The Arm Farm - 5
There's only one more chapter after this and I'll get it posted tomorrow!
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5. Older and Wiser
The sound of Art descending the stairs was immediate. Chris took off down the hallway at a dead run. Red lights alternated on and off leaving him in temporary moments of shadow between each flash. His legs were rubber, and each breath burned his lungs, but he continued. You are not going to die beneath some Podunk barn in the middle of nowhere. He had to laugh. There really wasn’t anything Podunk about the barn at all. Without the hand-painted red exterior, he could have easily mistaken it for a secret military base. Before he had time to sort through the implication that thought held, Art called out from behind him.
“Chris, trust me. At this point, the bullet would be kinder!” His voice came in ragged wheezes and sounded genuine for the first time all day.
“Why don’t you back the hell off and save yourself a world of hurt.” Chris sounded more confident than he felt. He wrapped his fingers around the scalpel, hoping there was cover up ahead. The tunnel itself was smooth, providing nothing but a straight shot for Art, but it couldn’t stay that way forever.
Ahead, the pulsing blue light grew stronger, radiating a sense of static. Chris treated it like a guiding light, knowing the tunnel’s end was his slim chance of survival. He couldn’t hear Art’s footsteps above the constant blaring of the alarm, but he assumed the portly man was still in pursuit. The ceiling and walls fell away abruptly, and the concrete path turned into a metal catwalk. In the semi-darkness, it was impossible to tell what lay below. A primal sense told him it was a black pit with no bottom, and anyone who ended up down there never came back.
Chris continued to run, dismayed to find that the catwalk extended in a straight line. The air grew noticeably cooler and a fine mist hung all around him. The blue light pulsed from above, where large sacks hung at varying heights from the ceiling. As he made his way further in, he saw small staircases and ladders leading up to some of the pods. Ahead, the catwalk continued indefinitely.
A flash of white lightning illuminated the pit. The electricity made no sound as it arched across the expanse. Chris waited for the clap of thunder, but it never came. Somehow that was worse. The blinding light showed a series of catwalks above him, closer to the cavernous ceiling. In the seconds before the lightning faded, something massive moved in the gloom below. Nausea turned in his stomach, threatening to double him over. He stopped running, grabbing one of the catwalk railings for stability. Not far up ahead, the path split in a four-way junction. On the right, stairs spiraled upward.
Mustering what little energy he had; Chris took off at a run toward the stairs. Up was out, or at least he hoped it was. The stairs would put some difficult terrain between him and Art and every second he could delay his pursuer was a second he stayed alive. As he ascended, he got his first good look at the hanging pods. They appeared to be the same material as the incubators he had seen upstairs, but substantially larger. The fluid inside was transparent, revealing large, pale objects suspended within. Chris counted himself lucky that no black tentacles tried to break free. The thought was absurd, and yet still threatening.
He rounded the top of the stairs and stepped out onto another long catwalk. Pods hung in rows on either side of him, shrouded in white mist. Something shifted in one on his right and despite his fear, he approached it. There was no good reason to – he needed to keep moving - but all the same, he did. With each step, the mist surrounding the pod cleared. At first, his mind couldn’t make sense of it. A tangle of flesh suspended in liquid, with an appendage reaching toward the sky. He looked at it, and then through the haze, saw its face.
It was a woman, shriveled and withered like dried fruit. Her long hair flowed out in a cloud behind her. One of her legs kicked, weakly. Her right arm reached up toward the top of the pod. A tight metal cylinder wrapped around her forearm where it reached the ceiling, holding it in place. A long tube ran from her mouth and nose through the side of the pod and down into the gloom below.
Chris leaned in, not quite able to piece together what he was seeing. “What the—"
The woman’s eyes blinked open. They were glassy, dead from long years submerged. Her free hand shot out, reaching toward him.
