After the convoy of vans exited the crumbling valley, we made a stop about a mile away from the plant. I heard mention that others were continuing on to a nearby army base, but six cars (mine included) peeled away from the rest. The vans parked in a sharp circle, bumper to bumper, with their sliding doors all opening toward the middle.
“Everyone out of the vans and into the circle.” It was Francisco. He was holding a rifle now, prodding people as they filed out. “Remove any hats, bandages, glasses – anything which obscures your face. Nobody is leaving here until I get a chance to look at their eyes.”
He had to be looking for signs of the treatment. The bearded man I had saved was still in the back of our van with me. He looked so thin and weary – I wonder how long he’d been down there. I caught his eye, and the pure white orbs looked back with helpless pleading.
We both flinched as a gunshot echoed throughout the caravan. Then three more shots, one right after the other.
“Filthy animal. Just die already,” Francisco said.
Three of us were left in the van: the driver, the haggard man, and me. I was about to step out when emaciated probing fingers clutched desperately at my shirt.
“Help me. Please. I only did what they told me to do.”
The driver pushed past us to exit in front. If it hadn’t been for Nathan’s interference, I would have had my first treatment today. Then I would have been the one to be executed, assuming I hadn’t already been killed when the building was detonated. These people had been strong armed and manipulated into obeying orders, and now they were being punished by the same people who made them do it.
Besides that, I still wanted more answers. By the enormity of the thing’s ancient presence, I had no doubt that it was still alive down there. The people who had been “feeding” it must know as much as anyone what we were up against. Mankind might be diversive in our values at times, but when a common enemy as calamitous as that whispers our doom, we’ve no choice but to stand together against it’s oppression. Anyone like Francisco who sought to divide us had to be labeled as an enemy too.
I saw the car keys poking out of the driver’s back pocket as he climbed out of the van. I snatched it, applying pressure to his back to distract him. I was trying to be subtle, but he lost his balance and fell straight out of the van onto his knees.
“Hey, what the hell man?” the driver was loud. Too damn loud. All eyes fell on me.
“That’s the guy who helped Nathan!” Francisco shouted. I launched the van door shut just as he was raising his rifle. The haggard man shoved me to the floor, but before I could fight him off I heard the metallic clang of bullets punching through the door where I’d stood a moment before.
“Let’s move!” the bearded man shouted, practically flinging me through the air and into the driver seat. The van roared to life, smashing into the adjacent van to make enough space for us to escape.
More bullets were raining through the wall, and a spiderweb of cracks filled the passenger side window. It must be bullet proof glass, but it still wouldn’t hold up for long under this assault. The pale-eyed man grunted as a bullet punched through his door and into his shoulder, but the bullet seemed to barely break his skin before deflecting onto the dashboard.
I slammed the car into reverse, plowing into the van behind me and finally edging out enough room to drive. The car shot off down the road like a stone from a slingshot, the bullets rattling off the back as we went.
“Are you hurt?” I asked the man.
“It’ll take more than that to slow me down, so don’t let it slow you either. Not until we reach the plant.”
“We can’t stop. That’s the first place they’ll look,” I said.
“They’ve all had rounds, and that makes ’em targets now. We have to save as many as we can.”
“How do you know about that? Who are you?”
“Dillan, I used to be called. Don’t seem right to call me that anymore though. Not much of Dillan left.”
We didn’t have long to compare notes before I reached the plant. Two of the other vans were close on my heels the whole way. I’m not sure if we can fight them off and escape, but having a whole crew that can take bullets like vitamins seems like a pretty solid advantage to me.
I didn’t slow as we passed through the checkpoint – rammed straight through the automated gate. I didn’t want to risk crossing any more open ground than I could help, so I drove right through the glass door at the front of the building and parked inside.
A bullet skipped by the ground near my feet the second I opened the door. I thought I had gained some ground on them – they couldn’t be here already. Another bullet – this was coming from inside the building. They must have begun clearing the plant before I even got there.
Dillan pulled me from the van and covered me with his body as we sprinted through the building. I saw him take two more bullets, both rattling to the ground after impact. Every room we passed was already strewn with bodies.
Robert is dead. Elijah, Megan – both have been decapitated. Undergoing the treatments seems to have given these people a considerable resistance to injury and death, but there’s no coming back from that. Dillan and I managed to get to the security surveillance room to see if anyone is left, but it’s only a matter of time before they find me. All the video feeds showed men in suits fanning out through the power plant, most armed with long machetes still stained with blood. There’s nowhere left for me to go.
“Look! There’s a few hanging on,” Dillan pointed at one of the screens. Three plant workers – didn’t even have a chance to learn their names yet – were huddled in terror inside one of the supply closets. Dillan showed no hesitation, already bounding out the door as though he knew the way by heart. I started to follow, but he was quick to close the door behind him.
“You stay hidden,” he said. “I’ve been down there too long. There’s nothing they can do to me that they haven’t already tried, but you – you’ll pop like a ripe melon hit by a hammer.”
That thought was vivid enough for me to stay put. I watched him on the security feed as he dashed through the hallways with inhuman speed. If you’d asked me before this started, I would have always told you the humans are the good guys and the monsters can go to Hell. Scanning the familiar workrooms and seeing the bloodbath, watching the men with machetes butchering corpses which still struggled to move, then following the trails of bloody footprints all over the building – well maybe there are no good guys here. Shit, I don’t know, maybe I’d even better off joining Nathan and the thing in the pit.
