It's Killing Me
Foreshadowing“How is it that you all have never been caught?” I asked Martha as we sat in a backroom, waiting for the meeting down the hall to adjourn.
She sat on a couch opposite the chair I lounged in, her brother’s head in her lap. She stroked his hair absentmindedly as she contemplated how to answer my question.
“If I tell you a secret, do you think you could keep it?” She asked, raising an eyebrow at me.
“Who would I tell?” I asked.
She nodded. “They think we’re dead.”
“Impressive. How’d you manage to pull that one off?”
She averted her eyes suddenly, staring at her brother’s sleeping figure. “My father,” she said.
“Oh,” I replied quietly, but she wasn’t finished.
“It was a pretty clever hoax, actually,” she began, settling back into the rhythmic petting of Corey’s curls. “They’d been having meetings every night possible -my father and the other six. They’d discuss escape plans, just the kind of stuff you’d expect from an underground rebel meeting.” She took a deep breath as Corey repositioned himself.
“My mother is a nurse of sorts. She was assisting with a severe burn injury a few minutes away from our house. Dad didn’t think it was safe to leave Corey and I home alone, so he brought us with him to the meeting. It was supposed to be the second to last before they put a plan in action- don’t ask me what kind, no one will tell me. That’s why I’m not in the other room right now. But anyways, I guess someone tipped off the old guys down at the security post and they came knocking on our door.”
Just then, Alyssa poked her head in through the crack in the door. “If you guys want to come out now, feel free.”
“We’ll be there in a minute,” Martha replied. Then, when the door closed again, she muttered, “I swear that woman is the most conniving, sneaky- oh! She makes my blood boil… Now, where was I?”
“The men came to bust up the meeting.” I told her, snapping my fingers.
“Oh, right,” she said. “Yeah, so. They started banging on the door, and of course we were all panicking. Then all of the sudden, my dad drags the table out a bit, folds the rug over and opens a cellar door in the floorboards. As soon as he got the table back over the rug, we heard the door bang open. There was a quick silence, and then…” she stopped, choking on her words.
I gave her a moment, then whispered quietly, “You don’t have to keep talking about it if you don’t want to…”
She shook her head. “No, that’s okay. I’d want to know, if I were you.” Then she continued on with her story, “There was an explosion, the ear-shattering kind. And then there was nothing.”
“What caused it?”
“No one knew. A grenade, probably. They got sick of our scheming, got pissed off because we wouldn’t open the door, so instead of handling the situation with any shred of decency, they just incinerated the place. My father included.”
“Martha, I’m sor-” I began, but she just shook her head again, wiping her eyes on her shirt collar.
“It’s fine,” she said, “Corey and I are safe, and I’m sure he wouldn’t change what he did if he could. But they didn’t come back that night. Once we realized no one was going to be touching that place for a while, we left to come here. And I think, ever since, they’ve been trying to get back. And, well, if everyone thinks we’re dead-”
“That gives you a great element of surprise.” I interjected.
“Not exactly what I was going to say, but yeah.” She nodded in agreement.
We sat silently for a minute. Martha, reminisced through old memories in an apparent state of nostalgia and I, well… I was just trying to wrap my head around the whole situation.
Four days ago, I was just some loner kid who was taking a trip in honor of her dead mother. And now, I was neck deep in a plan to overthrow some cold-blooded government agency and liberate a town full of people I’d never even known existed.
“Any more questions before I go out there and play the silent, brooding type in order to keep from flipping out on over controlling Barbie?”
I laughed. “Just one,” I said. “Why do you think they’ve never come here?”
“Well, I’m sure they checked this place after they moved into our town. But, they’re sitting pretty where they’re at now. There’s no reason to trade that luxury for this beat up old shanty, you know?”
And then she shook Corey awake, helping him sit himself up before we went out into the main room to deal with the rest of the party.
“Yeah, I know..” I whispered, not really caring if she heard me.
“Paintings?” I said skeptically, tilting my head this way and that, surveying the pieces of art Daniel had displayed all throughout the room.
“And sketches,” he said, pointing to the left side of the room.
There were probably a hundred of them, mostly landscapes: the outcrop of a forest at dusk, a van Goh style meadow scene, a white-washed country house with a porch spanning the perimeter.
They were beautiful.
“Did you do this?” I asked, turning around to face him.
He raised his eyebrows at me. “I wish,” he said, taking a step forward to get a closer look. “I found them in here when we were combing through the place. Some of the sketches, the portraits of people, were sitting on the counter out in the common area. But other than that, only this room held any other pieces.”
“So I guess people really did live here.” I said, spinning around in awe.
The sketches were impeccably done, with textures and contrasts so realistic I felt I could reach my hand out and feel the flesh of the subjects’ cheeks.
“Look at this one,” he called to me, leaning over a desk with a lamp shining over a piece of light blue paper.
It was a painting, a square about three inches wide. The depiction was an eye, sort of animalistic, with a yellow iris and a crazed glare.
