Chapter 22:

The Path Forward

By the Shores of Time

Darkness reigned as the fleshy substance crawled beneath the white, blanketed atmosphere. The agony echoed within while those who remained behind the temporary safety of the eastern wing. The blobs surrounded them as the odorous rot lingered in the putrid air. Smoking her last cigar, the lieutenant watched the double doors rattle violently without unflinching. The remnants of her soldiers trembled, fixated on the droning rhythm of the slams.Bookmark here

“Are we really going to stay here?” one whimpered, drawing her frigid side glance.Bookmark here

“We stand our ground,” she maintained her authoritative tone.Bookmark here

“What the hell are we defending?” another protested, turning around slowly. “Everyone is dead!”Bookmark here

She watched his subtle movement, barely seeing his finger on the trigger. She saw the fear in his eyes, represented in so many others. It didn’t come as a surprise, not after the rapid degradation of the precinct. Yet it didn’t move her resolve in the face of certain death. Victoria knew there was nothing beyond the confines of the abandoned police station. What’s worse is that her soldiers begun exhibiting symptoms that unraveled so many.Bookmark here

“Eyes front,” she ordered, seeing his hesitation.Bookmark here

“No, I don’t want to die,” his voice trembled as his barrel inched toward her. “Not like this, not like—”Bookmark here

A gunshot went off, exuding a trail of smoke from the barrel of her gun. The soldier’s body laid sprawled on the ground while blood trickled out his sweaty forehead. His lifeless eyes were wide open while cast upon the dingy corridor’s dingy ceiling. Her stiff hand waved at the soldiers, who looked over their shoulders.Bookmark here

“Anything else?” she added without remorse.Bookmark here

The door down the corridor behind her slammed open, quickly shutting as it drew their attention. The spooked soldiers fired in its direction while a young woman hid behind cover.Bookmark here

“Celeste?” Victoria called. “How did you—”Bookmark here

“I’m not here to harm anyone,” she responded, winded by a lengthy run.Bookmark here

“Then you should answer my questions!”Bookmark here

“This is so much bigger than this, Vicky,” Celeste raised her shaken voice. “Greg, Nathanial, Alex—”Bookmark here

“What about them? You saw them? They’re—Here?”Bookmark here

The doors behind Victoria broke down, but nothing emerged from the darkness. With everyone’s barrels drawn, their flashlights couldn’t discern anything beyond as they eased back. Celeste’s voice cracked as she tried to call the lieutenant’s attention. She scrambled onto her feet, trying to use the distraction to get to Ricardo.Bookmark here

Please be in there, she repeated after slipping past Victoria.Bookmark here

“Hey,” she caught her by her arm, subduing her quickly.Bookmark here

Celeste’s head slammed against the nearby water fountain as she felt the lieutenant’s knees against her lower back. Disoriented, she saw sink its bony tips against the walls which was quickly met by sporadic gunfire. A soldier was disemboweled before his torso snapped off from the lack of support. Blood gushed along the once dull ground, reached Celeste who tried to break free. Her breathing grew erratic, barely hearing the profanities spewed by Victoria upon drawing her pistol. Adrenaline coursed through her as she slung the lieutenant to the side.Bookmark here

Please be there, she darted toward the door, ignoring Victoria’s warnings.Bookmark here

As she opened the door, a bullet struck her arm, but she ignored the pain. After shutting the door, she took a few steps back, clenching her arm in pain. Her knees wobbled, hearing the silence beyond the door.Bookmark here

“You came back,” Ricardo spoke as she looked over.Bookmark here

“I did,” she nodded with a faint smile. “I’m getting you out here. We’re leaving here for good.”Bookmark here

“And go where? Some beach out on the coast?”Bookmark here

“I don’t know, but—”Bookmark here

“Where’s Gabriel… and Elizabeth?”Bookmark here

“I haven’t found them yet, but I will.”Bookmark here

“Celi,” he interrupted her growing distress. “There’s something you aren’t telling me here.”Bookmark here

“I’m just as lost as you are.”Bookmark here

Ricardo didn’t press further upon observing her follow-up reaction. She fixated on the door, its silence leaving her to wonder what lied beyond. Blood smidgen along her shirt from her narrow escape from the hall. Tired, she slowly came to terms with everything happening. Celeste came to save Ricardo without a plan as the lieutenant lost her mind. When she looked over, she found Gabriel’s friend dumbfounded by her calm demeanor.Bookmark here

“How are you holding up?” she asked, tracing where his eyes looked.Bookmark here

“You don’t hear all that?” he asked.Bookmark here

“No, I can’t hear anything beyond this door. I know this sounds crazy, but… I can go to different rooms, it seems.”Bookmark here

“Like portals?”Bookmark here

“I can’t always control where I end up. I just got chased by Greg—Or what was left of him.”Bookmark here