Even thinking that felt wrong though. The visceral terror I experienced while looking down into that great red eye will be enough to haunt me for the rest of my days. If I could just get out of here though, I could let the whole mess of them tear each other apart and stay out of it. I was just about to make a run when the door was kicked open.
Francisco stood alone with a bloody machete in each hand. His eyes were wild, looking even less human than Dillan’s vacuous stare. Red hand-prints crawled their way around his legs where his victims doubtlessly clutched at him right before the killing blow fell.
“I thought I’d find you here,” he said, his dress-shoes making a wet squelch as they plodded across the room toward me. I backed up against the wall, but I was cornered.
“I’m still human. Nothing’s been done to me,” I said. “You don’t have to do this.”
“I didn’t have to kill the others either,” he said. “I wanted to. The moment they were plugged into those machines, they were more beast than man.”
“We’re both men though – we’re both on the same side.” I was throwing any words that came to mind into the space between us, but nothing seemed to slow his relentless advance. I picked up the office chair and brandished it at him, but he only laughed. Think again, smart-ass.
I hurled the chair into the surveillance screens and watched it smash them to pieces. Francisco’s smirk twisted into a snarl.
“I know where the others are,” I said. “You won’t find them without my help. Not before they escape.”
“Fine – I’ll let you live,” he growled. “Just tell me who is left.”
“Not good enough,” I replied. “I want to know what’s been going on. I want to know everything you know.”
“There’s not enough time -”
“Then stop wasting it.”
He glanced at the broken monitors, then again at the long track of hallway where he came from. Francisco expelled an irritated sigh, propped the chair up, and had a seat. That’s when I finally got the whole story.
The valley had been the result of a primal asteroid smashing into the Earth. A scientific expedition to unearth fragments resulted in the discovery of unusual movement within the lithosphere of the Earth’s crust. Two tectonic plates had switched directions and were moving against the surrounding mantel, which resulted in much of the mountainous terrain in the area.
The government deployed a mining expedition, looking for clues as to the buildup of pressure. That’s when they discovered IT – the Devil – the beast – the monster – whatever impoverished word man has in the face of such a cataclysmic being dwelling beneath the Earth. The scientists speculated that it was much too large to have been carried on the asteroid, but perhaps a seed or a hatchling had survived the journey and grown through the eons into the monstrous form that was uncovered.
The mining further served to disturb the being, and its increasing activity threatened its pending escape. Nothing short of a nuclear weapon was likely to harm it, and this would be impossible to covertly detonate without radiating the groundwater and devastating the nearby population centers.
The only method which seemed to slow the being down was crudely refereed to as “sacrifices”. The thing displayed considerable less activity after it consumed the initial miners, and subsequent experiments devised a way to feed it via the network of machines and mental energy which I had witnessed. They had powered the machines for the last 20 years, but the sudden cessation of energy seemed to have woken the creature, prompting the shaft’s demolition.
If there was more to the story, I didn’t get a chance to hear. Francisco was getting impatient, and I didn’t know how much more time I could buy. Luckily, I didn’t have to. Dillan returned during the recounting, and while Francisco’s attention was still distracted, he pounced.
I say pounced, because only an animal could have flown through the air like that pale eyed Demon. Before Francisco could turn his head, Dillan had wrapped his thin arms around the guard’s neck and snapped it like twig. I would have been grateful if it hadn’t been for what happened next.
Dillan bit deeply into Francisco’s neck while his limp form was still convulsing in Dillan’s arms. Even with human teeth, Dillan was able to rip out great chunks of flesh from the man. The teeth sank through the mesh of veins and arteries, crunching through the spine, and straight out the other side. It took almost a full minute for him to gnaw his way through; I don’t think he was even eating it, but simply reveling in the satisfaction of his power.
I didn’t say a word. I didn’t look away. I just let it happen. Every time I thought I knew what I was doing, the scale of events far surpassed my expectations and I was left a helpless onlooker. After Dillan finished, he gave me a sloppy grin before leading me safely through the building. Heads were separated from bodies everywhere we went, and it was clear which were cleanly severed with a machete and which had been gnawed lose. Dillan had saved the other three people though, and I owed him my life as well. That’s how I learned the last part of the story that Francisco had left out.
The people hooked to the machines – they weren’t just feeding the thing. It wasn’t just the human mind passing down the cables, it was also the mind of the beast passing up into them. With each round of treatment, the subjects became a little less human and a little more monstrous, until they became something like Nathan or Dillan that couldn’t live and wouldn’t die. Dillan had been one of the original scientists who sacrificed himself to the creature over 20 years ago, and he had voluntarily shackled himself to the machine all that time. He’s right though, I shouldn’t call him Dillan anymore. Dillan died a long time ago.
As soon as I was out to freedom, I parted ways with the subjects. I got in my car and I drove as far and as fast as I could. As far as I know, the creature is still down there, buried beneath countless tons of rock in the hills of Colorado. I don’t know whether its body is still trying to get out or not, but I don’t think it even matters. The beast thinks with Dillan’s thoughts and moves with his body, and like an avatar of some forgotten God, he now freely walks the earth. His zealous protection of the other subjects makes me believe it is the beast’s imperative to protect his own, so I can only assume that Dillan is now working to either free the creature or spread its influence by bringing more sacrifices to its underground lair.
I don’t know that he can be killed – don’t know that he can be stopped. He must feel some sense of human compassion or he never would have let me go as thanks for aiding him, so one enduring hope still remains to me: that once the beast has risen to the height of its size and power, it still finds enough room for mankind.