from deep down. He lost his grip on me—unintentional or not, I have no idea.
"Oh no," it's all I could say, as I fell off the table trying to back way. "Oh no, it can't be."
"Oh yes, my friend," he explained with a smirk, stepping closer and closer. "You are not hallucinating. I am as real as anything you've ever seen or heard, much more real than the lie that you've been living all this time."
He pulled a handgun, a Beretta I think, out as he got closer and closer.
"Oh no," I kept saying to myself, hoping to all hell that this was only a dream. "It can't be."
"You need to quit lying to yourself," he continued on, removing all but one bullet from the gun. "You need to remember that all this is your fault."
I kept shaking my head, refusing to believe.
"Everything that's happened today, everything that happened two years ago, the curse that has plagued this prison ever since, it's all your fault. It's all my fault"
"You are me, and I am you. And together, we are responsible for the incident that sent the cursed inmate Torque to this prison. Together we are responsible for the deaths of his wife and kids."
"No," I mouthed the response, no longer able to make a sound.
"Yes, it's true. You're a murderer and a child killer, a would-be rapist who joined the army to run from your guilt, to hide from your past."
And with that one sentence, the skeletons in my closet ceased to be buried, dug up by hands just as sadistic as my own. My past guilt came back in full force sending excessive jolts of pain through the middle of my heart.
"But you can't hide from your past, nor can you deny the truth. Guilt is forever, from the moment of the incident to death. It will last a lifetime."
He faded into nothingness after that, not saying anything else. The room turned to total blackness, just a single light shining on the table. I got back to my feet, walking closer to the table immediately, seeking the partial comfort of the light, my eyes now filled with tears.
A single spot on the table was illuminated by the light. And in that light, there was the aforementioned Beretta, as well as my flashlight. The glimmer was in such a way that it seemed as if the gun itself was glowing against the darkened opaqueness that was serving as a backdrop.
I picked them both up, as the light shut off, my visibility rapidly drifting away. Turning on the flashlight, I realized I was surrounded. Frequent faint lights dotted the outer perimeter of the room. And they were getting closer and more visible with each passing second.
But I was too intent on bringing my suffering to an end. So I picked up the gun and aimed it at the side of my head, pulling the trigger. And nothing. There was just the faint sound of a click. Pulled the trigger again, still nothing. Kept pulling the trigger and yet I still got nothing. It eventually became obvious to me that the gun was empty, and there were no guns anywhere around.
Shedding another tear, I dropped the gun to the ground and aimed the flashlight forward just to see a decomposing, needle-filled figure lunging at me. Numerous identical shapes were flying at me from all directions. I dropped the flashlight in shock, but before anything else could happen, the voice of my other self played through my head:
"Your suffering has just begun."