Estimated reading time — 26 minutes
Author’s Note: “The Mind Game” is the sequel to “The Door Game“. The author recommends you read the first part of the story, which can be found here, before reading this continuation of the tale. Thank you, and happy reading!
“What is it that makes human beings so unique? No, really, what makes us so different from the other organisms roaming our planet? Some people think it’s our compassion and our wanting to help others, but even a dog can do those things. What about self actualization: the achievement of realizing one’s self worth? Well, not very many make it past the first psychological step on the hierarchy nowadays, making it nearly impossible for them to even realize there is a hierarchy at all! So we can scratch that one off the list… What do you think Airman,” he paused, briefly cocking his head to read the name of the soldier closest to him, “Roy? What is it that makes us humans so much better, no- the best living creature on earth?” He smirked from behind his face mask as his eyes scanned the cabin of the C-130, as if he knew something that his captors didn’t.
The belly of the aircraft was scarcely lit, with only three dim lights on the ceiling and lighting strips that barely lit up the walkways. It was hard to see anything that was more than a couple feet away. At the center of the cabin, surrounded by cargo and hovering over a make-shift poker table, were four military personnel. The man with the face mask was tied to a large shipping container several feet away.
Airman Roy turned to him, “Eat shit American Psycho,” he spat before returning to his poker game.
“Temper, temper,” he tsked. “I just asked a harmless question. Perhaps someone else who isn’t so dull and dimwitted can answer the question then?” he asked sarcastically, looking to the other three soldiers at the poker table.
Growling in frustration, Roy jumped to his feet, throwing a hard right hook and catching the uncovered part of the prisoner’s face.
“Anger, definitely not the answer I was looking for,” he chuckled, spitting blood through his mask. “’A’ for effort though.”
“That’s enough, Roy,” ordered the much larger man next to him. “Did you even read his file? Ajax Timothy Houston, otherwise known as Mr. Hysteria-…”
“Please,” Ajax interrupted, “no need to be so formal, Airman Kole, just call me Mr. Madness. Hysteria is too complex a word for the simpleton to understand,” he stated matter-of-factly, nodding at Roy. He grinned widely, showing off his bloodstained teeth from behind his mask as Roy glared back at him.
“Long story short, Roy,” Kole continued, as if uninterrupted, “this man somehow managed to convince four local cops to turn on, and kill each other. He likes to toy with people and their emotions, so the more you act up, the more you feed into his ego and his plans.”
“Don’t forget about the chunk of land they found that he used for some weird science experiment,” a woman chimed in.
“Oh stop it, you’re going to make me blush,” Ajax stated in mock flattery. “They did all the hard work, I just merely told them a few little white lies and some hard truths…” He trailed off as something briefly caught his attention toward the cockpit of the aircraft. Returning his gaze to the table, he quickly switched focus to the other two soldiers. One stifled a laugh, and the other stared worriedly at him. “Do you find how I killed four people amusing, Captain Howard? Judging by the terrified look on Dr. Fahrad’s ugly mug, she is a bit unsettled now by this mission of yours.”
“I just find it comical that you can maintain such an arrogant disposition after being strapped down and muzzled like a dog, all while you have the knowledge that once we land on American soil, you’re as good as dead.” Howard chuckled, followed by Roy and Kole.
“Look at you, seeing the comedic side of things… tell you what, if you can keep up that positive outlook of yours till the end of our flight, I will give you a gold star,” Ajax joked.
“If you don’t give me my gold star when we land, I’ll make sure your death is slow and painful,” Howard stated, matching Ajax’s tone.
“You can check my right pocket if you don’t believe me.” He grinned.
Shaking his head in amusement, Howard motioned to continue the card game.
“What’s got you so strung up Doc?” Roy asked bluntly, picking up and eyeing his cards.
“He knows something that we don’t,” she stated grimly as she leaned in to whisper to them. “Whatever it is…. it can’t be good.”
Dr. Fahrad and Ajax locked eyes as she contemplated on what to say next. She wasn’t a hundred percent sure, but she could have sworn he’d been staring at something only moments earlier, just before he began his lecture. He almost seemed worried about whatever it was.
“Quit stalling and tell us please!” Roy demanded, getting impatient as she held up a finger to stop him from talking.
“What’s your opinion on why humans are so unique?” she questioned Ajax curiously.
“The human mind has always fascinated me. It is what sets us apart from everything else, in my opinion. It provides a firm foundation of morals, yet even the slightest crack can make it all come crashing down. Our imagination creates unlimited possibilities for us to act upon… till it reaches a point where we no longer can tell what is real or fake. It is our greatest enemy and yet, our closest ally. Does that answer your question doctor?”
