Read Part One here
Read Part Two here
After looking through the classroom a bit more, I discovered an old backpack resting in the corner behind a desk. I picked it up, unzipped it, and looked through all the pouches for anything inside.
There wasn’t much of note besides dust and crumbs, however. I figured it would be a useful item to have with me. So I kept it with me, returned over to the teacher’s desk, and grabbed the notebook and pen I had been using to document events.
After which, I put them inside and set the backpack’s straps over my shoulders. Tightening them in the event I needed to move quickly to prevent it from easily falling off.
I made my way over to the door before pushing away the desks I had used as barricades. The metal legs scraping against the floor making me visibly cringe. Once they were moved aside, I approached the door, letting my face hover close to the glass as I looked out into the hallway.
There was still no sign of whatever it was that had been breathing and making those footsteps. Which was good, I needed to take the opportunity to get out of this room and keep moving. Before it came back.
I took a deep breath, mentally preparing myself before I opened the door. The longer I stayed here, the less I felt like I would be able to escape. But I did it once, and I can do it again. That much was comforting, but not a whole lot.
I opened the door, taking my first steps back out into the imitation of a school hallway. It looked no different than before until I looked to the right.
Shockingly, the repetitive yellow wall area of The Expanse that had led into this school layer was no longer. It was the exact same hallway I had run down when escaping from those mercenaries? Soldiers? Whatever you’d call them.
But instead, at the end of the hall with the blue lockers lining the walls on either side, was just a solid, plain white wall. And it was as smooth as a wall could possibly be.
I was now met with another strange element to deal with. The fact that The Expanse’s layout and features seemed to change periodically without any true pattern or logic. At least, I think that was the case. Unless I was truly losing my mind.
I headed off to the left, turning down another hallway that maintained a consistent design and appearance as the one previously. Not to mention the other abandoned classrooms and even what looked to be a worn-down computer lab. With monitor screens being smashed and cracked, along with some having fallen on the floor.
I did give the lab a second glance, keeping a look out for any computers and monitors that looked intact enough for me to try and use. But it was nothing more than self-amusement at that point, even if there was one in working order. Who’s to say it would ever obey the rules of a computer back in reality?
After looking around for just a few minutes, I eventually gave up and headed deeper into this “school.” I pretty much came to terms with calling it that, despite obvious circumstances.
Everything I had seen so far had been mostly uneventful, besides the fact of having myself on high alert in case whatever that thing was earlier circled back around. After mindlessly wandering for several more minutes. I eventually came to a staircase leading up to a supposed second floor.
The stairs themselves looked unstable and dilapidated at best. With what looked to be rust and rot running along the walls accompanied by cracks with what looked to be weeds growing out of them.
OSHA would have a field day with this place.
Before going all in, I reached out with my right foot and placed it on the first step, half expecting it to collapse just from that minuscule amount of force. But it held, giving me just enough assurance to take another.
And once I felt comfortable enough to begin climbing, I heard something that made my heart skip several beats. I stopped, frozen as I made leaned forward to keep myself out of the line of sight from the stairway entrance.
Coming from outside the doorway where the staircase was located, was footsteps. Heavy, but slow, and potent footsteps. But not only that, there was the breathing as well. It was just as deep and hoarse as it was unsettling.
The creature that was looking for me while I was hiding inside the classroom. It was coming. And there I was, just a sitting duck out in the open.
I immediately started to move up the stairs as quietly as I could, skipping multiple steps and placing my feet down as lightly as humanly possible. Luckily the padding on the bottom of my shoes was able to keep my movement on the quieter side of things, so I was able to be quick without making much noise.
But it didn’t feel like I was moving fast enough, because every second counted. And with every one that passed, the louder the breathing and the footsteps became. Part of me wasn’t even sure if I would make it to the top in time before the creature entered the stairwell.
But I kept moving, kept pushing myself because it was quite literally life or death. I was careful, making sure not to throw too much weight on any section of the stairs that looked too unstable. I kept my eyes on what was below me, cautious not to slip up.
But just as the breathing had reached the doorframe, I was only on the last few steps, just feet away from the top. I was thanking every god that I could think of that I was gonna make it without that thing seeing me.
