Up ahead things were not good. The air was thick and sticky, polluted by years of mildew formed from the moisture that rose up from the muddy floor. No one knew how far the hallway stretched ahead into the abyss of darkness that swallowed up the light from their flashlights. With guns drawn, the group eased down the narrow, sloping hallway. It seemed the dirt walls might cave in and bury the terrible secrets that lie in this subterranean hideaway. Soon the dirt changed into chiseled gray stone, slick with earthly perspiration. Nobody thought about how the tunnel had been made, or how many years it had taken to complete. The lead man stopped and examined the walls, which were covered with words. The phrase ‘Klan Rip Him’ was painted in bright red letters repeatedly, in ghastly script, until they reached their destination.
The only sound was the faint pattering of the group’s feet and the occasional splash as someone stepped into a puddle on the stone floor. For miles the group walked down the nightmarish hall into the depths of the earth, surrounded by red letters spelling that ominous phrase. And soon many began to hear chanting ‘Klan Rip Him…Klan Rip Him…’. Of course, the chanting might have been in their heads, suggested from their anticipation of what they might find ahead.
Nothing could prepare them for the inhuman monstrosities they found when they entered the chamber at the end of the hall. Scattered around the chamber were things so hideous that they cannot be, and should not be, described to others. The group stood petrified at the opening to the chamber and shone their flashlights across the walls. Light flashed across unspeakably horrendous things. The smell of decomposing flesh and formaldehyde polluted the air. Hanging from the ceiling was a gas lantern.
“I’ve gotta do it guys,” Stern muttered as he dreamily approached the lantern. He had seen a lot of terrible things in his line of work, but nothing had prepared him for this.
The light was dim at first, outlining the nightmarish scene in sepia tones from the yellow light, hinting at the horror to come. As the light got brighter, two of the men passed out, and the rest covered their eyes.
After the dizziness passed, the conscious men looked around the room. The unforgettably grotesque contortions each man’s face incomprehensibly formed as they peered upon indescribable horrors were almost as terrifying as the contents of the room. Disproportionately disfigured globs of fleshy looking substances decomposed in heaps scattered around the room. The globs were best described, and there really was no good description, as humanoid. Glass lay shattered on the stone floor, along with surgical knives and stray pieces of metal. Drums with exotic chemical names were stacked in one corner, leaking fluorescent liquid of glowing colors. There were several shiny metal tables running along a wall and set upon these were jars containing fleshy, rotting specimens of indeterminate origin, along with rows of petri dishes. The chamber had obviously been some sort of macabre laboratory, destroyed in haste to protect its proprietor, who had obviously been alerted to their coming.
Possibly the most disturbing thing, the only thing everyone remembered exactly the same, was the phrase ‘Klan Rip Him’ printed thousands of times, in red paint, across the gray stone walls. Later, the group members would all confess to hearing those words echoing through their heads’, like the echo in the laboratory chamber.
Agent Stern sat on the edge of his bed, staring at the glare from the fluorescent lights on the white walls. Four other FBI agents sat scattered across the large room, reading, watching television, and sleeping.
“Hey Stern, how long do you think they are going to keep us in here?” agent Hoffman said. Hoffman was tall and skinny, with pale skin. His face was long and thin with small lips that always seemed to be pursed together. A pair of small, round glasses rested over his beady eyes. Hoffman had always been skinny and pale, but lately Stern thought he had begun to lose more weight. His face had taken on an almost ghoulish quality, as his eyes began to develop faint black rings around them. He usually looked like a man in his early thirties but he was looking closer to forty today. Hoffman was one of the agents who had passed out at the sight of the laboratory and he had very little memory of the event. Although, he did vividly remember the writing on the wall. All of the men were experiencing flashbacks of the phantasmagoric scene, but no man had memories consistent with another’s.
“Until they think we’re safe. Until they figure out what happened for sure. Until they believe what we’re telling them. Fuck, I don’t know, I guess we could be contaminated with something. I think that’s what they’re most afraid of. They don’t know what we saw down there and we can’t give them a straight story!” Stern said.
“Well, why did you have to blow the place up? We’re supposed to save – “
“Why’d you have to pass out, you fuckin pussy?” Stern cut him off before he started this pointless discussion over. Although nobody remembers it, Stern was credited with sealing the laboratory, using the remote explosive device he was carrying and detonating the explosives before they were out of the tunnel. The government agency in charge of the operation wasn’t very happy about this.
The agents remained in custody, caged in the institutional observation tank, and received no explanations or any sort of communication with their government captors for three days after the failed operation. Finally, the agents were spoken to through an intercom in the room. They were informed that they would be held in quarantine for an indefinite period of time, probably close to six weeks, to prevent the risk of spreading an unknown pathogen.
“I knew it. They’re going to keep us in here until we die from some disease,” agent Anderson said. “Hoffman, hey Hoffman! Wake up! God, look at him. He’s already sick. He looks like shit and he sleeps all the time. And look at that cut on his forehead, the one he got when he smacked his head on the floor, passing out in that laboratory. Its all black and swollen.”
Stern stared at Hoffman’s limp body, and listened to his rhythmical breathing as he lay on the cot. Hoffman wasn’t in good shape. He had not eaten in the past twenty-four hours and he’d slept for the past twelve hours. Stern considered trying to rouse him but thought better of it, not wanting to get close to him.