“Creep,” Howard grumbled.
“I-I thought he was going to try to escape but…” she hesitated briefly, before turning to Howard and continuing, “there’s a chance he’s trying to warn us about something.”
“You got that from his stupid rant? You may want to get your ears checked Doc,” Roy snickered.
“We’re twenty thousand feet in the air,” Kole pointed out. “I doubt, even if he wanted to, he could even come close to escaping. Not to mention that one of us, probably Roy, would put a bullet in em’ if he even so much as sneezed weird.”
“Don’t forget, we triple checked to make sure everything was up and running before takeoff. We would know if anything was wrong with the aircraft,” Howard stated, “so if I were to chose whether this guy had a heart or not, I’d take the latter.”
She sighed to herself, feeling a little less shaken. Reaching down to grab her cards, she froze, then twisted her head slowly to the right as she noticed a slight movement out of the corner of her eye. She was temporarily relieved when she saw a tarp atop a crate rustle slightly as the vents on the floor sent up silent gusts of air.
Seeing how uneasy she was getting, Kole tried to comfort her. “Don’t let Madness over there get to you, Doc-,”
Ajax cut him off, loudly whistling a tune that Dr. Farhad recognized instantly as a Christmas song they’d been discussing minutes earlier, ‘Do you hear what I hear?’.
“Please shut up before I curb stomp your testicles!” Roy growled.
Ignoring his outburst, Ajax whistled again, staring directly at the doctor… or so she thought at first, until she followed his gaze to her Kindle, which had been sitting on the table in front of her. She whispered the lyrics, “…do you see what I see…” from the old, creepy tune as it crept into her mind. She stared at her own reflection on the screen of the device. A split second later she let out a bone chilling screech and reached for her gun after realizing the reflection wasn’t her own. She snapped her head quickly toward the ceiling above them, and instantly, before anyone could react, the lights went out. As the other three shot up from their lawn chairs, the sound of plastic banging against metal rang out, but it was quickly drowned out by shouting and a sickening crunch noise. Immediately following the stomach churning sound, the doctor’s shouting ceased abruptly.
Seconds later the lights slowly returned, starting at a twinkle then growing in brightness, as if a curtain was being lifted to reveal the first act of a play. All three men stood back to back, pistols raised and scanning the room for the immediate threat. Sitting across from them in her chair was Dr. Farhad, her whole body seemingly sucked dry. She still remained in the seat gazing up, with her mouth ajar. Her eyes, looking like they had exploded in their sockets, began oozing blood that ran down her cheeks to the tips of her fingers, forming small pools of blood on the floor beneath her.
Roy quickly turned away from his fallen comrade, getting sick behind the closest cargo bin as Kole shook his head in horror. Howard fell to his knees in disbelief.
“What could do such a thing?” Howard muttered under his breath, trailing off into his own thoughts.
“She was right you know, well sort of,” Ajax stated smugly, raising his voice to get their attention. “For the record, I would like to state I did not have an escape plan, but I do now.”
Roy quickly wiped the puke from his mouth before howling in rage as he stormed over to Ajax, putting his gun to his forehead. “You killed her, you sick fuck,” he shouted in accusation, jabbing him with the muzzle of his gun. “How did you do it? Tell us!” he demanded.
“There is no physical way possible that he could have done something like this,” Kole stated pointedly.
“Yeah, just like there was no possible way anyone could have gotten by security…” Roy stated, trailing off as a new thought entered his mind. He quickly turned his gun onto Howard and Kole. “Unless one of you is in this with him!” he concluded, as Kole and Howard both pointed their own weapons at him.
“Don’t do this Roy,” Howard said, dipping his gun down slightly. “You’re playing right into this madman’s hands. He wants us to turn against each other! Remember what he did to get where he is now.” They stood like statues for a good minute before Roy lowered his weapon. Howard let out a long weary sigh.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what to think right now, especially with what just happened,” Roy explained.
“It’s fine,” Howard responded understandingly. “Just don’t forget we’re the good guys next time.”
He nodded, clearly ashamed of what he had done. Roy turned to Ajax, “Why did you tell us you have an escape plan? Is that true or were you just trying to get our attention?”
“So he does have a brain,” Ajax smiled. “Allow me to answer your question with a question.”
“You get one question, and then you need to convince all of us that you don’t have a lackey stowed away in this aircraft. If you can’t, or if you so much as make one more lame-ass comment, I’m blowing your damn brains out all over this cabin. Maybe even make your skull into a mug. Got it?” Roy asked, his anger returning.
