Categories > Original > Fantasy > Tradewinds 09 - "The Building is Hungry!"


by shadesmaclean 0 reviews

the late Chad Owen

Category: Fantasy - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Fantasy,Horror - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2009-10-08 - Updated: 2009-10-09 - 2168 words - Complete

Max slowly blinked his eyes open.

He was still lying against the same double-doors he remembered from before. Only now there was no sign of the young man he was talking to… Much to his dismay, he had no idea how long he was out, no more than he knew how long he had fought that marathon battle… He was still sore and stiff from head-to-foot from that…

He snapped wide awake as he remembered why he was slumped here in the first place.

Relief washed through him just to see that both doors were still firmly shut and barred against his insidious attackers, and all was silent behind them. At some point after he passed out, the custodian had apparently also braced a chair against the other door. In spite of how exhausted he was, he still couldn’t believe he passed out in the face of all that thumping and scraping and moaning back there.

As if he had sunken asleep into a nightmare.

Rising to his feet, he found his leg was still all pins and needles, but at least it moved correctly. His ankle, on the other hand, stung as if he had stepped in a pile of jellyfish. He slid his boot partway off to find his ankle mysteriously bandaged up, though he had no memory of having done so himself. Left-over supplies from what he now realized was his own first aid kit lying on the floor next to his unzipped backpack left him wondering if his encounter with the custodian hadn’t all been a dream.

On the other hand, the teethmarks in the tough material of the boots and the gash in his pantleg made him shudder in spite of himself, more than enough proof that the nightmare part, at least, was more real than he would have preferred.

A few grunts and groans later, Max reached to open the door, finding it locked, and only a keyhole to work with. Of course, he could chop it down easily enough with the laser sword he was still clutching in one hand, but now that he was more awake, he wasn’t sure that was such a bright idea; the door was apparently enough to stop his grisly attackers, but if he removed that obstacle, there was no telling how far they might be able to hunt him next time. For some reason, he could picture them just lying on the floor beyond that locked door, looking for all the world like corpses.

…Until someone came through, making just enough noise to wake them up. Pictured one of them grabbing his ankle as he walked past…

Then shook his head. I need to find Bandit. Yet to go back through there, even if those creatures that were once human actually had shambled off elsewhere, he would still have to battle his way back into that random maze of alleyways. Where Bandit could have gone any number of directions.

In the midst of his glum contemplations, he remembered, vaguely, something Mom had said about this place, something about coming upon what she was certain was the same place twice, in spite of having gone a different way. Angus never says much about his experience, other than to agree with what we said, but I think you can come back to the same spot even if you go a completely different way. Or something along those lines. Some had seemed to believe his parents’ account, some said they were pulling everyone’s leg, others just listened then quickly got back to whatever they were doing, Mom once said.

The shame of continuing his retreat was almost enough to make him tear down the doors anyway, but he reminded himself that he was currently in no shape to fight, and had no way of tracking Bandit down that path. Much as he hated to admit it, he would have to trust his and Bandit’s— to say nothing of his friends’— fates to his mother’s intuition that there was no rhyme or reason to the connections between areas here.

“I won’t leave without you, Bandit.”

Though loathe to leave his old friend alone anywhere in this lethal labyrinth, he knew he had no choice but to put his faith in Bandit’s ability to survive until he could find another way to reach him. For now, the most important order of business was his own safety; he could do his friends no good if he fell here. To that end, he put on his pack and started poking around his end of the hallway. Turned out the other doors in the hall were locked, so that just left the restrooms near the stairs.

The knowledge that there was more than one possible path to the same place was not very reassuring, Max reflected grimly as he stepped wide around the corner into the men’s room, for he really had to go. Feeling how unreal a room could look as he scanned it from top to bottom. Looking past the trough-like row of sinks to the line of stalls beyond. The stillness of the room accentuating the individual drops of sweat dripping down the back of his neck.

He stared into that room for what felt like minutes on-end, slowly working his way down the length of it, checked around every corner, not wanting to be caught unawares again.

It was only after he was absolutely sure the room was empty that he locked himself in one of those stalls and took care of his business, having never noticed before how vulnerable one could feel with one’s pants unzipped.

That taken care of, Max at last turned his attention to the stairs at the end of the hall, around the corner. He was finally beginning to understand what the stranger was only hinting at, what he really meant about no one coming back out. Between its enormous size, and its host of hazards, there were plenty of opportunities to die before ever laying eyes on an exit, this place could stop anyone.

Almost anyone, he amended, thinking of Mom and Dad, even Uncle Angus. Just kept reminding himself that others had found an exit, and if they could do it, so could he.

