The stained and rusted steel doors groaned in the wind like the maw of a sleeping dragon. Adam took it in while he waited by the team’s truck. The old igloo ammo bunker built during World War Two was now a personal storage warehouse, sold off like the others in the area when the government no longer needed the infrastructure.
Located in the middle of nowhere, Hamilton Township, Illinois, the place felt like a forgotten ruin. A simple chain link fence with a small access hut next to the gate separated the gravel lot outside the large steel doors from the surrounding farmland. An early autumn breeze disturbed the corn in the field surrounding this bunker as dark gray clouds of a ponderous cold front rolled closer.
Adam’s musing was interrupted by a sharp whistle as the team lead walked away from the lawyer with a set of keys. Rick, a brick of a man, was the oldest member of the group. He headed for the door giving the other three a quick set of directions.
Adam was enjoying the summer job so far. It was good pay for decent work and the crew he was with were decent fellas. Thanks to them and the job he had been able to save up enough for his last two semesters at trade school. In fact, after this job he’d be able to pay off several loans with plenty to spare.
Adam exchanged a few jokes with the other two crew members, Lawrence and Mike, while grabbing equipment and tools from the truck. They caught up to Rick as he opened the main doors.
“So,” belted Rick, “we have two weeks to complete the job with a twenty-five percent bonus on the line.” He waved his hand toward the suited figure, “Mr. Janiski will accompany us inside to make sure we have full access.” The lawyer representing the new owner of the warehouse gave a curt nod and smile. Then the group moved into the bunker.
The immediate inside was smaller than the original blueprints depicted. A newer cement wall erected in the rear cut the original area in half. A simple lift elevator in the far-left corner floor was another addition and the only other feature besides a simple wooden desk, chair, and metal filing cabinet to the right of the entrance.
Rick flipped an old lever switch and electrical components and light fixtures hummed to life. The fixtures were old, but the electrical wiring, bulbs, and breaker boxes looked modernized at least.
“Well, should be an easy job,” joked Lawrence, nodding at the three items in the space.
Janiski cleared his throat, “Let’s check the lift first, to be sure you can meet the deadline. My client, mister M. T. Modle, was very adamant.”
The group moved to the lift and descended. The doors opened but nobody moved. Beyond the doors were piles, clusters, and rows of milky white plaster mannequins. More than could be counted. All with blank, featureless faces, staring back at the group.
“Oh my God…” whispered Janiski.
“Well, now we know why the pay was so nice,” Mike chuckled uneasily.
They got a late start the next morning. All of them had a rough night but Lawrence never showed up, not at breakfast or at the truck at the agreed time. They tried checking his room, but no one answered, and they couldn’t find any staff to assist. Rick, exasperated, finally decided to get going and would come back during the lunch break to check on him.
Half an hour later they were pulling up to the bunker. The trio went inside and opened the cage again. Mike was talking with Rick about Lawrence and timelines as Adam started loading figures into a bin. He gave one in a stack a solid tug and jumped back as the mountain of dummies flowed towards him, crashing into the ground.
“You gotta be kidding me!” cried Mike.
Adam turned, ready to apologize, and stopped when he saw Mike wasn’t addressing him. Obscured by the models and now visible was another ornate, metal door with a giant padlock containing three separate keyholes on the hinge.
“Okay, okay,” Rick ran a hand through his hair, “Adam, keep hauling these out. Mike, you and I will check out what’s on the other side. We’ll be back in twenty minutes tops.”
Adam nodded and took a second to pop out some ear buds and turn on some music. He opened the music app and started a heavy metal instrumental playlist, then got to work.
He lost himself in the deep base of the music and the repetition of the work until he stopped for a quick coffee break, realizing only when he checked his phone, that two hours had passed. Adam took out his ear buds and the silence of the bunker was almost deafening. Like standing in a tomb.
The lift gears shrieked, and he turned sharply towards the ascending lift, swallowing his heart back into his chest and breathing a sigh of relief when someone above called out. Adam responded and met another man wearing coveralls with the waste management company’s logo they contracted for the job here at the base of the lift.
“Wow, creepy central down here,” the man, Diego, said looking from the figures to Adam, “anyway, just looking to get a signature for the second dumpster.”
“Sure thing,” Adam said taking a clipboard and pen. The hairs on his neck rose as a shiver went down his spine. “Hey, you didn’t see two other fellas up there, did you?”
“Wouldn’t be here if I did.”
The sound of heavy doors slamming shut echoed through the chamber.
“Something I should know,” Diego asked aloud.
Adam’s reply stuck in his drying throat as a cracking, scraping sound echoed down to them and the lights dimmed. Adam grabbed a crowbar and one of the portable work lights before the darkness enveloped them. More cracking and grinding noises rose up out of the dark, stopping when Diego turned on a pocket flashlight.