“Fine, you had me at blow my brains out.” He cackled briefly before clearing his throat, recomposing himself and continuing, “Assuming your captain is correct and I don’t have the ability to mummify a human being, can you guys think of anything that can? Do any of you work in Area 51 or some other crazy government facility everyone else should know about?” He finished with a pompous look that said he once again was three steps ahead of them.
“Way to waste your question,” Kole snickered. “Can we kill him now?”
“Wait a moment,” Howard ordered as he began to pace. “I think this crazy ass-hat might be onto something,” he admitted reluctantly.
“I feel kinda’ stupid for admitting this, but I don’t know what or where my home station is.” Roy said.
“Neither do I,” Kole stated. “Anyone remember what the weather was like yesterday?”
They all stood silent, furrowing their brows as they all tried to recall something that should have been easily remembered. Roy’s eyes widened as he finally comprehended the situation.
“I can’t believe it,” Roy panicked. “I-I can’t recall anything! Where I’m from, my parents, dinner last night… Let alone what base I was stationed at! No matter how much I try, I can’t remember a thing before coming onto the plane anymore.”
“Me neither,” Kole added, shaking his head in confusion. Howard nodded to confirm that he couldn’t remember either, before they all turned to Ajax.
“And you?” Howard asked.
“Sadly, I have no recollection of any atrocities I may or may not have committed in the past… what a shame. Does this mean you will cut me loose?”
“I’ll think about it,” Howard stated, rolling his eyes.
“Whatever just killed the doc and stole our memories is still here with us,” Kole pointed out, while tossing everyone a small flashlight from his go-bag, “and there’s nowhere for them to run. Let’s just find this thing and kill-.”
Before Kole could finish his sentence, the aircraft jolted, causing Howard to lose his footing and drop his flashlight. He watched helplessly as it skidded across the floor, just as the cabin lights went out again. Kole and Roy immediately turned on their lights and began scanning the room with their weapons raised.
“Your light is over here,” Ajax called from the darkness, “underneath my foot. Just follow the sound of my soothing voice, Captain Howard.”
“Guys give me some light please,” Howard ordered while feeling his away around the cabin.
“Sorry,” Roy apologized, shining the light in his direction, allowing Howard to catch a glimpse of the flashlight underneath Ajax’s shoe.
“Wow, I thought you were lying,” Howard said, jogging over to him. “If you keep that new positive attitude, I may just start calling you Mr. Nice.” He reached for the light.
“On a scale of one to ten, how much do you trust me, Captain?” Ajax asked in mock curiosity.
“I would say a strong three,” he answered sarcastically as he stood back up facing his captive, “but only because you’re tied up to a large crate.”
As Howard turned to leave, Ajax took advantage of the tiny amount of give in his ropes and pinned the captain’s foot to the floor with his own. Howard stumbled briefly, pulling his gun out of the holster instinctively and pointing it at the convict as he regained his balance. Roy and Kole both swore loudly as they too raised their weapons at Ajax, causing him to grunt and squint in pain as his face was blasted by their lights.
“Before you shoot me, I want to make a confession,” Ajax pleaded.
“Go on…” Howard motioned for the other two keep their eyes open, setting down his pistol while he listened to what Ajax had to say.
“I have an accomplice, and if you want to find him, tell the goon squad to check behind the large cargo bins stacked by the cockpit.”
Howard turned back to Roy and Kole, both of whom shared shocked expressions, and gave them the ok to search.
“Now, I’m going to ask again… How much do you trust me Howard?” he asked, losing all traces of sarcasm and staring at him sincerely.
“Um, not even a little…” he replied, thrown off by the change in his tone. “What else are you not telling us?”
“I will explain everything, but first you need to do as I say, got it?”
“Give me a reason why I should,” he demanded. “You play with your victims’ minds like its some sick twisted game! What makes this time any different?”
Ajax’s eyes darted to the other two soldiers as they slowly approached their destination. He let out a heavy sigh of defeat before speaking, “Honestly, I need you to survive this, Captain Howard, and in order for that to happen I need you to listen to me. When those two reach the corner it’s going to get really loud and really messy. No matter what you hear, or what you think you should do, do not turn around. And lastly, you may want to turn off your flash light.”
Howard snorted in disbelief, but as he started to turn around, his skepticism quickly twisted into understanding as he began piecing together the puzzle in his head. Howard hung his head in defeat and turned back to face his prisoner.
Not taking his eyes off the floor, he spoke softly to himself as the guilt for what he was about to do devoured him. “Forgive me…” he whispered as he flicked the switch on his light, allowing him and Ajax to once again be enveloped in darkness.
