She had never known that someone’s pulse could drown out everything. It was a roar in her ears, silencing her frantic steps as they carried her down the hallway and the erratic breathing moving her lungs. Beads of sweat clung to her bare neck, arms and face. The AC cooled it to an uncomfortable level, and she shivered. Suddenly the light overhead flickered, lighting her path enough for her to choose to go right or continue forward, while also momentarily blinding her. She dropped to a crouch, then pressed herself as close to the wall as possible.
“Twenty. Twenty-one. Twenty-two.”
She felt herself tense as a nearby speaker crackled to life. It clung to some forgotten corner like a spider, leering down at the prey that scurried for safety below. She turned her face from the wall as the numbers continued. Thankfully her eyes were used to adjusting to the dark again. When the crackling voice called out twenty-seven she was on her feet and running down the hall again.
Suddenly something hard and cold smacked into her shin. With a quiet yelp she tumbled over the object and sprawled on the other side. It had to be another steel barrel. The place was full of them. She had never taken the time to figure out what, or who, they contained. The numbers were reaching the thirties now, and she pushed herself up. For a moment she lost her footing on the slick, smelly floor. Her hand shot out and her heart leapt. A door handle! Finally! Praying that it wasn’t locked she twisted it, then threw herself forward. She tumbled swiftly into a cold, dim room.
As she shut the heavy, steel door behind her she realized she was in a freezer of some kind. It was lighter in here than in the hallway, but she wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. She could faintly see the outline of more steel drums, sealed of course, as well as a tarp and some lead pipes. She reached up to check if the door had a lock. When she found that it did she nearly cried with relief. Then, just as she heard, “Ready or not!” she burrowed under the tarp.
Every round of this horrid game she had kept moving. Her energy was waning, her lungs were burning, and tears made it hard to see. A gash in her leg proved just how close she had been to getting caught; thankfully it was deep enough to be numb. Silence dominated the facility. The speakers hung warily in their posts, anxious to call out the name of the latest find. She had always tuned them out, at least her pulse had.
Only once did her now even breathing accelerate. Adrenaline flooded her system as the locked handle jiggled. Thankfully whoever had attempted entry had moved on. Sometimes the rounds lasted hours. When hiding for your life you tended to either hide well or keep moving. Unfortunately it didn’t seem like this round was going to last very long.
Her skin tingled and her hair rose on end as a blood curdling scream echoed throughout the halls. It bounced along the linoleum and curled into the corners, prying for entry of any kind. Even the victim’s agony wanted to escape. Michelle clamped her hands over her ears and clenched her eyes shut, praying the screams would end. Once they had evolved into a war cry. Most times they ended after only a second or two. Apparently this one was fighting.
“Please! Oh, dear God make it stop!”
Every instinct she had for survival urged her to crawl deeper into the freezer turned storage unit. Every ounce of empathy urged her to bolt forward and help the latest victim. The steady, and growing, throb of her leg wound made her listen to the first instinct.
The sound of quick feet moved past the door. One pair sounded heavier and tired. The other was simply moving. It would keep moving until it overtook the other. Michelle listened in horror as the second pair overtook the first not far from her hiding place. The anguish in the girl’s cry brought unwelcome tears to her closed eyes
“Please! I never asked for this! Argh!” A sound turned her stomach, and she covered her mouth with her hand to gag quietly. It was a wet crunch, blood and bone had obviously spilled in unison. Whatever had hit the girl hadn’t caused her to be quiet yet. Screams and gurgles still emptied into the air. Then, abruptly, they silenced. Whatever had been used as a weapon had finally done its job. Michelle trembled under the tarp and allowed the tears to stream down her grimy cheeks. The speakers were still quiet, a sign that the next round hadn’t started yet, but she couldn’t help her curiosity. It would probably get her killed one of these days.
Her knees shook as she crawled out over the pipes. Careful to not touch the knob she pulled herself up to peer out of the dirty, cracked window in the door. The lights were on in the hallway, and she took the time to actually look. There was the drum she had fallen over earlier. It was dented now, from her or from someone else she wasn’t sure. She could hear some strange cackling, and instantly her nerves were a live wire. One of the crones was still close by.
A florescent bulb brought every detail out in startling clarity. The fly crawling over the wall paused for a few seconds to taste a rust colored smear, then flew off to other delights. A long forgotten shoe, now beginning to decay, lay on its side. A fractured compact sat primly in the hallway, its ruined surface proudly displayed like an old war wound. Michelle wondered if someone had attempted to use it as a weapon.
Michelle screamed as the grinning face of one of the old crones appeared in the window. She fell back as the wide mouth parted to release a dusty laugh. The knob was jiggled again, screaming when she heard the metal snap. The door swung open the moment her hand closed around one of the heavy pipes. There weren’t any rules against using something to defend yourself.
“Now, now, dear. No need for that. You aren’t it.” The hag cackled again as she pushed the door open. Michelle held the pipe with both hands, refusing to let her guard down. These women – these things – they weren’t natural. They stooped with the weight of the world on their gnarled shoulders. Their twisted fingers were long, their nails filed into points of deadly accuracy. Michelle noted the spot of red on her left hand. The woman’s empty, black eyes were set far back into their sockets. The yellow, papery skin was stretched taunt. She was nothing more than a warped skeleton with minimal covering.
“Since when?” Michelle slipped, quickly closing her mouth. Her hands trembled as the woman turned and slowly moved away. Much too slowly: they moved as fast as a bat out of hell when they found you. Still extending the pipe, she cautiously moved out of the freezer and into the hallway. The woman was stooped even further, bending to investigate the latest corpse. Its fingers twitched in a final, desperate act. When Michelle saw the face she resisted the urge to vomit. How its brain was still functioning even that much was beyond her.
“I can’t tell who this is, dear. Who is it?” The woman’s voice was grating against her. She swallowed back the bile rising in her throat as she did as the woman's fingers gestured. Moving towards the body she shuddered, her fair complexion paling dangerously.
Its left leg was bent at an unnatural angle, and the bone in its thigh jutted out through badly torn flesh. The auburn haired teen refused to admit that the brunette form in front of her had once been alive. She couldn’t picture it now. The skull had been smashed in, its teeth shattered and the jaw unhinged. One eye had burst in the socket, and blood had filled in the space remaining. The other was cloudy and open wide. Blood pooled in the hair and made an unholy halo around its head. The arms were scratched, and a large, slick wound decorated the abdomen.
A machete rested in the crone’s hands. She didn’t miss the bloody pole lying on the ground, either.
“I think it…is it Lisa?” Michelle whispered helplessly. Please don’t be Lisa. Oh god, don’t let it be Lisa. She had been the one girl Michelle had attempted to befriend. But when she was almost caught, she had urged Lisa to go off by herself. She prayed this wasn’t her only friend.
“Why, yes! I think it is. Thank you, dear. Only three left now.” The hag held up the corresponding fingers while Michelle’s body attempted to empty her stomach. She lifted her eyes to watch as the woman lifted her friend’s arm and began to drag her back down the hall in the direction of the only exit. The trail of blood left behind was decorated here and there by bits of bone and torn fabric. Michelle felt sobs tearing at her chest and pushed herself to an upright position. The world swam behind her tears.
As the old woman turned the corner, the lights blinked out. She felt drowned in the darkness, and her panic almost had her miss the speakers coming to life.
“Beginning round nine. One. Two. Three.”