Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
Gus felt his mood lift as he trotted through the hallway, en route to the kitchen. He had some nagging questions at the fringes of his thoughts, and intentionally ignored them. He felt like he had been through enough harrowing events to last a lifetime, and realized there were likely to be more to come. But for now, he decided to accept Thomas’ unexpected appearance as a huge relief. The broken computer system was annoying, but he was willing to assume a solution could be worked out. They would transmit their call for help. Help would arrive. He would be back home. Time would pass. He would settle back into his old routines, and have one hell of a story to tell for new and old friends.
A smile still on his face, Gus, pushed open the swinging door to the dining hall. The automatic lights detected his presence and kicked on, filling the space with a harsh fluorescent light accompanied by a faint background hum. Moving through the rows of empty tables, he stopped at the coffee makers. They sat at the border of the dining area and the kitchen on a small wooden table. He pressed down on one of the carafe’s. A thick wet gargle was followed by an airy hiss.
Dumping out the spent grounds from the coffee maker next to the carafe, Gus fished out a new filter, popped open one of the pre-portioned bags of grounds, returned it to the maker, and pressed the red lever button. A soft thunk was followed by the sound of heated water moving through the back of the unit. Brown liquid poured into the empty glass pot, and the aroma of fresh coffee wrapped around him like a blanket. He didn’t even like the stale coffee in this place, but it was so nice to have something familiar and comforting.
As if in response, his stomach audibly grumbled. Moving into the cooking area, he stopped at the first cooler. Glancing down at the bottom of the stainless steel unit, he saw the yellow light was on. Since nothing had been opened while the power was offline, he assumed everything would be fine. Even so, he hesitated ever so slightly before giving the door a tug.
The inside light of the cooler clicked on, and a cold draft poured around him. Scanning the shelves, he pulled out a loaf of bread, a container of sliced ham, and a squeezable bottle of mustard. The door was almost closed when he pulled it open again with his pinky. Resting the mustard on the top of the container of ham nestled in the crook of his arm, he grabbed a jar of pickles. Turning he tapped the door with his foot, and listened for the satisfying sound of it thumping closed.
There wasn’t any music playing, but he couldn’t resist doing a little shimmy as he strode to one of the stainless steel prep tables. Laying out the ingredients, he slid over a cutting mat, and started to assemble four sandwiches. Staring at the slices of bread, half with mustard, the other with ham, he said aloud, “Cheese. These need cheese.” Returning to the cooler, he rooted around until he found a block of swiss. Taking a detour to another table, he opened a drawer and removed a serrated knife.
After slicing the cheese, sampling pieces of the swiss and ham as he went, he put the sandwiches together, and cut each one diagonally until there were eight halves. Pulling a plastic plate from the shelf directly in front of the table, Gus stacked the sandwich halves in a circle. Taking a glass, he placed it at the center of the plate, and filled it with pickles. It wouldn’t win any awards from Gordon Ramsey, but he was quite proud of his little arrangement.
Screwing on the lid to the pickle jar, he turned to return it to the fridge, and froze. Just past the row of coolers, he saw a small orb that seemed to be hanging in the air a few feet off the ground. Squinting, he saw that there was more than one, and then he heard a clicking sound, like a rock tapping against stone.
Moving as slow as he could, Gus placed the pickle jar back on the table. Without taking his eyes from the creature that was inching past the furthest cooler, he felt around the table until he found the handle of the knife. His mind raced as competing instincts of fight and flight struggled for his attention.
The smell of the coffee, accented by the briny scent of the pickles tipped the balance. Anger swelled up within him. Anger at feeling powerless. Anger at having his brief moment of happiness spoiled.
The creature continued to pull itself forward. It was larger than any of the other creatures he’d seen, and moved with a sluggishness that seemed out of place. While it’s beaked head was now fully past the corner of the farthest cooler, it still hadn’t noticed him.
Gus glanced down at the knife in his hand, it’s sharp blade covered in mustard and crumbs. Looking back up, he resolved to rush at the creature. He knew they could be killed, and there was just the one. Slowly he took deep breaths, readying himself to launch into a run.
A soft whoomph caught his ear. It was the swinging door. He quickly glanced to the side, squatting down a little to see through the shelves. It was Thomas. He was looking around the empty dining area. Turning back at the creature, Gus felt his readiness to strike fade. With another quick look, he saw Thomas moving through the empty tables. The creature was now past the cooler, continuing to pull itself forward, claws scratching at the floor.
Gus backed away, until he was past the table. Looking towards Thomas, he waved the knife in the air. It caught Thomas’ attention, and he started to speak. With his other hand, Gus waved waved a downward signal, held a finger to his lips, and pointed towards the end of the kitchen. Thomas stopped where he was, and nodded.
Looking back to the creature, he could now only see the back half. The front was now obscured by the long grill. Gingerly moving back to the table, Gus took the plate with the sandwiches, and walked backwards. Once he cleared the table, he turned, and hurried towards Thomas while trying to not make any noise.
“What is it?” Thomas whispered.
“One of those creatures. Here take this,” Gus answered, handing the sandwich plate to Thomas.
As Thomas took the plate, Gus couldn’t help but notice that Thomas’ clothes were completely dry, and different. They also looked to be a size too big. He started to ask what was going on, and why Thomas was there, but his flight instinct was now in full control. Gus pushed his growing confusion from his mind, and put his full attention back on getting them out of the room, away from the creature.
“We need to leave,” Gus whispered, nodding his head towards the swinging door.
Thomas nodded, and they both made their way to the hallway.
Once on the other side of the door, Gus breathed a sigh of relief. He was still holding the knife, and had an awkward moment while he tried to figure out what to do with it before finally just resting his hand against his stomach.
“What are you doing here? Is something wrong? Where’s Beth?” Gus’s questions flowed from him with a nervous quickness.
Thomas frowned, and Gus felt his stomach drop. Thomas gave a quick look down the hallway towards the control room, and looked back to Gus.
“Those things. They showed up. I was able to get away, but,” Thomas closed his eyes, and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Gus.”
Shock gripped him. His first instinct was to go racing down the hallway to the control room. Thomas, seeming to sense his intent, moved in front of him, blocking his path.
“You don’t want to do that. Trust me.” Sitting the plate of sandwiches on the floor, Thomas grasped Gus’s upper arm. “Before, well … we found a map of this place. We have to get back down, past the power room. There’s a way out, Gus, but we can’t stay here.”
Gus, eyes wide and blood pounding in his ears, stared down at the plate of sandwiches on the floor, still neatly stacked. Bile rose up at the back of his throat. He wanted to stomp them, smashing them into a pulpy mess. Gripping his knife tighter, he looked back at Thomas, his jaw clenched.
“Okay, lets go then.”
Thomas nodded, and they both started down an adjacent hallway, away from the control room.