Merfey followed the beam of his flashlight through the crumbling white tile of the hallway. Beneath his excitement was something else, something he tried to shy away from in the blackness of the abandoned mental hospital. A great and gnawing fear chewed at his conscious mind. One that, if he gave into it, could reduce him to a quaking bundle of nerves.
Look at the baby shake, you want your mommy? Merfey heard Arnie’s cold insult in his mind, but turned away from the memory before it could fully materialize. He pushed the fear away, focusing instead on a torn and water stained map of the facility. Beyond the beam of his flashlight the darkness waited like a stalking beast, and Merfey Davis was its defenseless prey.
He noted the sub basement they were in was a smaller map to the left of the larger layout, and the basement below that even smaller. Merfey guessed it was the original foundation that got turned into storage once the facility expanded. He turned away from the map trying no to imagine what kind of horrors were left down there, and instead focused on what harnessing some of the residual energy from this place would mean for him. He would be a rising star in the science community, no one would be able to ignore him then. His mind again tried to turn towards the memory of Arnie but as it did the device in his hand began to chirp and squawk at regular intervals. The levels were even hitting the yellow field with some of them.
He kept going as the rooms around him changed from patient care rooms, offices, and nursing stations to utility rooms and laundry. To keep himself occupied he thought of Esther, but tried not to imagine what she and Clark were doing at that moment. “Looking for energy, same as you, nothing more” he muttered
You really believe that? his thoughts answered. “Focus Miles.” he muttered to himself “They are part of a scientific team, Nothing. More.”
He’d been trying to make the nickname stick since before graduation. He was trying to refresh his image, but it was hard to keep pretending he’d never heard of Miles Davis, the real Miles Davis, when people asked him. He had even started listening to jazz records in an attempt to reinvent himself after Simon’s death.
The thought stopped him in his tracks. The words came as cold facts that reiterated his brother’s absence in his life. “Maybe” he breathed into the cold darkness, “maybe with this energy I’ll be able to bring you back.” His words were thick and cut short from a heavy sob. Merfey worked hard to keep himself under control. Miles Davis, the Miles Davis he was trying to be, didn’t cry like a baby. This time his memory played Arnie’s words with such a harsh clarity that Merfey couldn't help gritting his molars in bitter recollection.
He thought that after Simon’s death he would still be able to hang with his friends, same as when Simon would bring him around before he shipped off. The girls had been nice enough and looked out for him with Simon there, and Arnie could be a pain until Simon told him to knock off teasing.
Arnie had a field day when Merfey told the gang he wanted to go by Miles. He thought it sounded cool and that maybe it would get him a date with some of the older girls. When Arnie stopped laughing long enough to talk he tore Merfey to pieces, insisting that he was joking and grabbing Merfey in an awkward headlock only after Simon made him stop. Of course at the time Merfey thought he really was kidding, so when he showed up there last month to hang he was sure he’d be welcomed as a substitute for Simon.
Arnie had been amicable enough when he opened the door, but as soon as the girls showed up he was merciless. Picking Merfey apart from his braces to his worn out converse, insulting not only him, but his old man for not making enough money to put his kid into decent enough threads. Merfey waited for the punchline, but the joke never really came. By the end of it Arnie was laughing, the girls were snickering, and Merfey was left beet red wishing like hell he wasn’t crying. His tears only spurred Arnie on further before Merfey finally felt his legs unlock and he bolted in a shower of insults and a hurled beer can.
He hated the feeling of alienation that seemed to cling to him like a stench he couldn’t wash off. Of course he would relate better to people if he had a common interest, but why did he have to be the one to change, his interests were plenty cool. He wished he could find more people like Esther, and even she seemed to be slipping away from him. Same as Clark, a guy he once considered his best friend had barely called on him all summer. Now he was more interested in knocking into other meat heads in the middle of a field instead of pursuing the answers to life’s mysteries. Honestly he didn’t know what Esther saw in him.
“She doesn’t see anything in him because there’s nothing going on between them!” Merfey’s voice came out in a ragged shout that startled him in the gloom of the corridor.
“Can you blame her?” a voice answered to Merfey’s left, too close. He whirled around and the beam of his flashlight landed on a corpse. Simon felt his legs lock at the same instant a warm stream of urine coursed down them.
Simon was in one of the rooms.
Merfey’s flashlight illuminated the white padded walls, threadbare in spots where rats had taken the stuffing for their nests. Simon lay against the wall and the floor, his torso just about cut in half from a Japanese machine gun nest. Merfey saw the scorching, and dried blood around the wound, but it was his brother’s face that he couldn’t take his eyes from. The pupils were milky, as if a fog rolled through the deep blue. Yellow pus collected at the corners where jungle insects had pierced and burrowed into the spongy flesh. His brother coughed a spray of blood and Merfey heard a wet smack against the concrete floor. In the weak corners of his light Merfey could see a mass of maggots writhing.
“Heh.” Simon smiled showing his yellow and black teeth. “Girl knows what horse to bet on, doesn't she? What do you think Merfey? You’re going to sweep her off her feet? I wouldn't be surprised if you got an asthma attack from the effort.”
It’s the rolling laughter that finally breaks Merfey’s paralysis. It holds none of the warmth that Simon’s had. Instead it sounds guttural and ancient, like some kind of prehistoric beast warning off a threat to its territory. Merfey takes off running, getting lost in the twists and turns he takes at random. His brain races trying to remember how to find the door they came in from but instead he finds himself fighting with the doorknob to the boiler room, the only solid door he can find. He slammed it behind him and moved through the pipework, passing the massive boiler, all the way to the back corner of the room where the long cold incinerator sits.
He pressed himself between it and the wall. His feet pistoned, trying to press himself as small as he could, kicking up rocks and ash. His breath came out in ragged gasps that turned to coughs and then chokes. He stuffed both hands against his mouth terrified that thing would find him.
He squeezed his eyes shut and was sure he was having a heart attack. In that moment Merfey’s desire for a new energy source, the recognition and accolades that came with it ,all of that is pressed from his brain by the simple desire to survive. He doesn’t know if it will ever return. If whatever as in here could conjure up images of his dead brother, how on earth did he think he was going to be able to harness it into an energy source?
It feels like a lifetime slips by but Merfey finally opens his eyes. His flashlight sits across his lap illuminating the room he is in and for one sickening second he thinks there’s a massive black spider facing him. Merfey startles with a whimper and shines the light on it hoping it will skitter away, but instead sees it’s not a spider at all. After a few minutes of watching the mass, making sure it won’t move he slides forward barely leaving the comfort of his hiding spot, but unable to comprehend what he’s looking at.
It’s a doll. Black yarn turned gray from the grime of ash it’s covered in. How it ended up here is a mystery he doesn’t care to mull over. The simple presence of the doll seems to calm him. It must have belonged to a little girl, someone who was just as afraid as he was in this place. He could picture a small hand grasping the worn wool, begging it for protection. Merfey picked the doll up and cleaned as much of the grime off of it as he could, feeling his resolve return as he did so.
That’s when he heard the scream. A rocking, thunderous noise that seemed to shake the great hulking boiler in front of him. He is on his way back to his hiding spot, the doll clutched tightly in his hand, when he hears Esther screaming his name.