That is, until on the very last step, I slipped and my foot dislodged a chunk of material from it. Sending it crashing down the staircase below me and breaking apart more and more with each step it collided with.
The footsteps outside the stairwell suddenly ceased, and so did my movement. I held my breath, turning to look back down at the doorway. The silence was deafening, and I didn’t dare move a muscle, not yet.
The creature, whatever it was, let out a low, surprised snarl. I could hear it sniffing the air from outside the doorway, and that’s when I seized the opportunity to more or less throw myself up to the top of the stairs.
I landed as quietly as I could, just before looking up to see more or less a similar layout to the first floor. However, to my right was what looked to be the school library.
I could hear the creature as it entered the stairwell and began climbing up at a moderate speed after me. So I turned and made a mad dash into the library to hide as it tailed me. Still not getting a look at its appearance.
The library itself looked just as abandoned, and as dilapidated as the rest of the building, none of the shelves even had books. But I didn’t have time to think about it. I frantically looked around for several seconds, before laying eyes on what looked to be the circulation desk with an office behind it.
I could hear that the creature was a little over halfway up the staircase, and I was running out of time to find a place to hide.
I quickly made my way around the circulation desk and bolted for the door to the office behind it, praying with every fiber in my being that it wouldn’t be locked.
I throw my hand on the knob, hearing that the entity was now at the top of the stairwell. It’s breathing more rapid and almost angry in nature. I turn the knob, only for the door to not budge at all.
I tried again, and again. Finding no more success than my first desperate attempt. So I did the only thing that would save me from becoming a bloody smear on one of these walls. I crouched down and moved up against the desk, the top of it was offset just enough to hide me if the beast were to peek over.
Speaking of which… I heard its breathing as it entered the library, its footsteps coming to a sudden stop as it seemed to sniff the air, I thought it was over right there and then. That it would detect my scent and kill me right on the spot.
Yet, nothing came, didn’t stop my life from flashing before my eyes though. My cheeks were going red from holding my breath as the creature continued to stay idle and scan the library.
Moments that felt like years passed, but the thing eventually lost interest, and I heard it turn and exit the library into the hallway from which it came. Although, it didn’t go down the stairs, not according to my ears anyway.
I waited for several minutes before I even dared to peek my head out in the open. Cautiously lifting myself up and over the edge of the desk to take a look around.
I was alone, or at least. My eyes told me that I was. But I wasn’t sure if I could even trust that at this point. Needed to keep my head on tight though.
I quickly but quietly climbed over the desk before turning to my left and finding what looked to be an opening to the school gym on the opposite end of the library. And it was either that or going through the same doorway that thing just did mere minutes ago.
I made the obvious choice and headed for the gym, it was of course dimly lit. Or looked to be that way from inside the library. But once I crossed the doorway, I got the full scope of its appearance.
It was dilapidated, just as the rest of this place was. That was expected. There were fluorescent lights hanging by a thread from the ceiling, the floor was abundantly cracked and dirty, the basketball hoops backboards possessed only about half the glass they should with the nets also being worn down and hanging halfway off the rim.
It was a ridiculously large gym, much bigger than the one my school possessed. So every step I took made me feel like an ant walking across a king-sized bed. And despite the fact that I knew I was alone, I couldn’t help the feeling of being watched.
It made me speed up a bit, as well as taking a couple of glances around me for good measure. But I didn’t hear or see anything that moved, and maybe that was the problem.
I got just less than halfway across the court, I came upon a certain section of worn-down bleachers that appeared stained with mold. Which, led all the way up each step until it hit the wall.
I took a look at the wall itself, the part that was just above the top step of the bleachers, seeing that there was something written on it in what I assumed to be blood.
“Don’t go in the water.”
It only raised more questions than answers, as there wasn’t a drop of any actual water in sight. The ominous sentence had made me think about just how many other people had also gotten stuck in this part of The Expanse and were never able to tell their stories.
Decided it was best to leave the bleachers alone though. The less of the environment I involved myself with, the better.
