The ramifications of this discovery seize and loosen my knees randomly, resulting in a stiff-legged, geriatric robot walk. The conflicting urges to fight and flee are maddeningly equal. I lean across one of the double doors and peek through the gap, inviting a severe fright if anything should lurk close by on the other side.
No monsters await me. No sounds or movements either. Only the calling cards of the intruders are visible. Dragged feet marks and scuffed shoe prints are scattered in the dust all the way down the corridor.
Masochism goads me to slip inside. I jam the gun barrel between my legs and purposefully entomb us further by locking the doors with loud metallic clicks that echo in the cavernous hush. The baby senses a change of atmosphere and her whimpers cease abruptly. A last cry dies in her throat, causing my fright meter to bang against its stop.
The baby’s scrunched up eyes open and find mine expectantly, as if seeking reassurance. I have none to spare. Holding up a finger to my lips with the improbable hope she does understand the situation, I listen hard. The utter silence is worse than the irritating background drone of her crying.
The toted gun hangs heavily from my arm. I tell my cold, sore feet to move towards Checkpoint One. They collect grit in tender cuts and leave behind faint smears of blood.
I’d renamed the first checkpoint ‘The Wagon Wheel’ due to its layout. The central hub is an impervious, glass-encased, octagonal office. Corridors radiate from it in spokes, providing for staff access and limiting unauthorised movement to and from every part of the building. At the moment nobody occupies the guard office, or the circular ring around it.
On the opposite side of the guard room are two stout, barred doors. They stand wedged open; in violation of both the original rules and my own. I can clearly see myself leaving every door in this position when I left. Paranoia has not been able to curb my laziness when under the influence of chemicals. The Creeps hadn’t even needed to search the place. I’d left them one direct route to travel, and they’d taken it.
Furious at myself, I kick out the chocks and swing these doors closed as well, drawing small comfort that the compartmentalised nature of the building allows me to lock down each area from here. For now I decide not to use the alternative routes. I follow the Creep’s tracks; using the most direct path to our quarters.
Hopelessness builds but the importance of witnessing Kristine’s fate cannot be explained. If she’s been turned and now wanders the earth in that undead state, I will end her suffering. I owe her that much; and so very much more.
I labour up stairs and down corridors. Journey’s end arrives as a four way intersection. The ways ahead and to the left are shut and locked. But the third leads to the penultimate door of our quarters. I moan. It is pressed against the wall, pinned by a milk crate full of golf balls.
Rounding the corner, I move on pure momentum, primed and aching to blast whatever creatures gather here. But the short corridor leading to the final security door is empty. The tension and fear I’ve used unsparingly to get me this far call a confused conference. I turn and back down the empty aisle, covering the way I’d come, thinking hard. All rooms along the route were empty. Where could the Creeps possibly hide? Unless...
Halfway to the staff wing door I turn again, carefully scrutinising the blue, steel-cored door. The Hosts certainly got this far. The stench of human waste and body odour hangs in the air. Dirty handprints cover the walls. The floor is slippery with instinctual releases of urine.
Yet, the Staff Quarters door is shut tight and undamaged. I would never, and I mean never, have left that door chocked. Or had I? Here is a maddening blacked out section of memory. A threatening mental explosion only requires the gentlest nudge against its detonator.
I continue towards the door, treading in more puddles, and muttering a comforting mantra. They must have scarpered when the leash came off their minds. Yes, surely they would have. Why would they hang around this sterile place?
Then there’s the other possibility. Kristine heard them tapping and shuffling around out here and opened the door, thinking it was me. Trust my pessimistic streak to kick the shit out of hope.
I prop the shot gun against the wall. It seems the better choice compared to putting the baby on the unsanitary floor. The proximity card between my teeth is slick with dribble. I take it from my mouth and find the right key by feel. My eyes are constantly moving, on everything but the lock.
The double-row key zips home and I twist hard; braced to slam it shut and run if need be. Dead silence, warm air and the smell of spoiled food are the only hostile things that rush out at me. The anticipated surprise party from Hell is not in full swing. No-one is in the kitchen.
The shotgun trembles when I force it to lead this expedition. I swing its deadly snout to cover innocent, humming appliances and sidle in behind it. An impatient door closer ushers me through, pushing hard against my heels until the lock snaps closed. Extending the gun at full reach I centre the gun on the swinging doors that leads into the lounge room. Sighting down the barrel with painfully widened eyes, I gently part them.
The skinny vertical slice of the room beyond reveals it as dishevelled. But it too lacks the level of destruction I’d expect from an army of Hosts rampaging through here. No ghostly presence shows their face.
My attempted covert entry is spoiled when the doors flap noisily behind me. There’s a noise from Kristine’s room! An all too familiar pre-killing coldness spreads across my brain as her door dramatically creaks open. Broken-nailed fingers wrap around the jam, supporting a slow moving body as she shuffles out.
I squeeze the baby tighter and snug the gun’s butt into my shoulder; prepared to fire while swallowing an emotional knot in my throat.
Kristine emerges, pushing stringy hair aside that covers her face. Her baffled, stiff expression does not unlimber my finger from a tensioned trigger. Dead eyes meet mine with frightening disinterest. One tiny wrong move decides if she lives or dies.
“Whass that noise? Why haven’ you got any pants on? Don’ point that gun at me!”
Her drugged expression and concentrated drawl releases me from the edge of murder. I relax one hand’s grip, letting the shotgun fall and hold the wrapped baby out to her. Kristine involuntarily takes hold of the package with bleary incomprehension.
The combined weight of all that has happened crushes any remaining senses. I manage to take the few extra steps into my room on razor slashed feet and see Heaven. My unmade bed and dirty sheets are achingly beautiful. I fall towards...