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Scene 24

1871 words·9 mins
Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
Part 24: This Article

As they crossed the level to the stairwell on the opposite side, Gus looked at the damage. Some of the fluorescent lights hadn’t come back on, and he tried to not think about walking through small clouds of mercury dust from shattered tubes. On the whole he thought things didn’t look quite as bad as they had in the dark. He supposed it helped that the HVAC was fully operational, and a cool breeze could be felt as it labored to pull the excess heat from the air. Piles of rock and dust still littered the floor, but the cracked walls now just looked rundown instead of apocalyptic.

Some spackle and paint, and it’ll be good as new, he thought to himself.

Beth hadn’t said a word since helping him up the stairwell. The memory of the situation was still fuzzy in his mind. It was almost like trying to remember events from a night of heavy drinking. There were ultra clear flashes, like Martin showing up out of nowhere. That was one element that he kept circling back to. Putting aside the fact that he had looked de-aged by decades, Gus just couldn’t figure out where he could have come from. In the scheme of things it was a minor detail, but the problem solving part of his mind had latched on to it, and wasn’t letting go.

He was so consumed with his own thoughts that he hadn’t noticed Beth had stopped until he literally walked into her backpack. He grunted as air was pushed from his lungs, and felt a twinge of surprise that Beth seemed to not budge in the slightest. Gus stepped back and started to speak, but stopped as he saw Beth’s upraised hand. Feeling a little ridiculous, he leaned to the side, trying to peer around her, like some child overcome by curiosity.

There was nothing to see, beyond a frantically flickering light near the end of the hall. He couldn’t hear anything beyond the rustling of cool air pushing through vents, and the occasional crackle of dislodged sheet rock crumbling to the floor. Feeling a little anxious, Gus slowly looked over his shoulder. He didn’t even realize that he had been holding his breath until he saw the long empty hallway stretching behind him, and let out a long exhale.

“What is it?” he whispered, almost directly into Beth’s ear.

Putting her arm down, she replied, “I thought I heard something.”


Gus’s skin crawled at the memory of the sounds of the creature’s claws against the stone floor as they pulled themselves across it.

“Not sure. It might have just been things settling. Just a little on edge, I guess.”

“No doubt!” Gus said with a laugh.

Looking at Beth in the harsh light of the hallway, the depth of her exhaustion was plain. He thought he must look at least as bad. They were both covered in sweat and rock dust. Beth stepped back and looked at a door they had just passed.

“You think the water’s on?”

The question caught Gus off guard.

“Umm, sure? I mean, if the pumps came back online, and there weren’t any breaks in the pipes.”

His mind jumped to the notion of opening a stairwell door to only be greeted by a giant tidal wave of water. A memory tickled at the edge of his consciousness. Water. Dark reflections. There was something in the water. He felt himself getting dizzy.


Beth’s question snapped him back to reality.

“What? Oh, sorry. I’m just … I don’t know.”

“The adrenaline is wearing off is all. I’m thinking it might be faster if we took a moment to get cleaned up before pushing forward.”

“Cleaned up?”

Gus was missing something, and must have had a look of abject cluelessness painted all over his grime covered face. Beth laughed, and pointed at the door she had been looking at.

“That’s my room.”

“Ohhhhhhh!” Gus exclaimed.

Stepping past Gus, Beth tugged at the door. It opened a few inches. She tugged harder, wrapping her fingers around the exposed edge. With a groan it opened another foot, and then two. Looking down the hall, he saw his own door had been popped off the hinges, and was laying on the floor.

“Fifteen minutes, and we meet back here, okay?”

Gus nodded, and Beth removed her backpack, pushing it into her room before squeezing through the opening. Standing alone in the hallway, Gus felt frozen.

“It’s just the adrenaline wearing off, like she said,” he told the empty space, and forced himself to start down the hallway towards his room.

He wasn’t the neatest person in the world, and at first glance Gus thought somehow his room had been spared any damage, short of the door being popped out of its frame. Sitting on his bed, he bounced on the springy mattress as small clouds of rock dust puffed into the air. Part of him wanted to just fall back, and take a long nap. But he knew they didn’t have that kind of time.

The drawer where he kept the towels was stuck, but after a swift kick it dislodged. Packing a fresh towel to the bathroom, he flicked on the light.

A memory of a bathroom, not his own, filled his vision. Cracks were running up the walls. Water erupted from the toilet and sink. Silver spiderwebs raced across the mirrors. His breath caught in his throat. The face looking back from the shattered mirror wasn’t his own. It was Martin’s. He felt himself falling backward, or was he floating. He couldn’t tell.


