Onto Day 4 of NanoWriMo, and as of this writing, I am just below 13,000 words. So far, I’ve really enjoyed writing Maelstrom, and while it’s going to need many rewrites and edits after this initial draft, it’s quickly developing into one of my favorite Nick Ventner stories. If you like what you read, please take a moment to check out my crowdfunding campaign for the first book in this series, Whiteout, due to be published in early 2018. Every penny is going to help us get its name out there, and shares help just as much as dollars. Thanks so much for your continued support!
Just a reminder, this is unedited, a rough draft, and CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR WHITEOUT AND DOWNPOUR. You have been warned!
Links to previous chapters: Prologue,
4. The Inside of a Cell
“So what I’m hearing, if I’m not mistaken, Dr. Venter, is that this isn’t your first time in an interrogation cell.” Good cop looked suspicious, but also pleased with his discovery.
“Is that really what you took from all that?” asked Nick, exasperated. “We chased Chupacabras through the desert and almost broke into Area 51!”
“I’m sure you did, but I think it’s very interesting that this isn’t your first run-in with the law.”
Nick put his head down on the metal table with a loud thump. Cops really are the thickest of them all aren’t they.
“Come on now, there’s no need for that.” Good cop resumed his friendly tone, removing the hint of smugness that had briefly pervaded it. “I am listening to your story am I not?”
“Listening and understanding are two different things,” Nick moped. “Listening means I end up in a cell for twenty years because you heard but didn’t believe. If this is going to be worth your while, I’m going to need you to understand.” The throbbing pain in his head hadn’t subsided in the slightest, but there was a clarity that came with recounting the events with the CIA. It felt like piecing together a puzzle that had been smashed.
“Alright, alright, calm down. You have to understand the story that you’re telling me is ridiculous right?”
Nick looked good cop square in the eye, hoping for some sense of comradery. “If it sounds ridiculous, imagine living it.”
“Fair point,” admitted good cop. “How about this: I’ll suspend my disbelief for the time being, and you tell the story exactly as you remember. I may not believe you by the end, but if nothing else, it’s more entertaining than evening television.”
“I’ll take what I can get,” muttered Nick.
“So, tell me about the cells that the CIA led you to.” The way he said it was like a parent asking a child about a story they’d written in English class.
If only I could call my good friends at the CIA to get me out of this one… “When the bags came off, we weren’t in the best of positions…”
We were led into a long concrete room with one door, no windows, and a couple of nasty cell mates. Most of the room was taken up with an iron barred cage. There was a humming in the air, and it was impossible to tell if it was just some distant generator, or if the bars were electrified. More important, was what was behind them.
It had been set up like a zoo exhibit. A few plastic balls, ramps, ropes, and sitting on the stone floor, about fifty chupacabras. The blood still coating our clothes probably didn’t help the situation, but I’m guessing they were mad long before we arrived.
The same rattling hiss that we had heard in the desert filled the room, and all the chupacabras raised their spines, shaking them slightly.
I turned to one of the men who had led us there. “Ugly bastards aren’t they.”
He was young, but had already acquired the trademark stone-faced demeanor of the CIA. “These are your new cell mates. Do not leave this room, and do not get too close to the bars.”
“Well that seems obvi—”
“Someone will come to get you eventually. Until then, enjoy your stay.” There was a hint of sarcasm in this last statement, but it was so slight that it was as if it hadn’t been there. “And if you get lonely, don’t worry, we’ll have someone looking after you.” The young man pointed up to a recessed area about fifteen feet off the ground where several men in black uniforms patrolled with rifles.
With that, the young man turned on his heel and walked out through a thick, metal door. It slammed shut and there was the audible whir of motors as the locks clicked shut. I waited, patiently to make sure he wasn’t coming back, and then started to laugh.
If the guards patrolling the walkway thought it odd, they did nothing to show so.
“Do you find something about being held by the CIA to be funny?” asked James. “We are never going to get out of here.”