“Come out slowly,” Roy ordered, seeing what looked to be someone crouching behind stacked crates. “We have you surrounded!”
Roy glanced over to Kole, who gave him a reassuring nod as they crept cautiously forward. After taking only a few steps, their lights began to flicker as the mystery figure slowly rose from its crouched position. Roy hastily smacked his light against his thigh, bringing it back up only to illuminate an empty corner. He immediately began to panic, looking frantically around and in between cargo crates. A few seconds went by before he noticed Kole’s light was no longer visible around the corner. He swore at himself and the crew for being so careless in trusting Ajax. Pressing himself up against the nearest bin for cover, he cautiously made his way to the corner and contemplated his next move. Roy hadn’t noticed at first, but as he tried to control his breathing and listen for any signs of movement, he immediately became aware of the horrifying fact that he couldn’t hear anything at all. The hum of the engines, the rattling of containers, even his heartbeat failed to impinge the silence that had taken hold of him. Taking a nervous gulp, his pulse racing, he readied himself to peer around the corner. After a brief delay, he pivoted with his gun raised, ready to take down the assailant.
Before he could understand what was happening, an icy grip on his shoulder caused him to drop his light. He instinctively side-kicked his attacker, putting distance between them. Raising his pistol, he fired a single round into the darkness; right where he thought the attacker’s head should be and watched as their body went limp, crumbling to the floor. Letting out a weary sigh, he reached down and picked up his flash light, shinning it at the body.
“No, no, no,” Roy stammered, nearly in tears as he fell to his knees beside Kole. “How did I…why did you…” he trailed off as he inspected his fallen comrade and found two gaping holes where his eyes should have been. He fell back on his hands, dropping his light once again+ and scurried away from the body, till his back was pressed firmly against the nearest wall. Succumbing to his fear and the horrific scene before him, he began shaking uncontrollably as his hearing slowly returned and a female voice beckoned to him from the shadows.
“Roy…” it whispered.
“No,” he wailed desperately. “You’re already dead! Just leave, please!” he pleaded as it began to hum the same tune Ajax had whistled earlier. His forearm began to ache as he held up his gun in the direction of Dr Farhad’s voice. Sweat poured down his brow and his shaking grew more aggressive once he saw the figure approach the edge of his bubble of light. Stopping just far enough away so he couldn’t make out any distinct details, it loomed over Kole’s corpse as it kneeled and plunged what looked to be its hands into his skull with a sickening, wet crunch. Kole’s left hand, which had fallen into Roy’s line of sight, quivered violently as his skin began to shrivel and mummify. Once the individual was done leeching off of Kole’s body, it slowly rose to its feet as it began to hum the same song, turning ever so slowly in Roy’s direction.
“Move any closer and I w-will sh-shoot!” he threatened, barely able to control the tremors that spread rapidly through his body.
“Do you see… what I see…” it sang just louder than a whisper, but enough for him to hear as it drifted fully out of sight. Roy dropped his guard for no more than a second before the attacker came lunging out of the darkness.
Howard cringed as a second gunshot echoed through the aircraft, but this time followed by Roy’s muffled screams. Then, right on cue, the lights slowly crept back to life, putting the spotlight on the two remaining passengers as they both stood facing each other. Howard was the first to speak.
“How long have you known?” he demanded.
“I was never a hundred percent sure… until Dr. Farhad bit the dust.” Ajax smirked.
“You used her as bait.”
“Well I sure as hell wasn’t about to test my theory on myself.”
“But how did you come up with that ‘theory’ in the first place?”
“It was after your discussion about the different things that scared you as kids. I found it interesting that all of you had very similar childhoods, with parents who treated you like you were fragile. You were all homeschooled and had issues with blacking out-,”
“Skip the psycho babble please.”
Ajax let out an annoyed sigh. “Fine, I’ll spare you the monologue and explain. While you four each spoke of something that scared you, I thought of something that frightened me as well. It was immediately following that one thought that I noticed the change.”
“The thing that I thought would frighten me most… forgetting everything that had happened before the plane. It was at that moment I realized if what I had feared came to fruition, then it could happen for all of you as well. So I decided to test it out; I whistled the carol that ‘used’ to scare Dr. Farhad. I’m assuming that Roy was afraid of the dark, and Kole definitely seemed like he was terrified of being mummified—.”
“So what you’re saying is… we did this?”
“Yes, we were all tools used to create our own personal Frankenstein.” Ajax lowered his voice before continuing. “But before we take care of the monster, we need to take care of the one who is really responsible.”
“What do you mean? It’s only us two left…”
“That’s what they want us to think,” he pointed out; clearly amused by some game he was playing. “I sent your boys in the direction of the cockpit for a reason. I had to test another theory, and try to prove that there was someone possibly hiding out in the cockpit at the same time.”
