A heavy smell of iron and soil filled the air the moment the door opened. A group of investigators spent the past half an hour…
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A heavy smell of iron and soil filled the air the moment the door opened. A group of investigators spent the past half an hour wrestling with the old bar lock that stood between them and the passage to the underground. Rusty iron door cried when two robust men finally pushed it out of the way. Midday sun poured onto a set of stone stairs leading down into the abyss. Fresh footprints weaved the path in the dust. “It’s here. Let’s proceed.” said tiny woman, covering her mouth with a handkerchief behind the male companions.
They had been investigating disappearances of people in the area for the past month. Since the moment riled-up crowd busted into their agency office begging to help find their children. Mothers cried and fathers slammed their fists on the desk demanding justice. It wasn’t really Clementine’s job to hunt maniacs, but the major sponsored their work from the town budget, and Jacob, her partner, insisted to take the case. He was also there, at the top of the cellar stairs, turning his nose away from the stench that unleashed from behind the door. After long days of interviews, snooping around, and staying up the whole night on a stakeout they concluded that the missing victims must be here. In the underground cells of an abandoned asylum. It’s been in lockdown for years. Decades, even. So the two decided to hire a bit of extra muscle to back them up and help to get through the building. Two dark-skinned men that took on any paid labor. Mark and Tyler. The brothers were huge. Mountain of muscles, each of them. Just what the agents needed. The men did their job well. So far, at least.
Jacob pulled out a lantern from his handbag and passed it forward. It was bulky and heavy, but in the big hands of Mark, it looked like a toy. Sharp yellow light filled the passage. The group started to slowly move downwards.
“What is this place, anyway?” whispered Tyler. Clementine explained: “It used to be a storage unit, back in 17 hundred. Later repurposed as cells for the criminally insane under the new asylum management. A lot of people died here. Perfect place to hide if you are a serial killer.”
“Charming” Mark chuckled.
The stairway was damp and dark. The lower the group moved, the stronger was the smell of iron and rust. Jacob held on to the wall with one hand and to his bag with the other. He wasn’t afraid of the dark, but what was hiding inside it. Soon he felt something sticky and wet under his fingers. “Oh, what is that?!” he quickly removed his hand from the wall and stopped. Everyone turned towards him. Mark brought the lantern closer to the wall. Something thick, red, and sticky was dripping along, it on both sides of the passage. His brother swiped some of the liquid with his fingertips and smelled it. “Blood” he whispered and took a step back. Clementine felt a drop of cold sweat running down her back. The air around them suddenly got thicker and the smell of blood and dust pierced everyone’s lungs.
“We need to get out of here.” Jacob covered his face with his sleeve: “Taking this job was a mistake. I’m sure the Major will understand if we turn back.”
Clementine was not happy to hear that. “We are the only ones now who can do this. You forget that the police department is still disbanded. Those people need to know what happened to their children. Let’s keep moving.”
The bothers exchanged worried glances, disapprovingly looked at their employers, and proceeded to move downstairs. Jacob mumbled something inaudible to himself but moved as well. Clementine followed. Just in case, she put her hand on the holster on her thigh. The only one in the group with a license to carry a weapon she was ready to use it.
Soon, the stairway ended with a wide dark corridor. It was unclear if it was the color of the walls or the light, but the vision of the group appeared to be clouded with a red filter. The smell of rust and wet iron mixed with something worse. Rot and decay that spread across all of the cellars made everyone’s eyes tear up a little. The cell rooms were aligned only on one side, with iron bars partially rotted away, so nothing was really locked up. Investigators decided to split in pairs and inspect each cell carefully for the signs of clues or any belonging of the victims. Clementine went with Tyler and Jacob with Mark. They only had one lantern, so Tyler lit a zippo lighter for them. “Why did you bring only one light source if you knew that we are going underground?” he complained. “We are on a really tight budget, unfortunately. You guys, are not cheap.” Clementine tried to make a joke to relieve the tension a little bit. Tyler smirked. It worked. He was right, however. It was not the smartest idea to bring only one lantern to the dark dungeon. The woman let her partner take care of that, and Jacob wasn’t known for planning ahead very well. She would have prepared everything herself, but after nearly 6 years of working together, she got tired of being the only responsible one in their agency. Perhaps, it was not the right moment to let her pride take the best of her.
Luckily, the cells weren’t that far from one another, and with the crossed bars between some of them, Mark’s lantern still shared some light with the other couple. Most of the cells were full of rubbish that fell from the ceiling, dead rats, and puddles of rainwater, sipping through the cracks. They slowly moved from one cell to another, trying to find at least some clues until both couples ended up in the same last room. It wasn’t any different from the others. Aside from a piece of an old iron door leaning against the corner of the wall.