At this point, I was practically jogging toward the door. There wasn’t anything pursuing, nothing that I could hear or perceive in any way. But regardless of that fact, I still wanted to get the hell out of that area.
I take one last look back, seeing the doors that I entered through from the library were now connected to what looked to be another dilapidated classroom, The Expanse had changed its environment yet again. Part of me had pondered if it was possible or not to actually see the shifts occur.
Nonetheless, I made it to the door and threw it open, only to step through and look up like a mesmerized child.
This time, I found myself in a wide, massive, and empty cafeteria. It was what you’d expect from a public school as far as the general decor and design. The scale of the room itself was a bit large. But not ridiculously so. Seems like every room in here was just slightly larger than it should’ve been.
The long and rectangular dining tables were strewn about, with some being upside down or flipped around in various ways. They were also beaten to hell, with chunks of wood missing from some corners and sides, and that wasn’t mentioning the cobwebs strung up in between the seats, and yet, there wasn’t a single arachnid or insect to be found.
This cafeteria had two hallways on either end acting as exits, I opted for the hallway on the left. As I had seen a couple of doors that had looked ajar. But what they actually led to was a mystery from the angle I was at.
Everything seemed so lifeless, and yet you were always under the impression that you were not alone.
There were still no windows that allowed me to see what might be on the outside of all of this, Although part of me wondered if I’d look out and just see nothing but a black void. It had become more than clear to me at this point that I wasn’t on earth anymore.
Regardless, I made it to the opening of the hallway and immediately darted into the first open door I saw. Reaching behind myself to slowly shut it as quietly as possible. This next room was probably the most normal out of everything I had seen thus far. By the standards of The Expanse anyway.
It was a simple natatorium. It was on the bigger end of things as far as dimensions, like the rooms before it, but nothing that I hadn’t seen in schools back on earth. And it was surprisingly sterile and intact looking. Not nearly as worn and torn as the rest of the building.
It had it all, the white and blue tiled floor, the diving boards, the lanes in the pool, and the potent smell of chlorine. Although, it was a bit dimly lit, making it difficult to see what was beneath the surface of the water.
However, on the edges of the pool were white, rectangular signs that, on any other pool back in reality, would usually list the depth of a particular section. And this pool had those, except they didn’t display any numbers or typical units of measurement. Instead, there was just the letter X painted in black ink on each one.
I raised an eyebrow before shifting to the edge of the pool and peering over. The eerie silence only furthering tension that shouldn’t have been present.
Now, pretty much all natatorium pools usually allow you to see the bottom. But this one didn’t, not even a little bit. I sat there puzzled as I focused hard and squinted my eyes to locate the floor of the pool.
But the harder I tried, the more I only saw just an endless, dark blue abyss, it looked to not even have a bottom at all, and if it did, it definitely wasn’t anywhere near reasonable enough to swim to.
And speaking of, I caught movement in the corner of my eye just as I was about to look away. It came from closer to the right end of the pool, just about where my peripheral vision ended. The depth of the pool was consistent across the entire thing, even where you think it would’ve, or should’ve, been shallow.
I turned my head to focus in on whatever it was. I squinted, once again spotting the black mass slowly inching toward my end of the pool. It had to be more than thirty feet in length alone, with the width being around five.
Three months ago, I would’ve assumed what I was seeing in that moment was nothing more than my eyes playing tricks on me. But now, well now I fully accepted that there was something down there, something alive, and probably dangerous.
So I did the most common sense thing I could, I turned around, and made my way to walk right out of the natatorium. I didn’t wanna bother sticking around to find out any more information about whatever was swimming around down there. I didn’t have the tools to do a damn thing about it anyway.
But as soon as I had reached the door and put my hand on the knob, I froze.
The breathing, the footsteps. I heard it again, and it was right outside the door. That thing… It was back. And this time, I finally caught a glimpse of its hideous appearance through the glass in the door.
The creature wasn’t very tall, just under six feet by my estimation. But that didn’t do anything to take away from its grotesque nature. Not even a little. Its body shape resembled that of an overweight human, maintaining a bipedal stance as it walked.