Howard shook his head in disappointment for not realizing the possibility sooner.
“It’s alright Captain, we can’t all be as detail oriented as-,” he stopped as Howard pulled out his knife. Shaking nervously, he took two steps forward and silently began cutting at Ajax’s restraints.
As soon as the straps that held him hit the floor, Ajax pounced onto Howard, completely catching him off guard. Ajax wrestled the knife from his grip and thrust it into his side. Howard let out a weak grunt upon contact and stumbled back slightly as they both stared at each other with very different expressions: Ajax bore a huge triumphant grin, while Howard glared back in pain and betrayal.
“Sorry to let you down like that,” Ajax started, “but we can’t both survive this.”
“You told me… you needed me… to live,” he gasped between breaths as he held the knife in place and fell to one knee.
“I did, so you could cut me free.” He laughed madly, circling Howard like a vulture. “I didn’t actually need you for anything else. I can handle the rest from here on out.”
Growling loudly in anger and pain, Howard swiftly reached into his boot and pulled out a small safety pistol and fired it at Ajax. He yelled out in surprise as the bullet hit its mark. Sprawling into the makeshift table from the impact, Ajax collapsed it under his weight. He was showered in cards, chips and cardboard as he lay motionless on the floor. Howard tossed aside the empty pistol, then let out a weak chuckle before succumbing to his wound, falling onto his side and releasing a long raspy breath he too ceased moving.
Terry had remained hidden in a cramped compartment for three hours, coming out as soon as she knew the pilot, Captain Howard was gone. Shortly after leaving her hiding spot she realized she had no recollection of why she was even there. The need for revenge however, clawed at her insides the moment her gaze met Ajax’s through the computer screen. Twenty minutes had gone by since the final two survivors’ skirmish, and both had remained stock-still the entire time. She let out a long relieved sigh as she watched the computer screen. “It’s finally over.”
She stood up from the pilots chair and unlocked the door leading out to the cabin. She paused for a moment before turning the handle. It was one thing to see the aftermath on a monitor, but in person… She shuddered at the thought. She wiggled her limbs in an attempt to recompose herself and opened the door. She stood in the doorway for a moment as her eyes adjusted to the dimly lit room. To her left she saw two corpses that had seemingly been sucked dry, the one closest to her however had a bullet wound between his eyes. She cringed at the sight of the two soldiers as she debated on whether she should feel guilty or not. “I didn’t even know them,” she reasoned out loud before continuing to the center of the cabin. Her gaze shifted first to the woman who had been mummified before turning to the man who had been stabbed.
“You poor bastard,” she whispered shaking her head in remorse. “You got shafted pretty hard,” she trailed off as her eyes flicked over to where the prisoner should have been. Immediately she started to panic.
She whipped her revolver from its holster, turning on her heel as she heard a light tap from behind her. She probed the room with her pistol raised, not daring to leave from where she now stood. “He can’t reach me if I’m out in the open,” she thought to herself.
“Come on out!” she yelled at the stacks of cargo.
“Alright,” came a strained grunt as the prisoner shuffled around a crate clutching his arm. “You caught me RED handed.” He chuckled sarcastically at his cleverness as he raised his bloody hand up in surrender.
“Stay where you are!”
“Fine, but I have something very important to ask before this all goes down, err…” He trailed off, squinting at the woman’s stolen name tag. “Colonel Tracy, have we met before?”
“Well Seeing as I get sick just looking at you,” she reached into her pocket and pulled out a picture, holding it out so Ajax could see it, “and I have this photo of you, I find it safe to assume we have! My name’s Terry. That’s all I can remember before boarding this plane, other than my wanting to watch you burn!”
“You have a lot of balls for a woman,” he said, forcing a grin. “We must have been lovers then?”
“Now I see why they had you strapped up,” Terry spat. “You’re a real freak of nature, you know that?”
The prisoner wiped sweat from his brow as he leaned up against one of the crates. “Tell me something I don’t already know…For instance, do you like chess fake Colonel Tracey?”
“I do, why you ask?” she inquired, letting her curiosity get the better of her.
“Well I kind of figured as much… You see we have been playing our own game this entire time, and not one of these idiots caught on, well save for one.”
Confused, Terry stared at him with a blank expression before deciding to play along.
“Yeah, too little too late though. You gave me the upper hand, all because you wanted to kill off your only ally; not to mention getting hurt in the process. You outplayed yourself, and I’ll be the last one standing because of your arrogance.” She aimed the revolver at Ajax’s head and cocking back the hammer, “Check-,”
Without wavering, Ajax boasted, “It was quite the honor Terry, but I’m afraid it’s time for me to end our little game now.”