“So, I’m guess–” Diego never finished his thought. As he talked, he turned about with the light, illuminating one of the mannequins that had materialized next to him. He yelled and dropped the light in surprise, stumbling away into the shadows. The beam of light danced about, and Adam saw more figures appear where they had not been before, poses changing between moments of illumination. Adam franticly searched the unfamiliar light for the on switch shuffling backward from the hair-raising sounds, swinging the crowbar wildly. In the three seconds it took for Diego to drop the light, fall out of view, and Adam to finally turn on the high-powered lamp, hundreds of mannequins had entered the chamber. Some struck strange poses as if in the middle of a dance routine while others simply stood erect, looking at Diego or Adam.
Diego lay on the ground panting, surrounding him was a circle of ten figures all looking down at him, one with blood covered fingertips. He yelled the longest utterance of expletives Adam had ever heard then barreled through the circle, toppling three models, scooped up his light and ran over to the section of wall by Adam. He checked the wound along his neck – blood trickled down to his collar, but the slices were shallow, and the blood was already slowing. They stared wide-eyed at the room before them.
“Don’t”, Diego swallowed, “Don’t turn off the light.”
Adam nodded hard, holding the lamp out like a shield. Nothing moved for the moment.
“Can we get out with the lift?” whispered Diego.
“No,” Adam muttered back, “no power no lift, but the original plans had tunnels linking the bunkers together with surface access.”
Adam swallowed hard, “We just need to go in there,” and nodded towards the strange door in the cage.
They looked at the door, then each other, the strange reality giving way to grim understanding. The two men steadied themselves and moved side by side, Diego covering any shadows with his flashlight, towards the inner door.
They pushed past the door as Adam slammed it closed. He turned to keep going and nearly bowled over Diego. The two had moved from one hell to another. The area seemed to be endless, filled with shelving units and stacked crates that sectioned off rooms. In the first two rooms to the left and right were more mannequins, more than made any sense. Most stood against the walls, but some were posed and arranged as if performing a scene of some sort.
Adam’s skin crawled as a scratching noise reverberated from the door at his back. Both agreed they should start moving for an exit. Adam felt watched in the oppressive darkness – cracking and grinding ringing out intermittently from beyond the edge of their light.
They moved slowly. One room they passed look as if the models were holding mass, one standing at a podium of broken mannequin parts with its arms stretched upwards.
The next depicted a tug of war, one of the mannequins in place of a rope.
They moved further along the rooms when Diego excitedly muttered, he saw an exit sign. That was when they came to a room with many models sitting at a table, as if in the middle of a feast. The table was littered with mannequin limbs. No, they were yellowish.
Adam squinted against the darkness.
“Bones,” breathed Diego, turning his light back towards the exit.
The lamp light flickered for half a heartbeat. When it steadied cold fear griped Adam like never before in his life. He could barely think. A wall of mannequins had moved within feet of them from the way they came, standing in rows as far as Diego’s light could reach. The ones from the dining room had crammed into the room entrance, striking poses of mock interest, many holding clawed hands to their smooth chins, or where the mouth should have been. One held a femur inches from Adam, parallel to his, as if measuring him.
The duo moved a little quicker along the path, desperation etching into Diego’s brow. Adam prayed relentlessly, hoping they weren’t walking into a trap.
Rooms passed, depicted scenes growing in obscenity, when the aisle turned sharply. Behind the corner a dark red jacket emerged from the shadows. He recognized the sleeve; it was Rick’s jacket.
“Rick!” cried Adam.
“Quiet!” Diego hissed.
Adam ignored him and quickened his pace to the turn, then froze. Diego swore under his breath and pulled Adam along again. The jacket was Rick’s. It was about all of Rick that was there too. The Jacket wrapped around a bloodied, skinless torso – no arms, no head – strings of dark meat and entrails hanging out where the waist should have been, pinned to the wall with a mannequin arm.
Adam resisted Diego’s pull long enough to grab a set of keys.
The isle turned towards the exit again. It was close enough for each red fluorescent letter to stand out. The lamp flickered and dimmed. Diego broke into a sprint, Adam pounding hard behind him. The sounds of unnatural entities moving with them increased with every step.
They were so close. So close. Adam shook the lamp as if his willpower alone could keep it charged.
The far wall at last materialized on the edge of the light just as the lamp dimmed once more and Something grabbed Adam’s ankle. He stumbled, sprawling against a shelving unit with wooden crates. Diego exhaled as if hit by something heavy.
The corridor erupted into chaos as Diego’s light created a strobe effect spinning on the ground. Diego screamed and Adam began sobbing as he crawled. He felt the back of his collar, lifting him up, and swung the crowbar he forgot he had out of reflex. The crowbar connected with something, and he was free, only to be grabbed by the arm and tossed headlong towards the exit wall.