Its skin was a sickly grey color, with it looking like it had been forcibly stretched over the bones and muscles of the beast. Its face possessed not a single feature, giving it the appearance of a sheet of metal.
Its most disturbing feature, however, was that of the two long and thin appendages protruding from its shoulders. They were bent at a near-perfect ninety-degree angle about two feet out. Both of them covered in these disgusting bumps that traveled up the length of the appendages all the way to the bent section.
The creature turned its faceless head and pointed it right at the glass in the door. Sure it had no eyes, but I knew somehow, someway it could see me clear as day. The breathing was still present and potent as well, despite the lack of a mouth.
Everything about it was just, wrong. And it was somehow even more horrific and hideous than the centipede creature.
To say I was stuck between a rock and a hard place wasn’t a stretch. My heartbeat skyrocketed as I thought of what to do. But it wouldn’t matter all that much, I had taken too long to act and it was going to cost me dearly if I didn’t find a way out.
The beast started moving toward the door, reaching out with those bumpy shoulder legs in order to presumably break it down. I quickly backed up and looked to my left. Spotting a lone broom that was laid up against the wall.
The creature began to pound on the door with its horrid limbs, and the hinges grew weaker with every blow. Which meant my time was running out. And there wasn’t anywhere to hide this time.
I darted over to the broom, swiping it away from the wall and then breaking the handle over my knee to leave one end sharp. After which, I gripped the blunt end with my shaky fingers and held it behind my neck in the stance of a baseball batter.
I didn’t expect myself to be able to kill this thing, not even close. But if I lured it in, swung at it, and kept it from grabbing me long enough to where I could run around and exit the room, then that would be enough. It was all about whatever I had to do to survive at this point.
The creature delivered several more devastating bangs to the door, the last one of which finally threw it right out of the frame and off its hinges. Causing it to slide across the floor and into the pool. A small splash manifesting before it sank into the depths.
The creature then raises those shoulder appendages as if to tell me it’s about to charge. Which it did, violently dashing forward at a surprising speed considering its previous movement patterns.
I evaded the beast by strafing to the left, my heart going a mile a minute as I worked up the courage to take a swing at it, landing a harsh blow on the back of its head.
The beast retaliated by shooting out its left shoulder appendage straight for my head. I backed up so fast that I nearly slipped and fell as I raised the broom handle to block the attack. It then lunged with its other appendage, so I sidestepped to the right and swung the handle down hard on the limb.
Hard enough to burst and draw blood from one of the bumps. The liquid itself was gooey and thick, a light grey color that seeped out from the supposed wound I had created.
But this little stunt only angered the creature far beyond whatever point it was already at. It turned and charged with its entire mass again. Catching me off guard and throwing me right off my feet with a powerful impact into the pool. It happened so fast that I didn’t fully comprehend it until I was already several feet underwater. Having no time to take a breath or prepare myself.
From what I saw when I opened my eyes, the creature itself didn’t follow or fall in with me. The water itself was surprisingly warm. But that wasn’t even close to enough to make me feel comfortable in my current predicament.
I looked down, the black abyss staring right back up at me as I stared down at it. I could barely see my own feet as they were swallowed up by the immediate darkness below me. It was haunting, and disorienting, like looking into a giant sinkhole. But unlike this abyss, sinkholes were at least somewhat understood.
My lungs began to throb, but I was hesitant to swim up. Knowing the beast would be waiting for me at the top. But at least I had a chance against that thing, drowning? Not so much. I did manage to hold onto the broom handle though.
Nonetheless, I quickly made my decision once I looked down to the right side of the pool and saw more movement in the water that was below me. This time, I could make out more of its shape, it resembled that of a serpent, but there almost weren’t any details that I could get besides that.
However, I could make out two brightly-colored yellow dots in the depths. There was a couple of feet of distance between them. It was its eyes, they had to be. It saw me, and it was gonna be coming right for me. I kicked hard as my lungs filled with water. Desperately reaching up for the surface while I swam as hard as humanly possible.
Once I broke the surface with a frantic splash I spit up any water that had entered my mouth and threw my head back to look for the creature.