Terry hesitated, giving Howard enough of an opening to hop to his feet and ram his knife into the side of her head with a loud wet thump.
Ajax gave Howard an approving nod as the woman’s body fell to the floor. Howard rushed over to help Ajax into a lawn chair, patting his shoulder as he spoke.
“Nice job American Psycho.”
“I can’t believe that worked,” Ajax grunted as he sank further into the chair. “We make quite the couple, don’t you think?” He finished with a weak laugh while looking to Howard, who was deep in thought.
“Can I ask you a question?” Howard asked, losing all traces of humor.
“Shoot,” Ajax said, chuckling as Howard caught the pun and rolled his eyes.
Still standing, Howard crossed his arms and took a step toward the cockpit, putting his back to Ajax. “You lied about what you feared, didn’t you?”
“Yes I did. You’re a lot brighter than you let on,” he sighed as he opened up to Howard. “I am afraid of the unknown. Not knowing something terrifies me. So I do whatever I can to learn my surroundings and those in them-,” He stopped himself immediately after realizing he had made a huge mistake, but it was too late.
The lights began to pop one by one as Howard’s manic laugh echoed throughout the cabin, coating everything in darkness except for the area where Ajax now sat. The light above him flickered sporadically as he shot up from his chair, turning to the cockpit to see Howard’s silhouette facing him from the doorway.
“You know, I’m very surprised you didn’t catch on sooner,” Howard chimed over the whirr of the engines. “Not once did I share a bit of information about myself and nobody seemed to care! You pride yourself on knowing what makes people tick and reading your surroundings, yet you couldn’t even figure out who you were playing the game with! Bravo!” he finished, caking on the sarcasm as he clapped slow and loud.
Ajax gathered what energy he had and dove desperately for the woman’s revolver lying just a few feet away. Still prone on the floor, he swore loudly as he looked down the sights at a closed cockpit door. Groaning, he slowly sat up and covered his eyes as the light above him stopped flickering and slowly grew brighter. He closed his eyes trying to concentrate on what to do next, but a shuffling noise from the darkness pulled him from his thoughts. As he tried to peer past the veil of light to see what was lurking in the shadows, Howard’s voice came from the speakers mounted around the room.
“I have to admit, I kinda’ enjoyed our time together… you were a good adversary. To put it into your words though, ‘we can’t both survive this.’ Oh, and my ‘lackey’ will come for you shortly,” he added as he shut off the speakers. Ajax slowly clambered to his feet.
Ajax stood rigid trying to listen past the white noise of the engines. His eyes darted around as he tried hopelessly to catch a glimpse of the creature that he knew was watching him. Sweat poured down his face as his gunshot wound bombarded him with excruciating bursts of pain and ribbons of blood oozed out from between his fingers as he tried to control the bleeding. Tightening his grip on the revolver, he forced a half smile as Kole’s voice fell softly onto his ears from the darkness in front of him, just barely above a whisper.
“Twenty thousand feet in the air… nowhere… to run,”
“I guess I’m out of guinea pigs,” Ajax grumbled, coming up with one last ditch effort for survival. “Let’s hope the past few ‘theories’ weren’t just lucky guesses,” he finished with a heavy sigh as he slowly started backing out from under the ceiling light. He watched closely as the creature stepped out into the light, almost as if it were a marionette bound to his movements.
Humanoid in shape, the creature was easily over seven feet in height and jet black, with a few very noticeable inhuman differences. Its arms split at the wrist into three long appendages with pointed, straw-like nails protruding from their tips. Its skin seemed to constantly crawl, making it look as if thousands of ants scurried around aimlessly just beneath its surface. Its mouth was constantly parted, as if in mid sneeze, exposing two rows of jagged teeth. What Ajax found most disturbing were its eyes… it had three sets, and all of them were spread out haphazardly across the upper half of its face and each belonged to a different victim.
Its mouth didn’t move as it spoke again, this time in Roy’s voice, “Quit stalling…”
Once his eyes had adjusted, Ajax reluctantly tossed the revolver onto the fake Colonel’s corpse.
The creature released a loud, guttural growl as the remaining light went out.
“Check-mate,” he breathed to himself just before letting out a blood curdling scream.
* * * * *
Douglas’s eyelids fluttered as he slowly regained consciousness, and after hearing the steady rhythm of his heart monitor off to his right, he let out a heavy sigh of relief. In any normal situation this wouldn’t be considered a good thing, he thought to himself. Waking up in a dimly lit hospital room with tons of wires, nodes and needles covering nearly every inch of his body wasn’t exactly heaven, but it was definitely better than the alternative… He shuddered, recalling what happened to everyone else on the plane.