He hit the ground headfirst, stars swimming in his eyes.
Sickening pops and snaps filled his ears followed by Diego shrieking in pain and fear. Adam felt more than heard or saw something moving closer and he drove the crowbar at it, hitting something, and receiving a breathtaking slam into his chest over his heart. He went flying again.
Adam rolled over in pain, saw the flashlight inches from his head, grabbed it and illuminated the hallway, holding the tool like a firearm.
He was in the corner near the exit door. A model was crouched like a tiger about to pounce in front of him, a hole pierced in its chest. Another reached out for his throat, talon like digits inches away.
The wall of mannequins was back. Just in front of them a white figure lay flat on the ground, its head shattered to the neck. A model knelt next to the fallen one, it’s hand over its face as if mourning. A second mannequin kneeled holding the fallen’s hand, looking in Adam’s direction.
Adam looked over at Diego. He laid on the ground, looking up into the darkness, one arm resting at an odd angle. A figure squatted; its hands buried into Diego’s abdomen, pinning him. A mannequin held one of his legs, torn away at the hip, over its head like a trophy. Diego gasped as a pool of blood spread under him.
Adam sobbed as he watched the man’s breath slow then stop. He looked at each frozen figurine, menace thickening the air. Finally willing himself to move, Adam grabbed the crowbar first, then the keys, and slowly slid up the wall.
A sharp pain in his chest almost doubled him over. He pulled out the ruined remains of his phone from his chest pocket, probably the only reason he was alive, and tossed it to the ground. Every breath was a Herculean task now. But the need to keep the light level drove him like a gazelle fleeing from a lion. He fumbled the keys into the lock, finally finding the right one on the fifth attempt. The door slid open, and Adam steeled himself for the next part.
Fast as he could he shouldered the door open, illuminated the room beyond while moving into it, seeing nothing like ghostly white humanoid, and turned, bringing the light around to the door once more along with an overhead swing of the crowbar. A blood splattered figure frozen mid step in the doorway was decimated. Adam then kicked the door closed, severing its arm, and locked the door.
He forgot how long he sat there in that cramped room, crying and hugging his knees to his chest. All he remembered was finally emerging from the darkness into the cold autumn air and sprinting to the van. That, and the ceaseless, wretched scraping and grinding.
Adam drove in silence the whole time, going as fast as he dared to go in the diminished evening sunlight and rain. He couldn’t help but check the rear and side mirrors constantly. The feeling of being followed and watched hung all around him in the damp air.
He wasn’t familiar with the township and without his phone had no idea where to go. He just picked a direction and floored it. The only important thing was putting distance between him and that hellhole. After twenty minutes of driving down the same road a sign directed him towards a gas station. Ten minutes later the glow of gas station lights loomed out of the twilight like an oasis in a desert.
Adam parked the van and grabbed the crowbar. He just couldn’t let go of it for some reason. The gentle chime of the doorbell rang out as he slammed the door open and ran to the counter. No one was there.
“Hello?” he called.
Adam looked about for the clerk or a phone in the dimly lit store and caught sight of himself in a mirror on the far wall by the soft drink dispenser. He stared at the grime and blood covered figure looking back at him, reaching up to prod a gash on his brow he hadn’t noticed.
The door slammed shut and he jumped at the sound. He slowly shuffled towards the manager’s office next to the storeroom, the soft patter of rain highlighting the stillness within.
He slowly opened the manager’s office door, the crowbar held low but ready.
“Hey…anyone home?” he hefted the crowbar.
The room was lit, but empty. A laptop sat on the desk, open to a spreadsheet. On the opposite wall was a corded phone, worn with age. He lunged for the phone and grasped it like a lifeline in a hurricane, punching nine-one-one and holding it to his uninjured ear.
The phone was dead.
He let the receiver go to fall and smack against the wall – right where the cord to the wall jack was cut. He slowly turned back to the counter. His breathing quickened and his pulse surged. A small sob welled up in his throat before he swallowed it back.
Standing behind the counter was a mannequin, its pearlescent, featureless face looking back at him. It wore a denim vest and a brown toupee.
He squinted at its hairline. Red lines streaked from the hairpiece down where ears should have been and along its shoulders in sharp contrast to its white exterior. No, not a hairpiece, a scalp.
An all too familiar cracking and snapping sound emanated from the storage room to his right. The sound grew closer with every breath.
He pushed his despair down and away, tightening his grip on the crowbar, the only thing that seemed real anymore. His face was etched with desperate determination. They were terrifying, sure, but they weren’t invincible, he thought, backing into a corner.
The lights flickered and dimmed.