"Hey, Levi, look at this one shot," Hanji said, her thumb halting its furious clicking on her camera's browsing button. Her eyes squinted to make sure the small glare of the morning sun didn't make her see things.
Levi stuck the gas pump's nozzle into the tank's opening and walked over to her on the passenger side of the car, "What? You take a million photos of the same damn thing."
"Look at how the sunlight hits the chair," she said pointing at the screen excitedly, "It's just at the right angle I was looking for. I don't think I'll even need to edit this at all later! It's perfect!"
"Yeah, yeah," Levi said, heading back over to the pump. It was always like this with every couple hundred shots or so, "It's not like you even edit your stuff often anyway."
Hanji ignored his last comment as she flipped through more of her photos, the fall breeze blowing through and rustling the loose leaves over the cracked pavement. The sun was tucked away behind scattered clouds and the air was almost dry from the cold.
"So, where to next?" Hanji asked as Levi screwed in the tank's cap.
"You tell me. You were the one that dragged me on this trip," Levi said, opening the driver's seat door and tapping the door's edge impatiently with his fingers.
He honestly didn't know why he let his eccentric classmate talk him into going on the summer-long road trip around the country especially when it was so last minute. During the week of their finals last semester, the woman had come up to him and relentlessly urged him to accompany her on a "photography adventure" to multiple abandoned sites on her list of "must-go" destinations.
"It'll add some really awesome stuff to your portfolio, I promise! I'll even pay for gas. I just need someone to come with me," she had continuously pleaded.
After a couple days off irritation, Levi gave in and there he was now- two months later out in the middle of nowhere with 15,000 photographs stored on his laptop and a thousand more on his camera. He hardly complained, however. He admitted that their trip produced some marvelous photos of deserted towns deep in the Midwest, overgrown greenery creeping on broken down roller coasters, and the molded grandeur of a forsaken mansion in a mountain's forests.
"Hmmm," Hanji took out her pocket notebook and perused through her list of destinations. She turned the last page and her eyebrows lifted when she saw that the next page was blank, "Oh wow. That abandoned mansion was actually the last place on my list."
"Good," Levi said, lightly slapping the door of the van, "Then let's head back. Pull the GPS up."
"Aww come on," she interjected, pouting, "That's no fun. We've been out on the road for all summer already anyway. What's one more destination for a last couple hundred shots?"
"Like you said, I've been on the road with you all damn summer," her partner uttered, his brows creasing slightly, "Our classes start soon, too, so we need to get back in time to get our crap together for them."
"Hey, old man," Hanji ignored him and instead walked over to geezer sitting idly by in front of the station's convenience store, "Are there any other cool deserted places around this area? We've already checked out the old Byron Mansion a few miles back."
Levi groaned, shut the door, and followed after her. With this woman, anything could happen if she was left alone.
"Cool and deserted places, you say?" the frail old man said, raising an eyebrow. His eyes behind thick lenses then fell to the large camera around her neck, "Ohh, I see what you're getting at. You're one of those curious tourists."
"I guess you could say that."
"Well, little lady, I suppose you haven't heard of the old Isayama Nuclear Power Plant?" the old man's thin eyes narrowed even more and his faint wrinkles deepened with his grin. Hanji shook her head.
"It's near the next town called Zhinganshina- fifteen miles down south," he said, jerking his thumb backwards, "Gigantic place with three cooling towers about to fall apart: Maria, Rose and Sina. One of the first plants built in the late1950's and abandoned in the 1980's."
"Why?" Levi asked, folding his arms. He already wasn't liking the sound of this only because he just knew Hanji was definitely not gonna want to go home now.
"No one knows why, boy," the old man said excitedly, repeatedly pointing his finger at him and his wrinkled smile growing wider, "And that's just it. Weird things happened there. Right before the plant officially closed down, fifty of its workers went missing. Gone. Vanished. No one knows what happened to them. No one ever found them… not even bodies after they searched the entire place before shutting it down."
Levi cranked up an eyebrow and glanced at Hanji next to him. She was trembling with the gleaming look in her eyes whenever something enticed her. Great. Yeah, they were definitely not heading home any time soon.