Every step of the way, he kept expecting those creepy subhumans to emerge from the woodwork, yet he knew he couldn’t keep his energy blade fired up all the time, or he wouldn’t have enough power left when he really needed it. After his harrowing experience earlier, he tried not to jump at shadows as he made his way up to each successive landing, telling himself that if he could somehow get back up onto the rooftops, he would have the best chance of finding his friend.

He was again reminded of the unpredictable nature of this place when the door at the top, instead of opening onto a roof, opened into a garden. The flowers were sparse, and of a variety unfamiliar to him, but he still recognized it for what it was. Though he wasn’t sure he liked the look of those flowers, he was drawn to the beauty of the small trees, which all but stole the show with their clusters of white and pink blossoms. As he walked upon the fallen petals toward the nearest of several buildings, which all had ornately curving tile roofs, he paused for a moment to take in this unexpected beauty he had found in the midst of such an ugly place.

Yet the more he took it all in, the more he decided that the flowers growing on the ground had a sickly, unpleasant aspect that seemed to mar the natural splendor of the trees the longer he looked at them. As if they somehow didn’t belong in this garden in the first place. As he wandered past a clump of them, he decided that they even smelled wrong.

After pushing and pulling on the door, he finally discovered that it was supposed to slide open along the wall. Inside was a fairly large room with polished, if dusty, wood panel floors. For some reason he couldn’t quite fathom, he found he felt somehow ashamed of treading on it in boots. Again with the sliding doors, and the inner walls all seemed to be made of paper; it was all he could do not to punch or kick it, just to see if it would rip. And again, the very walls seemed to exude a sense of… disapproval at his presence.

In the room beyond, the last thing Max expected to find was a skeleton.

Though at first he wasn’t sure what the thing was, the slumped jumble of bones and blood-stained clothes, until he saw a skull sitting atop it. Along with all the blood, the way its clothes were all torn up in a vain attempt to bandage too many wounds, the power rifle lying splayed across its crumpled lap suggested a rather less than peaceful end. Next to the corpse was a sheaf of thick paper.

Kneeling to read it, he found himself drawn deeper and deeper by the weak script of this last message. If Justin were to ever tell him the tale behind the words Beware NK-525, Max would now know very much how his friend had felt.

To Whoever Finds This:
If anyone. I managed to get away from them, but I fear I won’t last long. Too many wounds, too much blood. I don’t know how much longer I have, but I want to say something. Teena, Robert, Alida, I’m sorry I dragged you in here. Angus and I got separated, and I hope he’s alright. I know its not my place to say this, but if you ever read this, Rob, I think Alida really likes you. Lucky bastard. I can barely see anymore, and I fear this place will be my grave. I never thought it would end like this.
-Chad Owen

Each name smote Max with disturbing confirmation. Though he already thought he was certain this was the place his parents so narrowly escaped from all those years ago, this proved it in a way that mere words could not. It also reminded him, with an unsettling jolt, of yet another detail he had all but forgotten over the years: his parents and Uncle Angus didn’t challenge the Harken Building alone.

Perhaps it was the fact that he had never met either of these people, Teena or Chad, that caused him to largely forget about them. Now more words drifted back to him from what felt like another life: We waited for Chad for several days, one of us always at the exit. Angus was worried the authorities would interfere but… they never did. No one notices you when you stand next to that place…

As if his thoughts about his parents had somehow conjured this scene.

So this was Chad, who never returned. He lifted the rifle from the crumbling pile of bones, using some unsoiled cloth to wipe away what remained of the blood of years. Rooting around in the backpack sitting on the other side of the body, finding nothing of any real use until he came upon a laser sword, much like his own. Activating it revealed a teal blade, shimmering just between blue and green.

At that point, Max scrambled back to his feet, sensing something was wrong with this picture, finally figuring out what it was. After all, he had seen dead animals before, but this fellow had been reduced to bleached bones. Picked clean, and the more he examined the scene, he realized that only the faintest stains of blood remained, mostly on the clothing itself. What came to mind was rain that had soaked into the ground after a storm.

As if the very walls and floors had sucked it up…

Deciding that to leave his parents’ companion, and a fellow adventurer, in a place like this amounted to defilement, he took Chad’s skull. Wrapping it in some unsoiled cloth, he stuck it in his backpack, filling the space emptied by he and Bandit’s most recent (but hopefully not last) meal. Such a light burden, yet bearing the weight of forgotten years.

Max no longer felt like lingering in this room for even one more minute. Picking up the paper, he continued on his way. Grateful for the weapons, and feeling privileged to have found a piece of his family’s past— ugly as it may have been— in spite of the creepiness of this long-past scene, took one look back.

Mom, Dad, even if I can’t get him out of here, I will still carry Chad’s blade with honor, in his memory… But right now, I’ve still gotta find someone who’s still among the living… Has to be… Please forgive me…
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