“Did you find anything?” Jacob wondered. “Nothing. Just some debris and old moldy sacks.” Clementine felt like something is wrong. The research had shown that this was the place to go. Jacob personally interviewed the witnesses and narrowed down all of the possible hiding spots. This wasn’t such a big town, after all. And the blood on the walls, or whatever that is, clearly shows that something is going on here. The detectives slowly walked around the room and checked their notes to see if something was missing. Meanwhile, the brothers just explored more of the corridor and the room.
Eventually, they found nothing and Tyler leaned against the wall next to an iron door. He instantly regretted it though, because his back felt hot and wet. “What the…?!” He leaped up and dropped the lantern. It rolled inside the corner. “What happened?” Clementine rushed towards him. “This wall is super hot.”
“Really? That’s odd.” the woman touched the stone surface. It was unexpectedly hot. Why would it be, though? She thought. “Maybe this is why.” Mark reached to retrieve the lantern from under the iron door, and just lifted it and threw it on the side. There was a tiny side door in the corner with a very old rusty plate that said “Boiler Room”.
“I didn’t know there was a boiler down here. It wasn’t mentioned on the plans that I acquired. Maybe the steam is heating the wall from the inside and the place is so moist because of the condensate.” Jacob wiped his glasses with a handkerchief and took a note in his notebook.
“But why would it still be operating after all these years? Didn’t you say this place was abandoned?” Tyler pulled the handle on the boiler room door. It screeched and cried, but slowly gave in and opened. There was a bright light coming from inside. The furnace was on and the place was filled with steam. Everyone slowly moved inside. Clementine almost disappeared inside the frame, when her peripheral vision caught a movement back at the beginning of the hall. She froze for a second and tried to focus her vision on the darkness. Nothing was moving. Probably a rat. There were a lot of dead ones here. Said the voice of reason in her head as she followed her companions.
Jacob was puzzled by the sudden discovery of a working heating system in this abandoned dungeon. None of the building plans that he studied indicated a presence of it. The fire was burning steady in the furnace like someone just put fresh coals in it recently. It was a pretty wide area too. With several metal doors with little windows in them, aligned on one of the walls. Could these have been the actual cells for the patients and the rooms they’ve seen before just old storage units? Any questions rushed through his head and he didn’t know what to make of this situation. The rest were roaming slowly, examining the room, when he approached one of the shut doors and peeked inside. Nothing could be seen clearly, but he swore he noticed a movement in one of the shadows. He leaped back with a low scream. Clementine and the brothers ran towards him. “What did you see?” whispered his partner. “I thought I saw something moving in there.”
Clementine looked pale and disturbed: “I thought I saw something in the corridor too. But I thought it was just a rat.” she said quietly: “Let’s try to open this up.”
The detectives let Mark and Tyler take the lead. Two men firmly grabbed the bar and pulled it aside. The door opened swiftly and the wave of cold air blasted the group in their faces. Jacob could swear that with the wind a shadow rushed past them. The fire in the boiler suddenly went off and the room drowned in darkness. Everyone was surprised and terrified. They lit the lantern again and collectively peeked inside the cell.
What they discovered was sickening. A pile of bodies on the floor covered sloppily with old rotten linen. Tyler turned away as he felt his stomach twist in a knot. He barely managed to hold his breakfast down. The image of people’s corpses thrown together imprinted in his brain and stayed there when he tried to close his eyes. He wanted to get out of this room, out of this building, and out of this town. This was not what his brother and he came for. Two simple guys from the South just wanted to make some cash doing odd jobs to make the ends meet. But when they were approached by local investigators to help open some doors and carry some debris, they didn’t expect to witness actual crime scenes. Mark came to check on his brother. He looked paler than Tyler ever imagined his brother could be. Cold sweat dripped from both of their foreheads. “We need to get the f..ck out of here, man. This is horse shit.” Tyler grabbed his brother’s hands and stood up straight: “I am telling you, let’s just ditch these people here and save our asses before some maniac chopped us into pie stuffing.” Mark didn’t reply but starred at Clementine and Jacob with a concerned expression. Tyler was right. It’s not their job to deal with this and they aren’t paid for it. But some sense of responsibility was preventing him from just fleeing. He liked this town, and people were good to them here. It would be a low move to leave these two investigators on their own, while they are trying to help parents find their children. Only, it seems that they won’t find them alive anymore. “No” he squeezed his brother’s shoulder: “We can do this. Hold on there, man.”
Tyler shook his head in disbelief and watched Mark approach Clementine. The woman was leaning on the wall, hugging her own shoulders. Jacob was sitting on the floor with his arms around his knees, white as a bedsheet, and slowly swinging back and forth.
