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Chapter 3: Gift Of Decay

Time had become irrelevant in the halls of the hospital. The once busy corridors appeared more like hollow arteries. Places where people once walked. The facility was a peculiar place. One part medical laboratory, and the other, small town. Each hospital room was more designed like a home. The halls like the streets which connected places together, and the foliage tricked one into forgetting that they remained inside a building.

In recent days I had noticed that the people have been growing fewer. Hellibor never took me looking for that man by the river, nor looking for the commissary lady. I found myself sitting on the rim of a fountain in a ghostly empty park, losing hours. The worst of it, no one seemed the least bit concerned, aside from myself. I spent a lot of time gazing up at the lonesome sky. It was during this lengthy period of mindlessly watching the sky; I noticed one of the window panels appeared washed out, a dull wave rolling over the glass It reminded me of a television screen. As I watched the sky more, I noticed subtle flickers and bursts of static washing over all the windows. With a gasp, I realized the ceilings projected a blue sky that fooled even the most keen eye to believe it was true.

“If the sky isn’t real here, what else is not real?” I commented to myself. The fountain behind me creaked a weathered whimper. The very walls of this place felt as though they were decaying, like cancer had taken the body of this building. Small particles of dust shimmered in the “suns” rays as they descended like little silver grains of sand.

And the weeks passed; things inside the hospital were collapsing; a once paradise falling into the rusted ruins of death. I never saw Azamoth again and Cody, Cody soon after became missing as well. A thousand ghosts wandered the halls of my mind’s palace. All familiar spirits which knocked occasionally upon the alter of my memories.

After receiving my morning treatments, I would wander the empty halls of the building. The now desolate park lost my interest. Without anyone to talk to, the whole hospital had become boring. Vanity herself had grown more scarce as well, but I think Hellibor had something to do with that. Returning to my room, I am greeted by walls plastered with about one hundred crudely drawn pictures. My room had become a gallery colored in crayon of fantastic things and the people living inside the hospital; of memories and some even of black horrors from dreams long dead. I sat at my desk looking at a raw white sheet. Taking my pen in hand, I began to draw Azamoth. I considered his memory deserving of a spot among the many faces.

Several hours passed in my lonesome state. Looking at the work I had done, I couldn’t help but smile at the picture. “It looks like him.” I tried to convince myself. I took a roll of tape and removed a small band. After folding the sticky strip into a nice loop, I pressed the end of the tape onto the back of the picture. There is an empty place on the wall between a picture of the fountain and Helibore’s office. I planted it snugly between the two.

As I stepped back and looked at all the faces of the people I once knew. The smile on my face drooped further and further as the many faces shot back so many memories. With closed fists, anger swelled in my chest like a beating fire. “Why won’t anyone tell me anything!” I roared to the walls that enclosed me. Raising both my hands to my face I released a pained yelp dropping onto my knees. No longer was there anyone to hear my tantrum and instead of being suspended in nothingness, trapped in eternal slumber, my gift was eternal solitude. To slowly watch everyone sucked away from me… and then the decay.

Wiping the salty rivers from my eyes, I looked up. No, no. Something else must have had been going on. I was convinced of this. I just, I had to talk to Vanity. If I begged maybe, then she would tell me. I sat on my bed looking at the door for hours. Sitting on my bed, looking at my door. Too afraid to seek the answers. Too many nagging suggestions, but I also knew I could not wait any longer. I had to know. I rose to my feet and marched to hear my fate.

Leaving my room, I entered the large empty foyer; over the polished black onyx floors toward a standing staircase which led to the medical floor where Vanity’s office was. At the edges of the staircase was a steady stream of decorative water which feeds the fauna and grew in their organized fashion. Around the black cast iron hand rails a line of ivy had coiled itself along its channel.

At the juncture in front of the stairs there were many colored lines leading in all directions. The blue ones led to residential homes. The green ones were to restaurants and food courts. Yellow represented financial. The line I followed is the red line, which led to the medical wards. Not that I needed it any longer. I could walk from my room to Vanity’s office with my eyes closed. I knew every uneven portion of ground along the dirty walkway. The pattern of inlays in the white walls. The tiles were so clean in spots they reflected the glassy sky above. They reminded me of little puddles. Now that the illusion was broken no longer did it inspire believe at all. Instead now I could see the flaw, the scan lines washing like a tide over the many screens above.