"And that's not all," the old man continued, "People who were brave enough to try and go in there to explore the place never came back out. No one's been heroic enough to go in after them, either. Even the locals won't go near the place. They think it's haunted and I can sure tell you, I don't blame them with all those creepy things going on."
"Thanks, old man," Hanji said cheerfully and enthusiastically patted him on his slim shoulders. She turned to Levi, "Looks like we've got our next destination. Come on!"
She grabbed her classmate's wrist and dragged him off back to the van like stubborn weight.
"Take some pretty pictures of whatever's lurking in there for me, will ya?" the old man called after them.
"Will do!" Hanji waved at him.
She was beyond excited for this new objective. With the eerie and vague story, it was about ten times as more intriguing than any deserted amusement park.
"Sounds like a bunch of bullshit to me," Levi said as he got in and slammed the door shut. Hanji followed suit and clicked in her seat belt.
"What, are you scaaared?" she teased, leaning in towards him.
"No, it just sounds like a bunch of bullshit from a senile old man," Levi said, turning the keys, "We're going home."
"Aw come on," Hanji begged, taking hold of his sleeve, "Pretty please? Just a peek? I promise it won't take longer than a few hours once we get there. I just want some good shots, then we can head back if you want to."
Levi narrowed his eyes at her, knowing well that she'd take more than just a few hours. He shouldn't expect to be heading back home for another couple of days since his aberrant companion would surely take the time take a photo of every inch of the plant. He sighed and started to pull up the GPS on the van's screen. He had no choice unless he wanted to be bombarded with her begging.
"Fine," he grumbled.
Hanji cheered, "Off to Zhiganshina we go!"
"Now, I hope all of you have been working on your huge historical reports with your groups," the teacher said, erasing the agenda on the board, "If you haven't, then be thankful that I'm giving you the rest of the class to meet with your group because it's due in two weeks and worth 40% of your final grade."
She turned around and eyed the entire class, pinpointing the ones who haven't been working as she'd instructed by the uncertain looks on their faces. Most of them had learned the poker face. Her sights then landed on Eren in the far corner of the room. He gulped. He definitely hasn't been working on it.
"Alright, break into your groups and I better hear relevant conversations," the teacher said, heading over back to her desk.
"Ah, crap," Eren cursed before turning to Mikasa and Armin behind him as the class began to move, "I totally forgot about that report, guys. Want to meet up after school to work on it some more after this?"
"We need to decide on what we want to do first, though," Armin said as he scooted his desk next to Mikasa's, "She said we can do it on a historical event or place. Any ideas?"
"No," Mikasa said bluntly.
"Me neither," Eren said, "but I'm fine with anything that's not boring."
"Hmmm," Armin tapped his chin, "What about the Battle of Trost?"
"Castle Utgard's history?"
"Even more boring."
"I really don't know what else…"
"The Isayama Power Plant," Mikasa spoke up, "We can do our report on that. It's not boring."
Eren and Armin stared at her for a silent moment like they'd misheard her. She only blinked.
"Are you nuts?" Eren exclaimed.
"N-no, that's too dangerous!" Armin added, waving his arms back and forth in front of him.
"I mean, we've all heard the stories a million times-"
"The buildings infrastructure might collapse any time now-"
"People went missing and died in there-"
"There might still be threatening radiation residues-"
"Sounds like you two are too pussy to go there," a voice said behind them. They all immediately turned their attention to Jean who was smirking at them from his seat.
"Come on, Jean," Marco scolded, tapping his desk. Things were never productive when things clashed between his best friend and Eren, "We need to work."
"Don't even act like you're not afraid of that place, either, Horse Face," Eren countered.
"Oh, I'm not scared at all," Jean replied, shrugging, "I've been there before and it's not half as scary as they all say it is."
"Liar. No one who's ever gone in there ever came back out."
"Yeah? Well, I have," Jean leaned back on his chair and yawned, "It's cool for the first ten minutes, but then it's just any other rotten, deserted place. Still, though, I wouldn't bother doing my report on the Isayama plant if I were you. You two don't even have enough balls."
"Oh yeah?" Eren rose from his seat, glaring at him.
"Eren!" Armin protested.
"Yeah," Jean smirked, "I bet that you couldn't even last five minutes in that shit hole."
"Eren-" Mikasa tried to interrupt.
"I bet you, I can," he said, his glare intensifying.