It was gone, vanished from the position it was in when I was thrown into the water. I quickly looked around, left, right, and behind. Nothing, the entity was no longer in the room at all. It brought me a sense of relief I hadn’t felt in months, not since I landed in the library.
I didn’t waste any time swimming over to the edge of the pool and pulling myself out with a coughing groan. The entire left side of my body felt as if it had been hit by an SUV, which I guess wasn’t too far off.
I got to my feet. Looking down and spotting a trail of the creature’s blood leading from where my feet were planted to the door and into the hallway adjacent to the natatorium. It retreated, but I didn’t let myself get a big head thinking it ran because it was scared of me. It probably just thought I had perished.
Regardless though, I knew it would be back. And I needed to move despite me being drenched and dripping wet. I tried to shake my head to get some of the water out of my hair, all my clothes were soaked, and I felt heavy. The smell of chlorine all over me now.
The backpack felt ten pounds heavier with all the added weight of the water. And I wasn’t sure if the notebook I had taken was any good anymore. But I didn’t have any time to check at that moment.
I paced over to the door and stopped just before actually stepping out to lean forward and look in both directions. The trail of gooey blood had led down the right end of the hall so I instinctively went down the left, taking the broom handle with me.
My footsteps produced a bit of a squelching noise as I made my way down this new section of the school. Part of me considered taking them off in case something heard me. But I knew I was far better off leaving them on.
The hallway was what I expected, a narrow rectangular shape with classroom doors on either side. Nothing I hadn’t seen before. So I continued on to find a place to sit down and regain myself for just a minute before I resumed wandering.
There wasn’t much to see in this particular area. Just more corridors with lockers, doors, and tiled floors spread about. Although after the death-defying adrenaline rush I had earlier, it was certainly a nice change of pace.
I kept looking around for any flickering walls or strange doors. As it had been established to be my only hope for an exit at this point. The Expanse didn’t seem to abide by many rules, but if one thing was consistent, it was that flickering walls were either your worst nightmare or your saving grace.
Now that most of my initial shock and existential dread of The Expanse had worn off and mostly turned into general caution. I felt a sense of anger boiling inside me, at both myself, the people who never listened to me, and Tiffany. But according to what those Agents had said, she had already gotten what she deserved. Both for what she did to me, and probably countless others.
Those armed agents dressed in black were a whole other question, who were they? What did they want? Who sent them? Was it truly the government or something more sinister?
After wandering for who knows how long, I got to a point where I had mostly dried off, giving me an opportunity to stop and take the backpack off in the middle of an empty hall. After unzipping it and reaching inside for the notebook, I was genuinely taken aback at what I saw.
It was mostly intact and only slightly wet on both the back and cover, the backpack was heavily water-resistant apparently. I opened the notebook up, rested my back against the wall on my left, and began to document everything that had taken place since leaving the classroom, all the way up to the chase with the creature and the encounter in the natatorium.
It felt beyond cathartic to once again get my story in writing, in a morbid sort of way. There was still the off chance I didn’t make it out of here alive for a second time. And I had somehow prepared myself for the fact that all the people who knew me back in the real world may never see me again.
Missing persons cases are always haunting and terrible to endure, especially for close family members of the victims involved. But at least when someone goes missing on earth, there’s a chance you could find them, there’s trails they leave behind whether they want to or not. There’s hope. Even if it seems hopeless.
But when someone goes missing via falling into The Expanse? There’s nothing, no trails, and nearly no evidence. Not if you don’t see it happen. It makes me wonder how many missing-person cases exist solely because of this place.
I didn’t get much time to ponder on a potential answer though, as I picked up an all too familiar sound heading my way. The footsteps, the loud, thundering, footsteps. And the low, deep breathing. The creature was back and heading my way one last time.
It was coming from behind in one of the adjacent halls. I slammed the notebook shut and threw it inside the backpack, quickly zipping it up as I put the straps on my shoulders. After which I reach down and hastily snatch the broom handle, gripping it tightly as I stood back up.
I’m sure the fact that I smelled like chlorine only made it easier for the creature to track me down, the beast that could sniff you out without a nose. I prepared myself for the inevitable encounter. Gripping the broom handle as I backed up slowly, waiting for the creature to turn the corner and charge me.