“Are you alright?” Mark tried to comfort the woman. “Yes…I mean, No. Of course, not. We had homicide cases before and you would think that we’ve seen everything, but this is too much.” She looked in Jacob’s direction: “It is definitely too much for him.”
They worked together for a long time. And had seen a lot. Especially in this town, where the local police department consisted of 3 people, who barely had any training Clementine and Jacob were everyone’s last hope. The Major tried to make the ends meet within the town’s budget and disbanded the police temporarily until they can come up with better funding solutions. It was way cheaper to pay private investigators on a case-by-case basis, rather than keep officers on a payroll. But the work became way too stressful because of that. Clementine was the one to manage more serious crimes of violence and shootings, which happened mostly by accident in drunk rage. Jacob dealt more with scams, theft, and minor issues. He was a smart guy, but definitely not cut out for real police work. And in recent months his mental state deteriorated. He even had several psychotic breakdowns. Clementine was worried that something irreversible is going to happen to her partner’s psyche after what they’d just seen. She came closer and squatted in front of Jacob, laying her hands on his arms.
“Hey, are you ok?” she looked him in the face as he stopped swinging. Jacob raised his eyes at her with a completely vacant expression. He just stared in the void, right through Clementine, and said nothing. She felt a chill run down her spine. This was a bad situation.
“So, what are we gonna do?” Tyler fidgeted on his spot: “Do we call the police or something?”
“We are the police now, Tyler.” The woman sighed. She stood up and faced the brothers: “We need to go back, tell the Major of what we found, and bring more people back with us. I am sure after what we saw, most of townsfolk will want to help getting the bodies out. Maybe we could even light the place up properly and…” She cut herself off suddenly because the room went dark once again. Another blow of wind killed the light in the lantern and the open door behind her shut tight with a loud bang. Clementine turned back to try to find where Jacob is, but she couldn’t. Tyler shakily found a lighter in his pocket and ignited it.
Jacob was gone. Everyone looked around swiftly, trying to find him.
Suddenly, an unexpected force grabbed Tyler from behind and sucked him into the darkness. The man tried to scream, but only smothered gargling came out of his mouth. Clementine picked up the lighter that he dropped. It was still burning. Her hands were shaking when she noticed that a dark red puddle is coming closer and closer to her feet, from the direction where Tyler disappeared. She heard Mark quietly sobbing and sniffing next to her. The woman’s mind completely shut down. She was terrified and in a state of quiet panic. Mark slowly grabbed her hand. It felt somewhat comforting, but at the same time, she knew they are going to die. And she felt that it was her fault. Hers and Jacob’s fault. The two brothers they hired to help had nothing to do with this. And now one of them is dead, and another is about to lose his mind from fear and grief. Her partner, however, was nowhere to be seen. She waved the lighter around trying to see the exit or Jacob. And trying not to see Tyler’s body.
“It will be alright, Mark. Just look at me and let’s move out quickly.” Clementine whispered to nodding Mark. They took one step towards the door to the corridor, and something smacked the lighter out of a woman’s hand. Mark whaled for a second and went silent. Nothing could be seen in the pitch black, but Clementine felt how his hand is loosening its grip and slipping away from hers. The dull sound of a body dropping on the floor followed. She couldn’t hold tears anymore. She felt how hot heavy drops are running down her cheeks and her whole body is trembling. This is the end. She thought and shut her eyes tight waiting for the pain to come to get her.
Instead, she heard the clicking of the lighter wheel, and fire appeared right in front of her. It was Jacob. He was holding the light in front of him. He was not pale anymore. He stood tall without shaking. Hands and face covered in blood. Splashes of it covering his glasses. The woman trembled when he slowly removed the specs and started wiping them with a calm, casual motion. His brown eyes looked almost pitch black. Empty and cold like it wasn’t Jacob who was looking through them. Slowly the realization of what just happened crept onto Clementine. It was Jacob. This whole time.
She started to recall his behavior after his first breakdown. He seemed okay at times, until the next episode. That’s why she was so worried about his mental condition. This site must have triggered another psychotic break. Or was it something else?
She put her head down trying to remember how did he find this place. He claimed that he talked to the witnesses and that he studied the building plans, but she never saw any of them. She assumed that when he disappeared from the office late at night, he is on a stakeout or in the archive. She just let him do most of the work this time and believed that he did. He acted surprised when they found the boiler room but was inconsistent in his explanations about the cellar layouts. Clementine felt that the tears started to choke her up as she raised her eyes and looked at her partner.
“Oh, Jacob. What have you done?”
He looked her dead in the eyes and for a moment, the woman felt she saw a glimpse of consciousness in his face. His expression changed a little, and she was overwhelmed with hope that her friend came to his senses. She smiled and raised her hands to hold his face. He smiled back…
…and pushed a sharp piece of rusty pipe through her belly while blowing off the lighter.
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