"Oh ho, you're serious?" Jean grinned, leaning forward on his desk.
"I'm damn serious. Did I stutter?"
"Alright then, let's make this a real bet," Jean mused, "If you can stay in there for an entire hour, I'll give you a hundred bucks. You've gotta record yourself too, so I know you guys aren't just faking it. Deal?"
He held out his hand to seal the proposal. Eren only stared at it, hesitant to take it out of fear, but Jean's teasing could have not been any more irritating. And if he backed off now, he knew Jean would never let him live it down for the rest of the year. Eren could not think of anything more annoying in that moment.
He took in a shallow breath and took Jean's hand, "Deal."
"Jean is such a liar," Eren growled as the trio started to walk their way home, "His ass has never been over there."
"Don't mind him. He just wants to play with us, that's all," Armin said. His expression then turned into worry, "But are we really going to do this?"
Eren stopped in his tracks and sucked in a large breath. He didn't like going back on his word right after he swore on it, but his decision was starting to look dumber and dumber the more he thought about it. It was suicide. Everyone in town knew the stories by heart, even came up with theories themselves over the years, and none of the stories involved anyone emerging alive from the place.
Jean was such a liar and Eren had taken his bait.
Either way, Jean was still going to bag on him for "being a pussy" and therefore, he could not back down.
"Yeah, we're doing this," Eren said, looking at his two friends both with fear and determination.
"Hey, you kids!" someone called out to them. A van pulled up near them on the street with a brown-haired young woman in the passenger seat with a solemn-looking young man next to her.
"Er- can we help you?" Armin asked, wary of the random encounter.
"We're looking for the Isayama Power Plant around this area," the woman said with overwhelming enthusiasm, "Any idea which direction we should go?"
Eren, Mikasa and Armin glanced at each other, taken aback by the question. It was already crazy enough for them to go there themselves on a bet, but to randomly come across someone else who wanted to go there on their own accord was even crazier. Who were these people?
"It's just straight down this road a couple miles away," Mikasa said, pointing in the direction, "We're on the higher side of the hill, so you won't be able to see the towers until you get closer."
"Great! Thanks so much," the young woman said, throwing them the peace sign.
"Wait!" Eren blurted out. He didn't know what the hell he was thinking or why the hell he let himself ask, "What are you guys planning on doing there?"
"We just want to get a couple of pictures," she replied, holding up her camera, "Aspiring photographers, you know. Gotta spice up that portfolio to get anywhere in the business."
"W-would you mind taking us there with you then?" Eren asked. Armin, Mikasa, and the two strangers looked at him with surprised faces.
"We're writing a report on it," Eren added.
"What? Hell no-" the young man started to say but was interrupted by his friend.
"Sure! Why not?" the young woman laughed, "You kids seem like a fun bunch wanting to go on an adventure to write a report. Hop on in! Just move our stuff to the back if you need more space."
"You've got to be kidding me," the young man groaned as the three hesitantly got into the van.
"Oh, be nice, Levi. They're just cute little high schoolers," the woman said. She turned around in her seat as the car started to slowly drive off, "I'm Hanji, by the way. This is my classmate Levi. And you guys are?"
"I'm Armin," Armin said nervously.
"Well, nice to meet you guys," Hanji smiled, "Have you ever been to the plant before?"
"No," Eren replied, "There are a lot of creepy stories of that place, so everyone in town tends to avoid it."
"Then what's with the sudden interest that you'd ask random strangers for a ride?" Hanji grinned, "Just for a report?"
"So tell me," she continued, now fully kneeling on her seat and leaning forward to the three, "Is it true that people have gone missing there? Like mysterious disappearances with no trace?"
"Every story's that way," Mikasa said.
"And is it true that right before the plant shut down, fifty of its employees went missing?"
"Yeah, that's what our parents have told us."
"See? And you said that old guy was just saying a bunch of mumbo jumbo," Hanji said, playfully smacking Levi's arm.
"I didn't say it was mumbo jumbo," he replied, annoyed, "I said it was a bunch of bullshit."
"And I still think it's bullshit."
"Wow, this place looks totally trashed," Hanji observed as they stood at the large front gate.
"Well what do you expect?" Levi said, circling his camera's strap around his neck, "It's been deserted even before you were born."