“Hush now, of course we will.” I continued to laugh, even moreso as the frustration grew on James’s face.
“What’s so damned funny then?”
“Well, for one, it definitely wasn’t aliens. So you’re going to have to buy me a drink.” I slapped James on the shoulder good naturedly, and pulled him into a friendly headlock.
“What the hell are you doing?”
I lowered my voice to a barely audible whisper. “The second reason had two parts. The first is that the CIA knows nothing about Chupacabras. They can easily jump fifteen feet, if not more. The second is that they didn’t find my secret pocket.”
“You mean the one you keep booze in?”
“That’s hardly a secret if you know about it.” The booze pocket, while secretive, was something that was hard to miss if one was around me for long. “Now, I’m going to hit you, it needs to look like we’re having a fight.”
Before I had a chance to do anything James had brought a fist up into my ribs, knocking the wind from me. “Want to make it look real right?” he grinned.
There was another flash of pain as he hit my right cheek and spun away. I looked up blearily at the guards, feeling the blood begin to trickle from my nose. “Are you not going to do anything about this?”
The guards continued along their predetermined route, almost as if they were nothing but animatronics.
From the cage, the chupacabras watched intently, perhaps hoping that one of the fight’s victims would fall too close to the cage. The bars were just wide enough for the creatures to reach their heads through without being electrocuted. The thought of hungry chupacabras sucking all the blood out of me sent a shiver down my spine.
I threw a punch at James, missed his face, but managed to get a good blow on the shoulder. As I stumbled through it, I reached into my inner coat pocket and pulled out a small vial. It was only about an inch in length, but when shattered, it created a noxious acidic cloud. Perfect for causing minor burns and escaping, or in our case, weakening the bars on a chupacabra enclosure.
It was a trick I had picked up while traveling in an unruly gang of modern-day ninjas. Theirs hadn’t been quite so strong, but was easily modified to increase the potency. When fighting creatures that aren’t supposed to exist, it’s always easier to carry a bigger stick.
James threw another punch, and this time I dodged, throwing the small vial at a point on the cage where the keepers presumably would enter. That got the guards attention, and there was a flurry of motion as they braced for an attack.
“What the hell are you doing?” James exclaimed. “We’re going to be stuck in here with them.”
Some of the guards could be heard audibly laughing. They think they’re about to get a show huh? Well, someone should have done their research before trying to keep pet beasties in a cage.
I moved closer to James and dropped my voice once more. “Stay close to the door, and take out whoever opens it.”
“We’re not going to kill a CIA agent,” whispered James, tersely.
Meanwhile, the acid had begun to melt through the cage bars, and the chupacabra were testing its strength intermittently. One would hop at the bars, receive a jolt and then recover out as another tried.
Clever girl, I thought. “Alright, fine,” I said to James. “Don’t kill them, non-lethal blows only, but we’re not getting out of here without hurting some people.”
“And what exactly is your plan to get out? We don’t even know where we are.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out.” I still had a little buzz going from the drink, and a whole lot of misplaced confidence. It was a potent combo which made just about anything seem possible.
“That’s not exactly comforting.”
“Oh come on, we’ve lived through worse.”
At that moment, one of the chupacabras broke through the melted cage bars, leaving a good sized holes where the others could follow. It tried to lick the acidic moisture off its skin and hissed loudly with the pain that followed it. The others quickly followed through, hopping through one after the other, eyes beginning to glow brightly.
It was a sign that they were preparing to hunt. From above there was shouting as the guards realized what was happening, and then, rapid explosions of gunfire. On all sides, red lights began to illuminate, and a warning siren blared. In the concrete chamber, mixed with the gunfire, it was deafening.
One or two chupacabras fell with well-placed shots, but the others were quick. In a smooth hop, one of them was up on the ledge, and the guards were distracted. Another hopped up behind them, and it was over. In a flash of claws and fangs, the men were dropped to the ground.