This thing wasn’t gonna leave me alone, it wasn’t gonna give up and go away. It would keep coming for me until I took last my breath. And I had grown sick and tired of doing nothing but running. Running and hiding, I needed to defend myself and take a stand.
The footsteps and breathing grew more potent, I held the broom handle behind my back, ready to swing. The creature rounded the corner, roaring in sheer rage and feral aggression. It was an understatement to say that the beast was not happy to see me.
I was terrified. I thought about how this would be my potential end, that this thing would kill me and that would be it. But as I said, I was done running. It let out another earth-shattering howl before charging at me, but I wasn’t foolish enough to try and block him. So instead I dashed to the side, nearly falling off my feet as I tried to avoid the vicious attack.
The creature doesn’t waste time following up, it turns and charges again, throwing out the left shoulder limb it possessed and slamming me against the wall, my back stinging as I feel it impact the brick.
I quickly take a swing at the creature’s head with the broom handle, only briefly causing it to jerk to the side before snapping back as its featureless face stared me down. It raised its other limb up in the air, preparing to slam it down on me, so I quickly raised the broom handle and swatted it away. I followed up by then flipping the handle and shoving it forward, impaling the creature in the abdomen area.
It cried out from the gruesome injury, flailing all its limbs around in an animalistic rage as it swatted at me. I backed up to avoid the blows, nearly falling over in the process.
I lunged forward and grabbed onto the broom handle before pushing forward on it, letting it impale the creature even deeper, avoiding another incoming swat from the beast’s limb. It roars louder than ever before, the lack of a mouth doing nothing to hold back the ear-shattering volumes it could reach.
The entity’s blood flows out from the wound, coating several inches of the handle as it also runs down the body of the creature. I let go and backed up, watching as it continues to go berserk.
But it wasn’t done, and it wouldn’t go down. Not quite yet. It reached forward and yanked the handle out of the wound, the sound of both its pained growls and flesh tearing being coupled together.
Once it’s out, the entity then throws the handle several yards behind itself, it lands with a mocking thud on the floor of the hallway, now completely out of reach. The creature then snaps its head at me sideways, and without a weapon of any kind, I didn’t stand a chance. So I did the one thing I told myself I was done doing.
I ran. Wasting no time turning and bolting down the hall, and with the creature now aware of my position, it revealed its true speed, taking off after me as I pumped my legs with adrenaline-induced vigor.
The creature practically shook the ground as it chased after me, I fled down to the end of the current hall before making a hard left and heading down another, almost identical one. The creature was hot on my tail, seemingly not slowed down by its wound. I was sweating, and panting like a dog as I kept sprinting forward.
I thought that I’d be stuck in a mindless chase with this thing, one that would only end in my death once I ran out of stamina. And there was no part of me that was prepared for it. Surviving all of these experiences in The Expanse, only to die like this, and become another missing persons case in some random police database.
But, after looping around one hall and entering what looked to be a second cafeteria. I spotted something that I thought I’d never be so happy to see.
On the wall at the opposite end of said cafeteria, there was a section of it that was just a bit darker than the rest and gave off a visually apparent flickering effect. Every bone in my body shrieked with both relief, and terror as I felt the beast’s presence just mere inches behind me.
It was catching up. I had never run faster than I did right then and there, even in my previous escape from The Expanse. Humans are capable of some extraordinary things when the threat of death is quite literally looming over them.
Once I was only a few feet away from the wall, I threw myself forward, not even thinking about what kind of environment I may have landed in.
It was disorienting going through the wall at full speed, but it’s not like I had the luxury of being able to slow down.
I practically slid across the floor of the room on the other side. I was only given a fraction of a second to take in my surroundings, a completely white, sterile-looking room with not a single stain on its walls that I could see.
The creature had entered the room with an explosive entrance. Charging and ramming me directly into the wall facing my back, all the wind immediately leaving my lungs as I desperately heaved for a breath. Slumping down to the floor as several objects I didn’t visually perceive fell next to me on either side.