The winds were unusually stronger right then, adding more to the eeriness of the place. The fences that circled the entire plant were tangled or entire yards were missing. Numerous weeds and unpleasant bushes grew from the deep cracks on the ground that ran several meters. The three cooling towers stood like fragile giants with a large shield crest engraved on each: Maria, Rose, and Sina. The buildings right below them stood dingy and darkly worn.
"I can't believe we're doing this," Eren whispered as they ducked under an opening in the fences. The atmosphere felt oddly heavy and he couldn't tell if it was from fear or the cold, fall air. The hairs on his neck were starting to rise.
"I can't either," Armin whispered back nervously, "But we don't even have a camera to use to prove to Jean that we were here."
"I have my phone," Mikasa said, holding it out.
"Keep it moving, brats," Levi said and they scurried along after Hanji who was already at the main building's entrance.
The buildings were even more dirtied and broken down up close- fragmented slabs of pavement and glass were strewn about and unforgivable weeds grew all over the place. Thirty years of neglect proved to be harsh.
When they came up to the entrance, they saw that the many chains meant to close off the doors were already on the floor in pieces.
The place had already been broken into.
Eren then gulped, remembering the stories even more crystal clear than ever and slowly realizing that he might possibly be diving into the same fate as whoever went in and never came back out again.
"The chains…" Mikasa said under her breath. Armin clenched his hands into fists.
"So, are you guys ready?" Hanji asked, her extreme excitement clashing with the gloomy setting. Her hands were already on the handle ready to pull the door open. She just itched to get in there.
"Let's just go and get your damn shots already," Levi said impatiently, walking forward first and kicking the metal doors with a powerful kick.
The doors flew open and there was nothing but darkness inside. Levi slipped his flashlight out of his back pocket, switched it on for some light, and walked in without hesitation. Hanji switched on her own flashlight and followed in after him. Mikasa switched on the flashlight Hanji had given her and held up her phone as a video camera.
"Camera on," she said then went inside. Eren and Armin exchanged nervous glances before hesitantly following.
"Kinda creepy, huh?" Hanji laughed, the sound echoing on the cement and metal walls, "It has that zombie invasion kind of feel. Don't get too relaxed now, guys, there might be something about to pop out at you."
"Cut the crap, Shitty Glasses," Levi said, shining his flashlight on her, "We're here for pictures so start taking some."
"You kids can go ahead and wander wherever if you like. You're writing a report on this place, right?" Hanji said, ignoring Levi and starting to snap some photos of the grungy lobby, "I just ask that you don't get in my shots."
"Yeah, that's alright," Eren replied. He turned to Armin and Mikasa, "So I guess we'll just walk around…?"
"I still can't believe we're in here," Armin said, his breathing shallow, "I don't have a good feeling about this place."
"We're writing a report on this, aren't we?" Mikasa said, walking towards one of the open doors on the left labeled Front Office, "Let's go. Bet or not, we're here anyway, so let's get as much information as we can. There must be some things left here."
Eren and Armin followed after her closely, afraid that if they were more than a few feet away from her, they'd come across something unpleasant. The office room they entered was moderately spacious with pieces of plastic, wood, glass, and metal lying scattered in a mess and a musty smell filling their noses. Only a handful of desks were still standing, but nothing was intact at all.
"I doubt we can get any information anywhere in this place," Armin said, "It's been thirty years since it's been abandoned. Anything of value must have rotted away by now."
"We've only been to one room, Armin," Mikasa commented, circling around to capture the entire space on video, "And the place is huge. There's bound to be something."
"Since when were you this adventurous?" Eren asked, his voice cracking as he tried to distract himself from the fear creeping up on him. Mikasa stopped her turning and landed the camera on Eren. Before she could reply, she caught sight of something behind him on the wall.
"What's that?" she asked, point the light towards the darkened splatter in the far corner. She brushed passed Eren without a second thought, curious as to what it was.
"That looks like…" Armin said as they came closer, but his voice trailed off.
"Blood?" Mikasa suggested.
"Blood," Armin confirmed solemnly.
"Oh hell no. Someone died here," Eren said, backing away, "We're leaving. Now."
"I'm right behind you," Armin said, backing away as he did.
"If someone did," Mikasa thought out loud, "Where's the body? There were only reports on missing people, right? No murders?"