“Up against the wall James!” I hurried to one side of the door, and he took the other. Most of the chupacabras were distracted above, but the others were still filtering through the hole in the cage, and looking at us with uncomfortable, hungry stares.
James tensed nervously. “When was the last time you think they were fed?”
“A while ago judging by the lack of screaming from them.” I jerked a finger toward the walkway where the guards had been. Usually chupacabras aren’t deadly, but if they haven’t been fed, and they’re in a group, they will suck a corpse dryer than a mummy.
“Don’t worry though, someone should be along shortly.” That was the point where my tentative plan began to fall apart. I had figured that the first two guards would be incapacitated, maybe killed, and then backup would come. What I hadn’t thought of was what to do once backup got there.
As I said it, the door beside me opened swinging wide and crushing James against the concrete wall opposite. Two men rushed in wearing riot gear and holding rifles at the ready. Whether they saw me or not, I can’t be sure, but likely their attention was singularly focused on the group of hungry animals staring at them.
The creatures advanced, hissing and rattling, spines fully extended. Had I been the guards, I would have backed out of the room and called a team to firebomb the place. Chupacabras are like the rats of the secret world, still rare mind you, but easily found if you know where to look.
“Eyes open Jensen, they’re just as dangerous as they look,” said the man on the right.
The thought seemed obvious and borderline idiotic to me, but I remained silent, pressed against the wall. As the door closed behind the two men, I stuck out my foot to catch it. James was standing on the other side, nursing a bloody nose from catching the door to the face.
“Easy now.” One of the men held a calming hand toward the chupacabras.
“Idiot, they’re not god damned dogs. Keep your hands on your weapon.”
The chupacabras above must have finished, or lost interest because at that exact moment, one dropped down, landing on the man’s shoulders. He crumpled to the ground under its weight, and let off a burst of fire from his machine gun.
One of the creatures in back cried out, wounded, and then the rest lunged forward.
“James, now!” I flung open the door, nearly hitting him again and sprinted into the hallway beyond.
The other solider turned briefly to look as James went to follow, but was pounced on before he could utter “stop”. There was another burst of gunfire followed by angry hissing, and then a horrible crunching sound.
“Alright, we’re out of the room,” said James, letting the door swing shut behind him as he ran out.
The hallway we were in was nondescript, and despair inducing. As far as I could tell, it was nothing more than a long, concrete tunnel running toward another concrete corridor in both directions. I felt idiotic for not even trying to remember the turns we took coming to the room, but I’d been drinking, so it would have been difficult anyway.
From one end of the corridor the sound of more running footsteps could be heard. “Not that way?” I asked James.
“Not that way,” he agreed. We turned around and ran away from the sound.
Spaced evenly down the hallway were the same flashing red lights that had been in the cell. The blaring sirens were less frequent, and were now followed by a sharp voice saying: “Red alert, containment failure in sector A, red alert.”
The hallway ended abruptly at a T-junction. There were no signs indicating which way to go, but at one end of the hallway was a pair of elevator doors. “That’s probably our best bet,” I said.
“No shit.” James took off running for the doors.
“My guess is they’re keeping us close to the surface.”
“And why is that?”
“They wouldn’t keep live assets that live nearby too far underground. It’d be inconvenient for transport. Plus, chupacabras aren’t much of a threat.”
From behind us, there was the sound of more gunfire followed by screams.
James gave me a reproachful look.
“Usually not that much of a threat,” I amended. “Don’t worry, they’ll be fine. The CIA has to have a wonderful medical program.”
We reached the elevator and James pushed the call button.
“They probably reserve the lower levels for more dangerous projects. This seems more like a hobby.”
“That’s probably where they keep the aliens.” James said it offhand, as if it didn’t mean anything at all.
“How many times do I have to tell you? That’s not what the CIA does here.” I wasn’t sure the full extent of what was happening at the lowest level of Area 51, but I was pretty confident it had nothing to do with flying saucers. After learning the truth about Roswell being a stage to cover up a battle with the “Guardians of Anubis”, it all just seemed so fake.