As I walked through the long halls, I pass areas where small gardens were established. They resembled something or a model of nature. A tree growing with a rock and maybe a small patch of flowers or a small pond with painted patches of colorful mosses and at the end of the line was Vanity’s office.

The twin white doors part open, revealing a room defined by tabula rasa. Everything inside looked like white plastic aside from a few invasive objects; and Vanity herself, who sat in front of a screen looking over a file of some sort. Her desk is covered with paperwork spread out. Either she did not hear me enter her room or she was too consumed in her work to acknowledge me, but she continued reading over the file with intent. Not wanting to break her consecrations I sat on the medical bed in her office. After several minutes of waiting, I made myself known. “Vanity.”

She froze for a moment then turned her head, revealing a surprised smile as she turned her hips to face me. “I didn’t even hear you come in.” Vanity replied. “Are you just stopping by for a visit?”

I shook my head. “No, actually,” Vanity’s warm face turned from expressive to frozen. “I ah, what is this place?”

Vanity released a high-pitched laugh. “What do you mean? You are in my office. Are you feeling alright honey?”

“I think so.” I replied without thinking about it. The proposition I raised shocked me a little. “I mean, I think I am.” I sighed. “I know the sky isn’t real.” Vanity didn’t say a word to my little confession. Instead, she rubbed her fingernails together and looked at me with that static smile. “The screen in the central park broke. I kind of put two and two together.” Further explaining my remark.

Vanity’s head moved side to side as if floating against a series of waves. She paddled against her inner reflection, only to be answered with another wave. I could not quiet make out exactly what it meant. “They are for the patients. It is just to make people feel more comfortable. If people felt like they were indoors for months on end, it has a mental effect on people. The illusion of being outdoors is what we are trying to provide. It is a service, honest. A lie, but a noble one.” Her face never moved. Her expression didn’t change. It was as if she was a machine. Like a porcelain doll made of gears which were well hidden within her hollowed form. “You understand, right Prina?” I nodded my head, a lie, but honestly I didn’t really know what to think anymore. “Is that all that is bothering you?”

I couldn’t help it, I needed answers and so I shook my head and sheepishly croaked. “The people are missing. Where is everyone? Where is Cody?”

“Cody is in his office, hard at work. Why do you ask?”

“Are you even listening to me?” I whimper, fearing that she too is nothing more than an artificial sky.

Vanity shakes her head. “I have work to do honey. Later, I can take you to see Cody.”

“I want to see him now.” I demanded.

Where is the girl I knew? “He is busy right now, Prina. Now, stop all this nonsense talk.”

The one that tickled me in the park. Before Hellibore scared her away. This Vanity was not my Vanity. “Nonsense?” I could not believe what I was hearing. I jumped off the medical bed, marching up to Vanity. “Why are you being like this?” I cried.

“I am not being like anything.” that mechanical doll coldly replied. I looked into her charcoal eyes for what seemed like minutes, speechless. Without saying another word, I turned and made myself leave from the room. The door closed behind me like scraping metal.

Later that afternoon, after blowing off some steam, I was walking to the food court when I heard a loud crackling sound coming down the hall. My eyes lifted toward the source of the sound; the wall itself. It was covered in a heavy glare. Bubbling and bursting as the material of the wall itself bent, forming into some sort of bulbous shape. From the shape a pair of arms stretch; lines of plastic extend out as the blob morphing into a human shape poorly crafted like a clay figure from a child’s hands. The thing breaches from the wall and lands onto the floor with tethers of plastic stringing from its body. They snap as it rises to its feet.

I am left watching, stunned and frozen in place by a mixture of curiosity and absolute horror. From what I can best describe the white plastic body reconstructed itself losing that soft plastic sheen and replacing it with flesh like material. Standing straight up, the thing looks over itself. As it lifts, its knobby arms in front of where its face should be the knobs spread open forming fingers which rip through the solid material. As the last remains of plastic pieces stretch falling away from its face something that looked kind of human generated out of the plastic cacoon.

