Thursday, October 15, 2009

Daily Story 183: Rat King

"Thing is, Jenny, This was all government property." Walter explained, wiping his hands off on his official 'Paranormal Adventures' jacket. "But after the fire the hospital bought the land and used it for the mental health wing." I stepped down off of the final corroded rung and found out the hard way that the top of my boots were just slightly lower than the stagnant water. Walter heard me gasp and he winced in sympathy as he realized what had happened.
"Nothing to do about that, I'm afraid. You'll probably have to burn the socks." He turned back towards the tunnel opening, letting the shadows wrap around me once more.

"The hospital swears they never used these basement areas; they were flooded when the fire was put out and the funding dried up after the initial repairs, so this whole complex was just abandoned. They've had maintenance people down here from time to time because water and sewer lines go through here." He paused at a junction, looking uncertainly at a laminated map.
"That's where we heard about it, right?"
Walter turned right and continued walking. "I wish you had read your file before coming down here."
I shrugged, although he couldn't see me. "I was filming the episode we scouted out for the Jersey Devil. The editing room guys are pretty happy, they say it's one of our best episodes yet."

Walter turned again, entering a room with ancient waterlogged medical equipment. Huge iron hospital beds lurked in the water like crocodiles. "You know, Jenny, I remember a time not too long ago that you were embarrassed about the whole thing. If I had told you then that you would actually enjoy being the host for some cheesy basic cable ghost-chasing show..." I restrain myself before snapping at him. It's not entirely untrue - I guess I am enjoying it a little. Sooner or later you might as well take pride in a job well done, even if the job itself makes you a laughingstock. Walter pauses again. "Where was I? Right, so we got the call from a plumber checking on a drop in water pressure. said he found a room filled with animal bones - mostly rats, but some cats as well as something larger, he guessed a dog. Meanwhile I talked to the staff and they say they've heard voices down here, things splashing in the water."

"Well if we're just talking about locations for the show this place is fantastic; but a handful of dead squirrels and some teenagers breaking into an unused basement doesn't excite me." Walter gave me that look then, the one that asked: would I bring you here if that was all?
"The government... they did experiments here. On children. It was all off the books, run by Strughold's boys. Nobody who was working on the project survived the fire, but the test subjects weren't exactly on the roster, and were never accounted for."
I sat on the rusted desk behind me and glared at Walter. "Please tell me you're just making a pitch for the show, and not actually asking me to believe that a bunch of kids have stayed locked up in a flooded basement for... what, fifty years?"
"Twenty-five." The words hang in my mind like lead bricks and suddenly the darkness and the reeking water feel more oppressive, colder than they did a minute before. Experiments on children, so recently?

"There's more," Walter says, and I just nod. No more talking back from me. "The head of the psych ward over our heads was convicted of kidnapping six years ago. They never found the missing children, the guy just said they had become a part of 'something glorious' - so of course they looked down here, but the two cops that did this part of the search said they didn't find anything. They suggested this whole place be sealed off as a safety hazard, one took a leave of absence... and then they were found dead, clear-cut murder suicide. Theory was that it was over a woman."
From somewhere down the hallway an echo reaches us - it sounds like someone giggling. I pull out my gun, and Walter follows suit. Time to stop playing television star and remember my real job.

Even my family thinks I've given up on law enforcement; my father has nearly disowned me. They think I flunked out of the training program for the CIA and used what few credentials I had to sell out and lend credibility to some bullshit on television. I wish more of it really was bullshit. Maybe I would sleep better at night. Walter is moving silently through the dark water ahead of me somehow; I feel like the water moving around my calves is echoing through the whole complex. This could turn out to be nothing, like the Jersey Devil or that "vampire" in Phoenix. Then again, it could end up like the "Blue Nun" at that summer camp in Jamison... and I know that even if Walter gets torn apart down here I'll have to put on my television face and film a show about these tunnels to make it into an urban legend. A joke. Just like me.

The sound is getting closer, echoing strangely as if coming from more than one place. My flashlight goes out abruptly and I slide it into my pocket, watching every reflected gleam of light in the darkness. Near the end of the hall, stagnant water swirling around us, we reach a doorway. Walter's flashlight flickers and dims but we can see something large shambling across the dark space ahead of us.
The words are just barely out of synch, coming from everywhere: "Stay. Play with us."