“Well, you better focus on a way out the door.”Bookmark here

“I—Can’t leave without you all. Not like this.”Bookmark here

He conceded, seeing the doubt laced within her expression. She could’ve left them closer to the entrance if she could, but after all they had been through, she couldn’t. The young woman didn’t know where they’d go in the mist beyond the compromised sanctuary. She leaned away from the desk, walking over to help him up.Bookmark here

“Where are we going?” he asked.Bookmark here

“Through there,” she replied, gesturing the door.Bookmark here

“You seriously don’t hear that?”Bookmark here

“I don’t. Now, trust me, will you?”Bookmark here

Celeste offered her hand as he staggered close. The surprising confidence lingered within her tired eyes, reminiscent of his dear friend. It would be ill to say she didn’t remind him of Gabriel with the sudden bravado. Holding his hand, she opened the door, being met with darkness. Ricardo stammered, amazed by what she was able to do. But he didn’t know, much of it wasn’t to her accord. She knew she was being led in a constant descent to the unknown. Ricardo felt the sudden change in atmosphere as they walked through.Bookmark here

“What the hell?” he uttered in awe.Bookmark here

“It’s another world,” she answered his curiosity. “A world that actually overlaps with ours.”Bookmark here

“But, how? And how do you know that?”Bookmark here

“I don’t. But, I can feel it.”Bookmark here

Ricardo tried to wrap his mind around the ethereal emptiness of the void they traversed. The initial silence gave way to strange gnawing sounds echoing throughout the empty expanse. His nerves began unraveling upon feeling it through his feet and the constant bombardment. Glimpsing Celeste, she seemed at ease in the darkness as the fog’s lowly lights gave depth to their path. A low rumble echoed, followed by the fast pacing of something large. She stopped in her tracks, glancing toward him with a grave expression.Bookmark here

“He’s here,” she whispered.Bookmark here

He didn’t bother to answer as the blanketed floor gave way to an ominous outline. A strange, bloated creature on all fours crawled along, towering above them, sniffing them out. Its grotesque silhouette revealed its horrific features with faces outlined along its pale bodies and hanging intestines that whipped about. Ricardo’s hand subconsciously withdrew from her gentle hold. Her lips parted, speaking inaudibly but enough to let him know they needed to run. It let out a triumphant cry upon sniffing them out. Celeste’s fear surged as she shuffled away from the charging beast.Bookmark here

They ran in the same direction as the lumbering beast gave chase. Ricardo couldn’t get ahead of the nimble woman, who made sure he didn’t lag behind too far. The darkness continued to envelop them without heed of where they were going. Her whimpers didn’t go without his notice as she kept him close. She reached her hand toward him, grasping it just before she slammed through the door. They tumbled forward as the door slammed shut again. While catching her breath, Victoria emerged from her side, punching her in the face. Ricardo watched the lieutenant go after the defenseless woman, trying to recover as quickly as he could.Bookmark here

“You bitch!” Victoria slammed her boot into her stomach. “Look at what you’ve done!”Bookmark here

After repeated strikes, Celeste laid clutching her stomach. She saw the morbid condition of the lieutenant, bloodied by the horrendous gashes along her waist. She leaned against the wall before she reached down for her shotgun. Cocking it once, she walked over, pressing it against her head. Celeste whimpered, looking toward Ricardo who charged at her. In his attempt to tackle her, she swung around, pulling the trigger. His shoulder and arm blew off violently as he collapsed with a loud thud. Celeste’s gasp quivered, welling with tears while the madwoman threw her jammed shotgun in a fit.Bookmark here

“Son of a bitch!” she yelled. “Why? Why?”Bookmark here

“It didn’t have to be this way,” Celeste tried to get on her knees.Bookmark here

“Who gave you permission to get up?!” Victoria stomped against her back, prompting a pained holler from her. “It’s all because of you! We’ve lost everything you pathetic little whore.”Bookmark here

Victoria kicked the hapless young woman in the stomach again, slamming her against the wall. In a blind rage, she got on top of Celeste and began to choke her. Feeling her airways constricted from the soldier’s vice, she realized this is where she could die. Victoria’s teeth grit in satisfaction as she heard her gasp and her hands weaken while trying to hold her off. Her legs flailed, hoping in vain for a way out.Bookmark here

And it seemed hell answered, when the door behind the lieutenant burst into pieces, springing a large tentacle. Victoria glanced in awe before its massive spike drove through the side of her chest. With a blood-filled gasp, the spike dislodged her other arm, crushing her organs within. As it lifted her up, her body convulsed before it dragged her into darkness.Bookmark here

Celeste thought it would come for her next as she glimpsed the open doorway. But that never came to be. Staggering onto her feet, she couldn’t look at Ricardo’s shredded corpse. She walked along the trail of bodies, picking up one of the rifles before standing before the open path. She knew what waited for her on the other side, and it was the only way forward.

Things really picked up, pushing things closer to the story's conclusion!
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