He pressed the call button on the little remote that lay next to him, not wanting to spend any more time alone in the dark than he needed. Thirty seconds later he heard someone enter the room. He flinched at the sudden loudness of the curtains being tugged open, and a doctor that he knew very well was revealed to him.
“Before we get started, can you tell me your name please?” the doctor asked, as two men and a woman in business attire trailed in after him. All four seemed to tense up in anticipation on how he would answer, each holding a pen to a clipboard as they waited.
“My name is Douglas Howard,” he stated. He watched as everyone seemed loosen up as they jotted down notes.
The doctor proceeded to ask him a series of questions, ranging from current events to memories of his childhood, while the other three checked his charts and vitals. It wasn’t until the doctor gave them a reassuring nod to leave that they exited the room, all with positive expressions.
“I want you to be honest with me,” Douglas asked, “I can’t help but realize how weak I’m feeling. Is this a side effect from the drugs, and is it going to be permanent?”
The doctor cleared his throat. “Douglas what you’re experiencing is fatigue from lack of muscle use, not the after effects of the drug.”
“Come on Richard,” he stated skeptically, “you can tell me if it’s the drugs. I won’t care if it is. Plus, do you really expect me to believe that being asleep for a week or so would make me this weak?”
“That’s the thing Douglas; you’ve been asleep for two months. There were some miscalculations on how long it would be for the drug to take effect.” He sighed, looking slightly ashamed.
“Oh,” he grumbled, dreading the thought of physical therapy, though he decided against complaining after seeing the look of guilt on his friend’s face. “I can live with some P.T., and the follow ups, Richard. Don’t worry too much about that. It’s a trial after all, and I signed up knowing the possible risks.”
Richard gave him a weak smile before continuing, “The good news is the trial seems to have been successful so far, according to your EEG’s. It’s also the first time I’ve talked to you without interruption from one of your split personalities…” He trailed off, wiping away a stray tear.
“What’s wrong Rich? You seem a little off.”
“I’m so sorry to bug you with this Douglas, but my son just passed away about a month ago.”
“My sincerest apologies my friend,” he said, covering his mouth and staring at him sympathetically. He paused to let Richard recompose before he continued, “If you don’t mind me asking, what happened?”
“He was killed by a drunk driver on his way to a friend’s home after prom.” He stated, shakily rubbing his chin to keep himself composed. “Several of his friends died too. Only one made it out alive, and he’s in a coma.”
“Geez Rich…” Doug whispered, not knowing what else to say to comfort him.
“Getting back to the trial, I need to know in full detail what you went through while you were asleep, that way I can explain to you how the drug worked,” he finished, returning to an all-business tone.
For the next hour, Douglas went into full detail about his time on the aircraft, and what he did to survive. When he was finished, Richard sifted curiously through his notes.
“It’s amazing how complex a single drug can be,” Douglas stated. “When it couldn’t find any personalities, it used everyone’s fear to provoke them into revealing an approximate location. From there, once they tried to defend themselves, it would find a precise position. In other words, once a person realized they had a weapon, they always sought to confront the creature… so I subtly set down my gun, then I disposed of my knife by pretending to lose it to Ajax and used my safety pistol on him. It would’ve been weird to just hand over my weapons to the prisoner, the only person who didn’t have a weapon.”
“Now you understand why this trial was so risky,” Richard sighed. “First, there were the complications of putting you into a medically induced coma, and we had no way of knowing what kind of scenario your mind would create in order to cope with the loss of each separate personality. To top it all off, there was apparently a chance the drug could’ve mistaken you for one of the other personalities, and allowed one of them to take over. You were very fortunate to catch on to what it was this, creature was after, and use it to your advantage.”
“To be honest, I was more afraid of the prisoner than I was of the creature. For a moment, I thought he knew what was actually going on.” Douglas admitted.
“That was something else I wanted to address. The Ajax personality you mentioned never showed up in any tests, notes, or witness statements in the past. In other words, he never existed up until now.”
“Could that explain why he was our prisoner?” Douglas asked.
“It would definitely explain that, yes. Subconsciously you could have known he was there and was a threat, but we can’t know for sure now that he’s gone. My theory though, is that he remained hidden for so long because of the complexity and crowding of your mind,” Richard added. “Your situation was so tough because you had so many beings in your head, it was hard to determine which one was the real you. Your mind needed to find a very complex way of coping with such a huge loss, and it definitely paid –,” He was cut off by his pager. Immediately, the color drained from his face as he stared at the 911 page.