The monster stood over me while letting out a triumphant cry. Raising its left limb and bringing it down with an eruptive force and impaling my leg, going clean through my shin and thigh as I screamed with the volume of a jet engine. Scarlet-red blood coating my socks and staining the floor beneath me.
I writhed and thrashed around before whipping my head to the right and laying eyes upon a pistol on the floor next to me. I don’t know where it came from, or how it got there, but all I knew is that it was my saving grace, divine intervention, whatever you wanna call it.
I clenched my teeth together so hard while reaching over I thought they’d crack. I gripped the firearm, not getting a chance to switch the safety off before the creature twisted its limb within my leg, provoking another horrific scream from my lungs.
I quickly slid the safety off and pointed the barrel up at the creature’s head, pulling the trigger twice and missing each time, the subsequent gunfire inducing it to thrash itself around and drag me along the floor, only causing me further agony. I really thought that this might be it, that this might be the end. But no, I wouldn’t go down like I was nothing more than easy prey.
I finally come to a stop after all the thrashing and sliding, getting an opportunity to lift the pistol once more, my hand shaking as I aim and quickly pull the trigger, the bang erupts, and the bullet tears right through the creature’s throat, leaving a gaping hole that spewed out the grey blood.
Its howls, roars, and cries were now gurgled, and its limb slipped out from my leg, causing me to bleed, even more, it was nearly a small pool at that point.
The creature’s legs began to give out, it wasn’t even focused on me anymore, it just stomped around before falling forward as it slowly bled, its blood now even mixing with mine as its body landed with a powerful thud. But it took less than a minute for the beast’s cries to grow faint while it was on the ground, and soon, all movement seized. And there it laid, finally dead, and no longer able to torment me.
But I had a much bigger problem on my hands, one being the fact that I had lost enough blood to cover a mattress. I felt lightheaded and I struggled to stay conscious. Part of me had wondered if I even made it out of The Expanse, or just entered another section of it.
That concern was quickly put to rest though once I heard an alarm of all things, it blared into the room like it was coming through a PA system. A robotic female voice announcing the sentence “Level five security breach in armory, all possible agents engage.”
I managed to turn my head to the left with a groan, seeing that the wall I had been slammed into was lined with dozens of firearms, rifles, handguns, you name it. I laid my head flat on the ground, it started feeling too heavy as I was slipping into unconsciousness.
Outside the supposed door to the room, were sets of footsteps, ones where you could tell they had on boots and other sorts of gear. A man’s voice shouted saying “Come on, move it! This is a breach damn it!”
Didn’t have time to hear the rest before everything finally went black.
I couldn’t tell you how long I was out for, but when I awoke, I was in a sort of medical bed, with various wires and bandaging on my leg. I assumed I had been taken to a hospital, but I don’t think most hospitals restrain your hands down to the armrests of the bed when you have a leg injury.
I picked up two different voices in the midst of conversations, both male and female. I looked around the room for the sources, which itself was lined with several beds on each wall with corresponding sets of medical equipment.
My backpack was obviously gone, most likely confiscated by whoever occupied this place. I’m assuming that I was still in the same building. I darted my eyes to the left, spotting a man and woman of similar height, but differing in their attire.
The woman was dressed in a suit and tie, her red hair thrown up in a professional bun. She looked to be in her early thirties. The man on the other hand was on the younger side, fitted in black military gear and armed to the teeth with a rifle in his hands, In fact, he was dressed and looked nearly exactly like the agents who had supposedly killed Tiffany and shot at me inside The Expanse.
“Who are you people? What am I doing here?” I growl, fighting against my restraints with an effort that proved futile in its results.
“Seems like the kid’s got fight in him, more than the therapist did. He killed that thing we found him with in the armory.” Came the man. A slight smirk on his face.
“Oh, I’m well aware. I reviewed the camera footage.” Added the woman. “He’s a fighter.”
“Can you answer my questions and stop pretending like I’m not here.” I went on, quickly becoming frustrated.
“Hey, I’d be a little more grateful to the people who patched you up, would’ve been a corpse floating in your own blood if it weren’t for us.” The woman replies, a surprising warmth to her tone, but I didn’t fully trust it.