“Eh eh eh eh eh!” the alarms screamed as the warning lights on the wall oscillated a deep red haze. I hardly noticed them, to be honest. I was too in shock of what I had just witnessed. From its nude body, clothing quickly spread out from its flesh. However, the attire of the person is entirely wrong. A t-shirt and jeans. What I remembered as common clothing from before I went into stasis; foreign and forgotten now.

“Hello.” the odd wall person says to me in a deep male voice. My eyes grew wide as I backed away from the impossibility. “Are you afraid of me?” It spoke again, taking a wet stringy step forward.

“What are you!?” I screamed.

“Human.” the thing lied. “You want to get out of here, don’t you?”

My heart skipped a beat. How did it know? I wanted to run. But I had to know if it knew. So I swallowed my fear and the words the just came out of my mouth. “Do you know how!?”

“I know a way out. I certainly do. I do, I do, I wouldn’t lie to you. For sure, I certainly would. Down down below, you must go further down then you ever been. Below in the arteries of the world and once you have found yourself deep in the squirming world, you must crawl out the throat of that place. Only then you will reach the surface.” The wall man finished his statement with a haunting cackle. From down the hall, the loud servos of the door crank open. “We have company.” it sung in such a horrible tone.

Too scared to turn my sights away from the wall man, I heard the sound of boots approaching from behind. “Get away from that thing.” Hellibor shouts. He dives in front of me, shielding me. Protecting me. “Stay behind me girl.” This is the closest thing to affection Hellibor has ever shown me. He never hurt me. Yes, that is true. But he scared me all the same. However, at this moment. I… I trusted him.

I felt my skin crawl as another loud crow escaped the wall man. “You people are like little mice hiding inside your shelter. Thought you could hide forever? Your ice has failed you.”

Raising his hand into the air, Hellibor revealed a blue ring of laser-light much like a computer interface. His fingers split open, releasing three tiny metal stamps much like a typewriter’s in each digit. They typed rapidly entering data into the holographic kiosk. “Aren’t you funny?” the thing groaned. “I guess I will have to mess you up!” The thing screamed, charging towards Hellibor. It raised its right arm as it turned into a long blade ready to chop as an axe.

A quick hand pushed into my chest forcing me against the hard wall knocking my very breath from me. Hellibor side stepped the attack all the while entering new data into the system. “Your fast or maybe I am just playing with you.” the wall man growled. Hellibor furrowed his brow, holding me behind him. Still shielding me from harm, even though his life is in danger. The wall man turned his face towards me, half of it already melting like a bleeding candle. “Looks like I will have to be saying goodbye. Hope we can play again, girl. I’ll be waiting… outside.”

“Doubt it.” Hellibore snapped as the blue hologram beams disappear. The wall man fell on his knees, his body bursting to pieces into dust like a demolished building. “Are you ok.” Hellibore asks, his sight still focused on the disappearing phantom.

“Yeah,” I quietly say. It was so casual, as if routine. To be honest, I think something broke in me. My belief in everything was rocked, and it came crashing down, shattering into a million sharp splinters. “What was that thing?”

“That was a rogue AI, um artificial intelligence. They are kind of like ghosts. Normally our ICE, intrusion countermeasures electronics, keeps them out. This is a disturbing development.” Hellibor commented. He followed his little fact blast with a dull mumble to himself. However, I heard it clear enough to make out what he was saying “We don’t have enough staff to maintain the systems anymore. The wards are already breaking.”

“There are missing people.” I murmured under my breath.

Hellibor nodded his head. “Indeed, I am aware. Primina.” The open admission was bitter sweet. I knew I was not crazy, but the affirmation scared me. However, if people were missing then they had to be going somewhere. Down; a place which I must find for the truth’s sake alone. Hellibor turned toward me, kneeling down to my eye level. “Don’t trust anyone anymore. Not even me.” the words bit deep and weighty. His fingers snuggly grasped onto my shoulder rubbing, gently, very gently. “If they are asking you to do something funny, they might be an imposter.” As the sensation of his touch became clear, my eyes grew wide, he touched me. He touched me. Immediately, Hellibor removed his hand. He looks at it, his eyes too wide with surprise at his own actions.