“Is everything alright?” Douglas prodded.
“Yeah,” he mumbled, “it’s actually good news. My son’s friend just woke up from his coma. I’ll be back to check on you in a few minutes. If you need anything, just hit the call button,” he finished, darting out of the room.
Douglas sat in silence for a few minutes before a smile slowly played across his face. He had finally done it! He was finally free! No more blackouts or disturbed looks from his so-called ‘family’ or ‘friends’! It was all over!
As he raised his arm in triumph, he felt something crinkle against his right peck. He looked down, noticing there was a small pocket on his hospital gown. He reached in curiously and pulled out what looked to be a small piece of paper, about four inches by four inches, and blank… till he flipped it around. There on the other side of the little white sheet was a sticker… a gold star, and written on it was this message:
P.S. I’m still here
Screaming in terror, he frantically began to smash the call button. When nobody came, he flung himself out of bed and instantly regretted doing so as he collapsed to the floor, barely able to carry his own weight. He ripped off all his wires and carefully removed his IVs as he sat up growling in frustration.
“Richard!” he screamed desperately as he slowly clambered to his feet using the railing of the bed. Looking around, he found a set of crutches and used them to slowly make his way out of the room. When he entered the hallway he noticed something very strange; the nurses’ station right across from his room was completely empty. As he peered around the desk at the other rooms, he realized the entire floor was vacant. He had just opened his mouth to call out for help when one of the phones on the desk rang, echoing throughout the empty floor. Not letting it ring more than once, Douglas shoved the phone to his ear, speaking frantically, “Hello is someone there? I need to speak to Richard-,”
“Howard, there is no Richard,” Ajax’s voice drifted coolly out of the ear piece, “I know I’m the last person you want to hear, but you need to listen to me.”
“H-How are you here in the hospital? I thought you were only in my head,” he stammered.
“I will explain that later. I can’t talk too much right now.” He paused briefly before continuing, “There is something really wrong with this place… you need to leave now!”
Douglas hastily smashed the phone onto the receiver, standing frighteningly still as he contemplated his next move.
“This doesn’t make any sense!” he seethed to himself, smacking one of his crutches against the closest desk.
In the silence that followed, he was able to make out a noise coming from the only other room with an open door, and he watched as a teenager came scrambling through the doorway, barely keeping his balance as his legs trembled beneath his weight. Douglas stared in bewilderment as the kid propped himself up on a desk across the room, fumbling with his cell phone in an attempt to silence the alarm that seemed to be increasing in intensity. After he finally shut off the alarm, his eyes darted around the large room till he caught sight of Douglas.
“Hey old dude, I heard you talking a moment ago, is there anyone else with you?” he asked hurriedly.
Slightly offended by his tone, Douglas pretended to look around before answering, “I guess not…”
“I need one of your crutches please, I can barely walk and we need to get out of here-”
He was cut off by the sound of glass shattering as the overhead lights from down the hall exploded, scattering shards across the tile floor in every direction. From the darkness drifted the all too familiar voice of Dr. Farhad, her ghostly whisper resounding off the walls around them as she sang.
“Do you see…what I see?”
“What in the name of all that is good is that?” The kid asked, panicking as he turned to Douglas for an answer.
“You don’t want to know,” he muttered as he stared helplessly at the darkness that concealed the creature from the plane.
Another set of lights blew up as a pitch black foot stepped into the light, covering another section of the hallway with a smoky black veil. Douglas swore loudly as he came to his senses and rushed over to the kid. He threw him one of his crutches while extending his hand to help support his other side as they both began to limp in the opposite direction of the creature.
“What are we going to do?” the kid panted as the lights began to detonate at a faster pace. They both stopped and turned around. His question was answered as an elevator they had just passed chimed and slowly opened its doors, the darkness only a few feet away.
“Move!” Douglas grunted and they both charged with everything they had.
Once they were in front of the elevator, the lights above them exploded, raining down sparks and glass. Douglas shoved the boy in first which caused him to lose his balance and fall just inside the doors. The creature chuckled in Roy’s voice as Douglas clawed his way further into the elevator and turned as the doors shut behind him. He screamed internally as he caught a glimpse of the creature’s face grinning down at him before it was replaced by his own reflection on the silver doors of the elevator.
“Now we can get the hell out of here,” he gasped as he turned to the kid. “What’s your name?”
“My name’s James… and I don’t think we’re home free just yet,” he stammered, pointing to a sign hanging up in the center of the elevator which read: “Game Two”, with a list of rules written below it.
Credit: Blake L. Patrick, Edited by Tom