Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
Beth continued to rifle through the disorganized items stuffed into the lockers. She was pretty sure there was nothing useful for her to find, much less a detailed diagram of the facility, but the mundane repetitive task of going through the lockers was mildly relaxing. There was a cozy familiarity about the process. Whenever she was stressed about things was when closets got emptied, basements got organized, and garages became staging areas for trash pickup. If friends found her place all neat and tidy, they invariably asked what was wrong. Moving to a new locker she gave the metal door a tug. It pulled away completely, and clattered to the floor.
“What exactly are you looking for?”
The question came from Gus’s friend, Thomas. Beth was keenly aware that he was still in the room. Periodically, as she was sorting through things she would give him a sideways glance. He remained seated in Gus’s chair at the defunct control center computer. There was a looming question in her mind about how exactly he had made it up to their floor.
Gus had seen him fall with the elevator cage. It wasn’t unbelievable that he could have survived the fall. Surviving traumatic events was something that could, and did happen. She had learned that at an early age. That wasn’t the part that concerned her. The winding path through the alternating stairwells was a slow process, even for them. And they understood the layout of the facility, having been living with it for months. Thomas’ trip down the elevator had been the first time he’d see the inside of the facility, other than the main building up top. So how was it that he had managed to show up so soon after she and Gus had arrived. And how had they not seen him trailing behind them, especially after making pit stops on both the dormitory and lab floors.
All of these questions and more had been going through her mind as she moved through the lockers. The thought of confronting Thomas directly had crossed her mind multiple times, but considering their situation, she didn’t see how it would be helpful. If there was a reasonable explanation, then Thomas would undoubtedly have a ton of questions that she wasn’t prepared to answer just yet. And if there wasn’t. Well, one crisis at a time.
“A map,” Beth replied.
Thomas laughed. There was something oddly familiar about it. She had always found laughter to be strangely unique among people. Hear a particular laugh from across a crowded conference room, and you might immediately recognize it as belonging to someone that you had a close association with. It wasn’t a guarantee, but she had found it to be rather reliable.
“A map? Of here?”
Beth began to answer him when an object caught her eye. Behind a mess of empty black plastic containers resembling movie cases, she spied a battered cardboard tube. The end was wrapped in silver duct tape that was badly smudged and frayed. Reaching into the locker, she gave it a tug. Kicking aside the avalanche of containers that spilled out, she lifted the tube, and scanned it for labels. There were no identifying marks, but she could feel a sense of excitement as she tore at the tape.
Tilting the tube towards the light, she peered in. Wrinkled edges of paper stared back. Shaking the tube, she watched as a roll of dusty pale blue paper slid onto the floor. Beth knelt down and spread out the paper roll, holding down each end with her hands.
They were definitely blueprints, and they appeared to be for the facility. She started peeling back pages, scanning them for familiar and unfamiliar features. Stopping on one page, she rotated the stack, and stared in disbelief.
“Of course! It should have been obvious.”
“Obvious?” Thomas muttered, rising from his chair.
“This place isn’t a bunker. Well, it is. But not like a shelter. It’s a repurposed missile silo!
“The silo part must have been walled off at some point, but it’s definitely still there. It looks like there should be one or two floors below the power level, with access to the silo from the lowest one.
“I bet that’s what the old barn structure is for. To obscure the top of the silo. There should be a ladder all the way up the side to the top. That’s probably where they ran the communication wires from the radio tower. I need to go tell Gus!”
“We have a way out.”
Thomas’ words had a bizarre flat cadence, almost like they had been spoken by a machine. Beth turned to look at him. He was now just in front of the desk. His head was tilted to one side. One finger was tapping erratically at his leg, as if he were sending out a Morse code message. She heard a strange clicking sound followed by a distant high pitched whine. A cold chill ran down her back followed by a strange tingle at the back of her neck. It only lasted a moment, like a spark too weak to start a fire.
“Thomas?” Beth whispered.
“You are different. Not like the others.”
His eyelids snapped, moving like nictitating membranes instead of eyelids, and he locked his gaze onto hers. Beth recognized the dead eye stare for the harbinger of danger that it was.
In a single motion Thomas dropped to his knees, scooped up a heavy flashlight, and lunged towards her, brandishing it like a club, his face contorted into a snarl. In the same instant Beth rolled to one side, and slid the taser from her back pocket. Taking only a second to steady her aim, the taser’s electrified barbs plunged into Thomas’ chest.
The crackle of electricity filled the room as Thomas’ back arched. His flashlight clattered to the floor. Black needle like claws slid out from the tips of his fingers as his still damp clothing tightened around his swelling form, ripping apart at every seam. Pale translucent flesh pulsing with a strange blue glow bulged out at every tear. Dark black spots sprouted in a circle around his face. His mouth was locked in a silent rictus scream as the rest of his head distended into a bulbous shape.
Dropping the taser, Beth scrambled for the flashlight. Rising to a crouch, she swung the heavy instrument, and grimaced as the metal end collided with the side of the swollen monstrosity that was now barely recognizable as a human head. The end of the flashlight disappeared into the gelatinous mass until it struck something hard. Painful vibrations raced up Beth’s wrists and arms as if she had struck a tree with a metal bat.
Her heart pounding in her ears, she turned to run, and stopped. The engorged form of the creature was still moving, though barely, and was between her and the blueprints. Scanning the floor, she saw another flashlight. Grabbing it, she ran around the creature, snatched the rolled up papers without stopping, and raced from the room.