The silence we shared became awkward, “An imposter?” I ask.

At once Hellibore shrugged off the moment. “An AI may want to hurt you. They require hacking into the nano machine network this before they can materialize. However, they can choose to look like anyone once they manifest. Even me. Be careful.”

”Whats a nano machine?”

“Its what this building is made out of.”

He was being so candid with me. Nano machines? I heard of them before. They were all over the news when I was a kid. People on the news said they were going to change everything. “Doctor Winters, what happened to the world?”

Hellibor smirks. “If I have it my way, you will never find out, but it is looking like you will observe it for yourself.” And like that, he was closed again.

Traveling through the maze of the garden, I descended deeper down as the halls wound in a spiral obscured by artificial hills. However, the peaks and folly of the hills continually wound lower. So hidden, but in plain sight. One would be easy to mistake the depths they were traveling to, as if designed at a wrong geometry. Rivers of water flowed around the sides of the walls, following the strange paths. Wooden bridges arched over the waterways. I found this place curious. In all of my years of living in this hospital, I had never gone so deep. I didn’t even fathom the corkscrew tower I lived within. I suppose it was at least ten floors down and I as I traveled I wondered how deep this building went. After turning another corner, there was a white staircase leading to a large mirror black door.

Staring up at the black monolith left me with images of the gates to hell. “Is this where the truth of everything is?” I asked myself. Walking up the pure white marble stairs, I approached the door. It felt like the stairs grew longer as I climbed the sacred steps. Looking back, I saw that I was much further up than the stairs appeared to be on the ground. Atop the staircase I locked eyes with my own reflection gazing back at me. A young girl, that’s all I was. I placed my hand onto the icy stone and pushed, but the door did not budge. “Huh.” I pushed against it with my other hand and when that provides no purchase I used the rest of my body but still the door would not move. I pushed again, but this time with all my might. I pushed so hard I screamed.

“That door won’t open for you.” I turned around to see Vanity at the bottom of the steps.

“How does it open?”

Vanity smirked and held up her hand, twinkling her fingers. “You just have to have the right touch.”

I am free. My smile beamed. “Come up here and open it then.”

“I can’t do that for you, Prina.” My face downturns as I realize how foolish I was to think Vanity would help me. After all, she is the one caging me here. This isn’t a hospital. This is something else. A prison, a stage, a theater, and the curtain call comes soon. “You should not be down here.”

“How did you know I was even here? No one comes down this far.”

Vanity stretched like a cat getting up from a long nap. “Well, I was going for a walk and saw you sneaking. Figured you were up to something. Come down here and we can talk about this.” With a short sigh, I make my way down the stairs.

I knew when an impossibility arose. There was no convincing Vanity to help me. “What is this door for anyway?” I inquired.

With no hesitation, she told me. “It leads to the Amala, it’s a tunnel system that runs throughout the entire world. However, there is a laboratory inside there too. It is a terrible place.” Vanity told me. I now make my last steps off the stairs.

Standing next to Vanity, I was full of wicked thoughts. If I had a knife… I might have stolen her hand. “What kind of terrible place?”

Vanity turned around and started walking away from me. “We call it the body room. You don’t want to see it.”

“I want to go through the door, Vanity.” I told her. “Show me.” Vanity kept her stride without saying a word, and I followed.

Laying back in the chair for the millionth time I gazed at the tubes sucking the blood from my arm like some kind of mechanical vampire. Helibore was quite consumed in his own thoughts, pacing the floor, not even talking to me today. “How many more times do I have to do this.” I moaned my minor complaint.

To my surprise, he answers. “Three.” I straightened up in the chair. “After this one makes two.” He did not even look at me. Still focused on whatever it is he was contemplating. “Happy?”

Happy, yeah. “Yes sir.” I replied.

“Good.” But not just happy, terrified, what did the end of my treatments mean. What happens when they stop sucking my blood?

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