The voice seemed to come from far away. The vision of the memory warped around him, and he felt something strike his arm. He was leaning in the doorway of his bathroom, sweat dripping from his face, his shoulder pressed hard against the jam. The towel was on the floor in front of him.


The voice was clear now. It was Beth. She sounded like she was in the hallway.

Fifteen minutes. Shit! How long was I out?

“Just a second, be right there!” he called.

Reentering his bathroom, he twirled the spigot. There was a heavy wheeze of air, and a sputter of water coughed into the sink. It had a tan look to it, but cleared as the water ran. Cupping his hands under the faucet, he rubbed the water against his face, and through his hair. He started to look into the mirror, but stopped.

What if he’s there again? Stop it! You’re being ridiculous. It was just the exhaustion, and your mind playing tricks on you.

Splashing more water on his face, Gus turned the water off, and exited the bathroom, being careful to avoid looking at any mirrors. Picking up the towel from the floor, he rubbed it across his face, breathing in the clean smell. Tossing it onto his dust covered bed, he stepped out into the hallway.

“I was starting to wonder if you’d fallen in,” Beth said with a smirk, looking refreshed. Glancing at his clothes, she shook her head. “You took a nap, didn’t you.”

“What? No .. well …”

“Just rested your eyes?”

Gus winced, but tried to turn it into a smile.

“Hey, no judgement. But we do need to get up top.”

“Right. Yeah, lets get to it.”

The stairwell was clear, and they made their way to the next floor, where the labs were. Shattered glass crunched under their shoes as they made their way across the level. They both paused to look at Martin’s lab. It was like looking at a crime scene, Gus thought. Beth stepped through the space where the door had been, and sat down at a stool in front of a console, sliding her backpack off her shoulder onto the floor. Gus didn’t follow.

“Um, do you think that’s a good idea. What if there are … you know …”

Beth looked at him, and waved him to come in the room. Gus realized he had been muttering so she hadn’t heard him. She stepped around the small desk, and fiddled with the back of the computer console.

“It’s not coming on,” she said. “You want to come take a look?”

Gus glanced up and down the hallway. He was feeling very anxious, and said, a bit too loud, “It wouldn’t do any good. Your systems were blocked from outside access. Internal only.”

Beth looked at him. He didn’t understand why he was feeling so nervous. He took a step back. Beth shrugged, and picked up her backpack.

“Okay, thought it might be worth a try is all. No worries.”

She exited the lab, and stopped in front of him. Putting her hand on his shoulder, she leaned in, and said, “Hey, it’s going to be okay.”

Gus smiled and nodded. She gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze, and continued down the hallway. Gus followed, and tried to force himself into calmness. He couldn’t say that he had ever had an anxiety attack before, and wondered if what he was feeling was what people meant. It was a feeling that he didn’t like one little bit. Of that he was sure.

After climbing up another stairwell, it wasn’t long before they found themselves amongst the chaotic remains of Gus’s office, otherwise known as the control room. Beth absently rubbed the side of her head as she looked at the pile of debris near the corner of the large desk that was covered with heavy electronics. Gus went to the console, and toggled the rocker switch for power. There was nothing.

“Is there anything I can do?” Beth asked.

Gus was starting to feel a little better. Even though the place was a wreck, it felt like home to him. These were problems he understood.

“Nah. I’m sure things just got jarred loose. I’m gonna need to poke around at it.”

An itchy memory resurfaced. In truth, it had never really gone away.

Where had Martin come from?

“You know, remember when we were up here last? You were looking for a layout of this place. That might be really useful right about now.”

“Good idea!” Beth said, and turned away from him, surveying the room’s mess.

Gus sat his backpack down, took his flashlight, and tried to get comfortable under the desk. As he looked for disconnected cables, he could hear Beth rummaging around. She was humming a soft tune, and though Gus could barely hear it, it made him smile.

“Ah ha!” Gus exclaimed.

Reseating a plug, he pulled himself out from under the desk. Dusting off his clothes, a vain exercise, but it made him feel better, he noticed that Beth wasn’t humming anymore. The room was deathly quiet. Gus turned to ask her if she had found something. She was standing at one of the lockers, her face a mixture of shock and surprise, staring at the doorway of the room.

Gus followed her gaze, and caught himself with the edge of the table to stop from falling. Standing there in the doorway, leaning hard against the jam, looking like he had just run a marathon, clothes dripping with water, was Thomas.

Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
Part 24: This Article