Chris recoiled in shock, nearly falling over the railing behind him. “What the fuck, what the fuck?” He sank to a seated position, still locking eyes with the woman in the pod. A horrible static hissing filled his ears, underscoring the true silence of the room surrounding him.
“I told you, you weren’t supposed to see any of this.” Art approached from the stairs. His words were a sensory bombardment in such a quiet space.
Chris moved the scalpel out of Art’s view, surprised he had managed to hold onto it. “What the hell is going on here?”
“Well, that’s a question that would have been better asked upstairs, don’t you think?”
Chris needed to run, but his body wouldn’t let him take another step. He was rooted to the spot, panting, and defeated. “What’s in the pit?” he asked, not sure if he wanted the answer.
Art let out a long breath between clenched teeth. “Look, I’m not one for talking in strange rooms with dangerous men.” He motioned to Chris with the rifle. “But I’ll permit a beaten man his last request. I don’t know much better than you what’s down there. It’s old. Older than either of us, and wiser too.”
Chris tensed his legs, readying himself to move. If Art was talking, he wasn’t focused on his aim.
“It came here a few years back, nearly took my whole farm with it, but these things have a way of working themselves out, don’t they?” He looked up at the pod lovingly. “I know it’s a bit much to take in, but sacrifices have to be made for the greater good. Just think about what you could have done with a proper arm.”
Chris rose slowly to his feet.
If Art noticed, he made no indication. He moved to the railing and caressed the surface of the pod. “Before all of this, I was living off government subsidies. Barely enough to keep my crops alive, let alone fill my own belly. It’s a cruel world out there, Chris.”
“I don’t think the world is the cruel one in this scenario.”
Art chuckled at that. “That’s one way of thinking about it. Another is to see this as a higher calling. If you look past your initial misgivings, you’ll see that this is all really a good thing.”
Chris took the moment and charged.
Art was ready for him. The rifle barked and the cavern swallowed the sound whole. A hammer smashed into Chris’s right shoulder, sending horrible, splintering pain through his chest. Bones broke and warmth flooded the side of his body. He just winged me. The thoughts were a balloon floating through sticky tar, but he clung to them. The bastard just winged me. Chris seized the opportunity and drove forward with the scalpel, burying it in Art’s chest.
The man’s bright eyes went wide with surprise, but no fear. His mouth opened in a gasp of pain.
He released the scalpel and let his momentum carry him forward, knocking Art to the ground. The rifle clattered out of his hands and instinctively, Chris kicked it over the edge. It spiraled into the darkness. “Fuck you and fuck your farm.”
Art laughed, blood bubbling up from his lips and staining his bushy, white beard. “She said you were a fighter.” He lay back, resting his head on the metal grating. “I see it now. You’re not a broken man at all.” Art continued laughing, spitting up red with each grating exhalation.
Chris ignored him and ran back the way he had come. He descended the curving stairwell, trying not to hear the steady dripping of blood off the catwalk. In the silence, it was all he could hear. His arm hurt like hell, and the world was growing fuzzier by the second. He didn’t dare look at his shoulder. Seeing the wound would likely lead him to pass out, and that wasn’t going to help anyone. He had to get back to the surface, back to Megan. She could get him to a hospital.
Chris stepped off the final stair and onto the straight path back. At the end, he could see the red emergency lights flashing. “Give me the strength to get out of this.” He wasn’t sure who he was beseeching, but he knew that he was going to need help from outside forces to get through this alive. Lightning arched beneath him again, and with it, a huge, black tentacle waved through the mist. It grazed the catwalk in front of him, shaking the entire structure.
Chills wracked his body. He put one foot in front of the other. There was nothing else, only movement. He could deal with whatever was below him later. With each step, he waited for the slimy embrace of the creature wrapping an arm around his back, but it never came. The metal clank of his feet on the catwalk died away and he realized that he was back in the tunnel. One step closer to seeing Megan, one step closer to getting out. He pushed forward, leaving the figure in the shadows behind.