The elevator doors slid open and it was mercifully empty. As I entered, the newest flaw in my plan presented itself. There were only three buttons: Up, Down, and Hold the Door. Underneath them was a slot for a card reader. “Shit, should have taken it off one of the guards. Alright, what’s plan B?”
“Way ahead of you.” James pulled out an ID badge with a few spots of blood still clinging to it, and pushed it into the reader.
I looked at him, surprised.
“One of us has to be planning ahead. Now, I’m thinking up is our best bet.” He pushed the button and a small green arrow illuminated.
The carriage rocketed up with incredible speed, but the ride was smooth. In a matter of seconds, we were already beginning to slow down. “See? Must’ve been close to the surface, just like I thought.” I was embarrassed by James taking the plan out of my hands and wanted to reassert dominance.
James rolled his eyes and balled up his fists.
“What are you going to do? Punch their bullets out of the air?”
“You have a better idea?”
I stepped to the side of the elevator, out of sight, in case there was a welcoming party.
“Fair point,” said James and followed suit.
The doors opened, and we were not greeted by the sound of gunfire. In fact, there was complete silence, no alarms, nothing. Cautiously, I peered out of the door and saw a long hallway flanked by rows of offices, leading to a set of wide glass doors. Outside, the night sky was clearly visible.
I turned to James, grinning. “Think they’re just going to let us walk out?”
James peaked out from his side of the elevator. “What the hell is going on?”
“They’re probably busy trying to contain their little outbreak downstairs.” It seemed all-too easy, but I wasn’t going to question our good fortune.
The elevator doors began to shut. “It seems better than heading back down.” Still cautious, I stepped out of the elevator. The floors on that level were tile, like a fancy office building rather than a government black site. There were hallways lined with cubicles and cork boards. It looked just like another office building.
James stepped out after me. “I guess they’d want to put on a good face just in case anyone from the public was ever able to get in.”
“I just assumed they be treated to a cell like us.” The silence around us was eerie. “Let’s get out of here before someone figures out they’ve made a mistake.”
We picked up the pace and walked quickly to the doors leading outside. The desert air was cold in comparison to the temperature controlled building and felt surreal. Everything had happened so fast that I wasn’t even sure it was real. For all I knew, I could have been being drained by a chupacabra back in the desert, living in a dream world. It all just seemed to easy.
Outside was a concrete roundabout with a set of tall flags in the middle. Lights shone up on a plaque beneath them, no doubt engraved with some motto about secrecy and integrity. Government agencies loved those.
James and I looked at each other, unsure what to make of the situation. “I guess we just go?” There were likely to be guards around the perimeter, but we didn’t have much other choice. As my drink began to wear off from earlier, a tiny pain crept into my temples.
We began walking quietly along the road, unsure of what direction we had come from.
Then, off to the right, floodlights illuminated, revealing a state of the art helicopter pad. Standing on the walkway was the clean cut man who had questioned them before. He clapped his hands slowly. “Well done you two. Escape within thirty minutes.”
Both James and I froze. My blood turned to ice.
“Oh relax. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again.” He began walking towards us, face looking friendly, but once again holding that confidence that unnerved me. “If I wanted you dead, I would have had them shoot you in the desert before you had a chance to walk away. No one questions a few deadbeats in the desert.”
The tension in my muscles loosened. He was right. “So, if you don’t want to kill us, why are we here? Why let us escape?”
“A simple test Mr. Ventner, and you passed with flying colors. Why don’t we take a ride?” He gestured toward the helicopter and its blades began to turn.
“And if we don’t want to?” asked James.
“Well, then I guess I really would want you dead, wouldn’t I?” He winked, and once more we found ourselves in the crosshairs of a dozen laser sights. It was impossible to tell where the men behind the triggers were, only that they were there. “Come on, let’s go for a ride…”