It’s friiiiday. Oh… you’d noticed? fine then.
The Oakwald Institute
I was going to die here, I thought for what must have been the dozenth time in half as many minutes. I was going to die, and no one would even find me.
My hand trailed along the wall as I moved blindly through the dark. Sounds leaked through the stone, like the whispers of tortured drafts, chilling the air with their broken fingers and softly muttered moans. With every step I took deeper into the blackness, dread coiled tighter in my guts. I had already turned so many corners, I didn’t know which way was out. All I could do was continue, following the weeping and muffled screams that bespoke the intent of this place.
A shreak raked over me, and I shuddered, feeling the sound against my spine like claws. It could be hers. I tried to make myself move faster, turning another corner in the hopeless labyrinth that was the Oakwald Institute. It was like the place was meant to confuse. Actually, it probably was.
Faint light trickled onto the floor ahead of me, spreading over the tiles and pressing back the inky darkness. My fingers closed over the pistol I had stolen from my father earlier in the night. I pulled it free of my waistband, taking the safety off slowly so it wouldn’t click.
I held it with hands too steady for the way my heart was hammering against the inside of my chest, an army of maddened construction workers, set on ripping my rib-cage down like some old scaffolding.
Gun first, I slunk up along the wall, pausing to listen. What I heard made my stomach turn.
There was a soft snuffing, followed by a wet noise, then it repeated. A sharp, cracking crunch came a few moments later.
Steeling every nerve in my body, I turned the corner.
In the paleness of the light, all color was lost. A dark shape knelt over something on the floor. Around it, a black puddle slowly spread, following the paths between tiles and trickling away with sluggish progress. I stood frozen as the thing shifted, biting into the thing. A body.
The gun in my hands snapped up to aim at the creature’s back. My hands still held steady with an iron will and not much else.
The animal turned. Blood dripped thickly from an elongated snout. A forked tongue flicked out to lick something that almost resembled lips. It raked a clawed hand through shaggy hair, fixing all too human eyes on me.
I couldn’t move. My finger pled to pull the trigger, but something stopped me. Those eyes stopped me.
“Hello, Jason,” she said in the voice of the girl I’d come to save. The voice I loved. The honey tone and life were gone, leaving a raspy hiss I barely knew. But it was her. A shudder crept over my spine and made every hair on my body stand on end.
The gun clattered to the floor, an explosion of sound in the frozen silence following her words.
Once, I’d wished that they would be the last thing I’d see, hoping that that would mean we would spend forever together.
She sprang. Before I could dodge, she was on me, teeth sinking into my flesh. I screamed, throat cracking on the sound. The smell of my own blood made me sick as I was driven to the ground.
“I see you found another treat.” The new voice was rich, and thick with an accent I didn’t know.
My eyesight, already so poor in the dark, was fading away to nothing. So this was death? I felt her teeth in me still, and was sure I would have screamed again if I had breath.
The voice came again, distant and more muddled. “Leave him alive. This one I want.”
Eyes opened to the world, where everything was a tinted gold. Pretty as a sunset, but wrong.
The room around me had long tables covered in… surgery tools? A massive vat sat almost out of sight. I turned my head, but it refused to move. Panic, sharp as a knife struck me. I couldn’t feel anything. Nothing. Nothing.
A machine was beeping wildly.
“Sedate him,” someone said in an even voice, too far to the side to be seen.
Darkness swept around me. A hand flashed out of view, an empty needle in it.
“We will start again,” the same voice said.
“…Fighting like a wild thing! But we got him!”
The man yelling into a walkie-talkie had three long slashes over his face. Blood ran from them like rain from the gutter, trickling off his chin and to the floor where it pooled.
I strained against the chains holding me, even as the sedative started to take hold. More, I wanted to hurt him more, hurt them all for what they were doing, what they were trying to make him into. No. Me. Jason. Me. The thoughts clung and stuck, a detached feeling creeping up. Only the sedative.
I would never be one of the beasts. Not even when my claws dripped with blood and my body was a misaligned thing of broken parts would I surrender to it. Never.
He would live. Jason would live. And he would remember, for her.
The door slammed shut behind him, and he crashed to the floor, unable to keep his buckled and bent legs under him. Once, they had been different, long ago. Straight, and thin. Human. Now they weren’t, and human was a distant thing he remembered as one remembers an old smell, faded and lost in the mind, but still a part of you. He remembered a face better. It belonged to a girl, and he loved her more than life, or… he had, hadn’t he? Yes. Of that he was still sure.
“You will learn,” said the man who’d shoved him into the cell without light that smelled like the blood and death of others. “Just like all the others, you will learn what you are, in time. Or you will rot here.”
The man’s boots were loud in the silence and his too keen ears. But even with his new eyes, the dark was absolute. Her face hovered like a vision through it.
Who was he?
He didn’t know why it matter, but he’d been someone. And once, perhaps a very long time ago, that had meant something. Now it was a nagging thing, refusing to leave his mind.
A bowl of food came skittering under the door, sloshing its contents over the side.
He darted forward, bowed legs working awkwardly. Wrong. His muzzle dipped into the food, eating with no care for taste. Taste? The thought slipped away, water through fingers unable to trap it. It wasn’t important.
Nothing was important.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, a face swum and danced to life, then it was gone.
The beast lapped food up from the floor, ignoring the dirt and grime. A boy died, deep inside him, and all he had been, was no more.