"Yeah, not that I know of," Armin said. He saw where she was going with this. It was definitely odd that they'd find something like this. The way the splatter was oriented on the wall and the aged color indicated that this wasn't just someone throwing a pail of paint on the wall. It was evidently some kind of foul play. There were two possible explanations, he thought: either there were faults in the reports or this happened after the plant shut down. What scared him the most was that if the latter was true… indeed, where was the body?
"I don't even know anymore," Eren said, fear obvious in his trembling voice, "All I know is that I just want to get the hell out of here."
"Hold on," Mikasa said, grabbing on to Eren's sleeve before he could make the break for it, "There's something else."
She moved the light over a crack in the ground large enough for one of them to slip through if they tried hard enough.
"Do you feel that?" she asked.
"Yeah," Armin breathed, "There's a colder air coming from down there. It's open space."
Mikasa let go of Eren's sleeve and moved to get a closer look.
"Wait, Mikasa!" Eren exclaimed stepping forward to reach for her.
He then lost his footing when he stepped over a large slab of concrete that he failed to see in the dark. Right when he made painful contact with the ground, a large cracking sound came to their ears.
"Oh, no," Armin gasped.
Suddenly, the weak floor beneath their feet completely collapsed and their bodies fell hard onto metal, sliding down in a slant with the debris. Eren and Armin cried out in shock as they all tumbled down the chute until they reached the bottom, slamming hard on the pavement.
"Shit," Eren cursed. His body started to feel sore from the fall and the pain seared when he tried to help himself up, "Are you guys okay?"
"Y-yeah," Armin groaned, "A little bruised, but I'm fine."
"Me too," Mikasa said, getting up and brushing her clothes of dust and dirt.
"Eren?! Mikasa?! Armin?! What happened? What was that? Where are you guys?" they heard Hanji's calling coming closer from above.
"We're down here!" Eren yelled upwards with his hands cupped over his mouth, "We fell down down some kind of chute."
"We should just leave them," they heard Levi's voice echo.
"Wait, what?! No!" Eren exclaimed, suddenly frantic. He then felt someone strongly grab onto his sleeve.
"Eren," Armin said in a low but hard voice, "Look…"
"What?" he whipped his head around and looked to where Mikasa was pointing with her flashlight. Eren immediately froze.
"Hey! It got quiet down there quick," Hanji's voice echoed, "Are you guys alright?"
None of them responded. The sight lodged any words they had in their throats.
"Okay, that's it. We're going down there," Hanji said, the sound clanking of metal breaking the silence as she climbed into the opening.
"Wait, hold on. The hell do you think you're-?!" Levi's protests were cut off and massive clanking filled the air, their bodies tumbling down the chute and onto the cold, cement ground below.
They landed in a painful heap with Levi growling profanities about almost breaking his camera. Without paying much mind to him, Hanji instantly got up from their fall like nothing happened and turned to the three younger kids.
"Are you guys alright? What-" she started to say, but was immediately silenced when she saw what they were gawking at.
A few meters ahead of them stood a large tank visibly filled with fluid. Large and small tubes were attached to the tank's platform and lid, and encased was what eerily looked like a naked body floating and curled into a fetal position. However, it was easily four times the size of any human. The sight was unnerving enough to make all of them hold their breaths. Mikasa's light then moved to the right and left, showing more of the same tanks each containing another floating body.
Levi slowly rose to his feet, stunned as everybody else.
"What in the fucking hell are those?"
Yaaay another AU fic lol. I don't know why I'm so obsessed with AUs right now but I have so many ideas that I just want to draw or write out. Ahh and it's seriously inconvenient because I've got school to worry about.
Like my other fics, I'm approaching this like how an anime episode would run. I guess it's grown to be my style and I know some people would find filler dialogues to be boring, so if anyone has a problem with it I'll definitely change it up. (:
But anyway, I hope you guys think this is interesting enough to continue because I'm seriously really excited for this particular idea of mine. However, I'll only update if it's something people would read because again, I'd feel bad putting effort into something people don't like haha, especially when I plan on it being a multichapter fic. SO, if you're liking where, or curious as to where, this is going please don't hesitate to drop a review and/or fav/alert!
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to shoot me a message, either.
Thanks for reading! Until next time~