“Trust me, we’re treating you a lot better than Site Twelve would, If it were up to Ted, you wouldn’t be awake right now to complain.” The armed man chimes in.
I heard of these so-called “Sites” and I assumed this to be one of them.
“You see.” Began the woman. “My name is Sandra Locke, and I’m the Director Of Operations around here, as you’ve seen, our job is not the most ordinary, and you’ve seen firsthand what we go up against. Hell, you killed a cryptid on your own, with the right training and mental conditioning, You could be a seriously talented field agent.”
“Field agent?” I thought, what was this? Recruitment of a kid into some shadowy military faction that kills beings from a mirror dimension? Had my life truly become this absurd in a matter of months?
I was at a loss for words, so instead, I stuck to something a bit more tangible and easier for me to comprehend.
“Where’s my backpack? And my notebook?” I inquired, unsure of what tone to take at this point despite me still being angry and confused.
“It’s in our possession now.” Sandra posits.
“So what are you gonna do? Destroy it, make sure to not leave a trace so then the world never knows what happened to me?” I asked rather rhetorically.
“No, quite the opposite, we want you to finish it. To write everything that has happened since you landed in the library up to now. No one already believes your story, but it’ll raise suspicion if someone so hell-bent on exposing what everyone else knows as absurdity all of a sudden vanishes. At least this way, anyone who is stupid enough to take a serious interest will think you left according to your own delusions.”
I laid there silent, not sure how to respond. But I’ll be honest, she made a decent point. One that reinforced what I was in denial about all this time. I tried everything to make people believe me, and nothing came of it. Not a single person came to my aid, even those whose very job was that. This is the first sort of actual hospitality I had received in months, even if there was a catch to it. Not to mention, the people around here had experienced things probably crazier than even me.
I’d have the comfort of knowing that I’d be surrounded by people who could finally relate to me. Even if it was in a pretty bureaucratic setting.
“You’ve seen things you’re not supposed to.” Sandra continued. “Now standard procedure would be to terminate you. But you’ve shown us that you’re useful, and I’d much rather get your help than clean your brains up off the floor.”
I started thinking about my parents, and as much as I had been angry with them for ignoring my concerns, I still loved them. What would they do if I simply up and vanished again?
“My parents are probably already heading to file a missing persons report for me right now.” I shot back.
“You let us take care of that, and no. Your parents will not be harmed. But after what you’ve seen here, we can’t let you make contact with them again.”
“Once again, who are you people?” I grilled one last time.
“You’ll learn more about us as we go along, but I think it’s pretty clear. We are the people who hunt things like the one you killed, the things that go bump in the night. Monsters, cryptids, whatever you call them, we exterminate them. And keep them out of the knowledge of the public. This world would drown in chaos if it knew what truly lurked around every corner.
Your therapist for example had to be eliminated, she was far too psychotic and would’ve been of no use to us. And I think we both know you don’t exactly mourn her after she tried throwing you to the sharks. She would’ve drawn too much attention, with her quite literally having a door to “The Expanse” as you call it, right in her office.
But you’re different, you are indirectly throwing people off the trail, which is why we need you to finish what you started and join us. I can assure you that you will be well compensated for your work, there are many opportunities here at The Agency. Wouldn’t you like to be able to go back into The Expanse one day with a fully armed team and kill everything in there that ever tormented you? And will torment or kill everyone else who ends up there?”
I’ll be honest, her offer was intriguing. My instincts were all telling me to say no, but what choice did I have? Decline and die, or accept and become some sort of monster-killing soldier? I’m not sure how much I wanted that kind of life, but I did, however, wanna exterminate everything living inside The Expanse, and maybe The Expanse itself if that was even possible. I wanted to avenge those who didn’t make it out like me. Those who fell victim to that hell and never lived to tell the tale. Sure, I’d have to sacrifice my mission of getting the truth out to people, but if I destroyed the very threat that caused it in the first place, then it wouldn’t even be necessary.
So I took a look at Sandra, and made probably the worst, or best decision of my life.
With a long, drawn-out exhale, I asked
“When do I start training?”
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