“That’s… scary.” I said.
“Yeah,” he agreed, nodding his head. “This whole place is a little scary. It’s like there’s so much left here from before it was abandoned that a piece of the old society still lingers.”
“Like a haunting,” I mused, “but not ghostly, just… a retro ambience.”
I traced my finger over the eye, feeling the raised miniscule red veins.
“It’s impossibly detailed,” I said.
“Doc said once that he thinks this was a center for neurological studies. He’d seen once during his time in the military, a surgery that altered some part of the brain -don’t ask me to name it- and turned the patient guy into an intellectual sponge. Doc said he was like a computer, spitting out formulas and mathematical theorems.”
“That’s kind of cool,” I replied, amazed.
“Which is what I thought; but, Doc said no. Apparently it left this guy changed, personality wise. He became manic and eventually too volatile to handle, so they just-” he made a sound with his mouth, running a finger across his throat.
I winced, momentarily picturing the gory scene.
“-eliminated a failed test subject,” I finished. He nodded in response.
“I wonder what else they experimented with,” I prompted quietly.
“Who knows,” Daniel replied. “There’s plenty to play with: the brain, chemical structure, genetic codes. They could create anything out of any human they wanted, if they really wanted to.”
Including a human camera, I thought.
I woke up in the middle of the night, a cold sweat pouring down my back, my heart racing from the nightmare I’d just managed to tear myself free of.
I shot up into a sitting position, gasping for air as Martha stirred on the mat beside me, turning over to face the wall beside us.
I clutched my face, trying to muffle my labored breathing as the adrenaline rush subdued. Lying back down, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that something was off. The air in the room seemed too still, too thick to be safe. Unable to put my finger on exactly what felt out of place, I buried the back of my head back down into the ratty pillow I’d been allotted and scanned across the room.
The first thing I checked for was the rise and fall of chests, which seemed to be happening.
So what was wrong.
To the left of me was Martha and to the left of her, Corey.
On the couch across the room from us was Greg, snoring with his foot propped up on the arm rest. On the floor below the couch was Joe.
In the arm chair at the foot of the couch was Doc, and on the floor at his feet was Alyssa, who lay curled around herself in a serene slumber.
By the hallway entrance Recon snoozed propped against the wall.
At first, this seemed normal, and then I realized numbers were off: Daniel was missing.
I got up from my resting spot, careful not to rustle too much and wake the others.
My first thought was to check the Art Studio, as I had dubbed it, but not seeing a light illuminating from the hallway and hearing no noise, I surmised that that would be a bust: Daniel would never leave without good reason or warning somebody first- it would cause too much worry.
I turned to make my way back around the common room to the front door. But as I turned to exit the hallway, a chest got in my way.
I gasped, covering my mouth with my hand. My eyes ventured up to see Greg, eyes bloodshot and lids hanging heavy with sleep.
He looked at me sideways, as if I were an apparition he was trying to convince himself I wasn’t there.
After a moment, I spoke quietly. “Daniel,” I began, but he stopped me.
“I know,” he whispered.
“Do you know where he might be?” I asked.
Greg shook his head.
As I began to try to think of places he might have went, I heard some chains jingling across the room and down the stairs to the entrance.
Greg turned immediately, hobbling through to the entrance. I tailed him, helping Martha up to her feet as she reached for me.
“What’s going on?” she grumbled groggily.
“I don’t know. Daniel’s gone and now there are noises at the entrance door.”
“You two,” Greg whispered harshly. “Quiet.”
He held a finger up to us, grabbing a crowbar from underneath the table and pressing his back up against the corner of the entranceway.
We heard a rustling, the quiet muttering of two voices, then a loud “bang” as something got shoved against the metal door.
“Ah!” I heard a voice cry out.
“Dan?” Greg called out, holding the bar up like a bat, ready to swing.
For a minute there was no reply, but then we heard Daniel’s voice respond hoarsely, calling out from behind the door.
“It’s me,” he affirmed. “Come help me out.”
Greg turned to us, “You two stay here.” he said.
I turned to Martha and then back to him, folding my arms over my chest and nodding.
We returned back to the living room area where everyone was now awake, sitting and waiting to see what was about to come through the door.
“Is it one of them?” Alyssa asked.
“We don’t know yet,” Martha said, and as the door creaked open and they came rumbling in, she added, “but it looks like we’re about to find out.”
Greg and Daniel came hobbling in just as Recon got a lamp and set it on a shelf, lighting up the room slightly.
In their arms they drug a limp body with a bag over his head, arms tied crudely behind his back.
“Somebody gonna grab a chair?” Greg fumed, and I hopped over to the table and drug a wooden chair over, pushing it beneath the guy they were holding up.
They dumped him into it, making sure to tie his hands behind him before unmasking him.
His head lolled about in the dimness, which made him hard to recognize at first.
But as I caught a glimpse of the jaw line, the midnight black hair, I knew exactly who it was.