“We cannot stay in this room with him. If we’re not already sick, we’re going to catch whatever he has soon,” Anderson said. Anderson was a good agent and Stern always listened to what he had to say. The young agent was from the mid-west, with a wife and two kids, and Stern would hate to see anything happen to him. The panic in Anderson’s voice, along with the very faint gray rings around his eyes, gave Stern the impression that Anderson wasn’t feeling very good though. Anderson knew something was wrong, and he was frightened.
Stern pressed the intercom button, hoping that he would get a response this time.
“Hey guys, I think we’ve got a sick man in here. He’s not looking too well and we think he needs some medical attention. Maybe you should move him to another quarantine area so the rest of us might avoid infection.”
Several minutes later the only door to the room opened. Two men in full biohazard suits walked in.
“Agent Hoffman is sick, we think,” Stern said and pointed to Hoffman, who was still asleep on his cot.
Neither man in the white space suits said a word. They simply walked to Hoffman’s cot and roused him from his deep sleep. Hoffman slowly sat up and as he did was dragged to his feet.
“Holy shit!” Anderson said.
“What’s going on?” Hoffman said. There was no doubt that he was sick; he was sick beyond recognition. There were black bumps all over his face, like mosquito bites, and they seemed to be leaking some fluid. His face looked as if it were slowly being eaten away. His eyes were blood red, and they bobbed up and down as he looked around. The men held Hoffman by his arms and they turned towards the door. As they started to drag him away his shirt rose up. Hoffman’s back was covered with huge black bumps, eating away at his flesh.
“What are you doing, what’s wrong with me – Stern help me! Help…” Hoffman screamed. The men dragged him into the airlock and slammed the door shut.
Agents Stern, Anderson, Movac, and Stoick stared at each other in disbelief, scrutinizing one another for signs of any malignancy. Then all hell broke loose.
“Anderson, you’re not looking too well,” Stoick said.
“I’m fine,” Anderson replied. “I feel fine.”
“Well, I think you’re starting to look sick and I don’t want to be around you. We need to get you out of this room.” Stoick said.
“Fuck you. Look at yourself. You could use some Visine. And look at the rings around your eyes.” Anderson yelled back at him. Each man had retreated to opposite corners of the room, keeping as much distance between one another as possible.
“Yeah Stoick, look at yourself.” Movac added.
“Go to hell, Movac. You look like shit too.” Stoick said.
Stern didn’t say anything. He just sat back and let the men argue. They all looked sick; he probably did too. Anderson and Stoick looked the worst.
“What the hell are you starin’ at Stern. Don’t fuckin stare at me like that. You don’t look so well either!” Stoick yelled.
Later that day, another man entered the room. He was dressed in a blue biohazard suit.
“Okay gentlemen. It’s time you were given a better explanation about your situation. I’m Dr. Stall.” The doctor peered at them from behind the shield of the suit and a small speaker near his chin emitted the sound of his voice. Dr. Stall was short. His face, which was all they could see of him, was wrinkled and old looking and strands of gray hair fell across his forehead. He wore thick, plastic rimmed glasses.
The agents glared at him from the four corners of the room.
“Well then, I don’t think I’ll be able to convince you to move closer together, so I guess I’ll just have to speak up. I’ll give you as much information as I’m permitted to. The man you were sent to capture in the underground laboratory was an unknown bioterrorist. The F.B.I. was given a tip and that was the reason for your mission. As we feared, the lab you raided was contaminated and has spread a pathogen to at least one of you. Agent Hoffman is very sick. We believe him to be infected by a very lethal virus. Agent Hoffman is going to die. Unfortunately, I believe the virus spreads very easily, although it’s methods are unknown at this time. That’s bad news for you guys. We consider all of you contaminated. The virus attacks and kills very quickly. I’m surprised that agent Hoffman is the only one sick at the moment, but I would estimate that all of you will not live past this week. Of course we are working on a cure, but it could take awhile without the man who engineered this virus. We might be able to speed the process up if we can capture him.
Several unexplainable deaths have occurred across the country over the past few days, and each person exhibited the same symptoms as agent Hoffman. This is considered a full-scale biological attack, and large groups of citizens are being quarantined as we speak. The loss of life could be enormous. We need you to concentrate on the raid, and try to give us any clues that we might be able to use to find this terrorist. I know that most of you have blocked out the majority of your experience. We are particularly interested in the phrase that you all remember – ‘Klan Rip Him’. We are concentrating on some white supremacy groups because of the reference to ‘Klan’. Here is a list of suspects we have so far. Here are four copies so you don’t have to share. Please take a look and let us know if anything rings a bell. Let us know if you start to feel sick. We will try to make you as comfortable as possible.”
Dr. Stall laid four sheets of paper down on a table and left the room. The agents took turns retrieving the lists and returning to their corner of the room. There were five names on the list:
For the next twenty-four hours the men kept away from each other. They watched television, which had non-stop coverage of the growing number of deaths from an unknown virus. The pictures of the victims were brutal. Finally the men sat together, no longer afraid of catching the virus because they had already caught it. Each man was obviously sick and beginning to shows the horrifying symptoms.
Stern thought of the list of suspects constantly, hoping that he might remember something about that horrible laboratory that would help to capture the madman who engineered this virus. Thinking about that day was like trying to remember a dream that has just slipped away. That phrase written on the walls kept clouding his thoughts. That was about the only thing he could remember now. The words seemed to be eating his brain, like the virus eating his body.
Stern sat and stared at the list for hours, as his body got weaker. The name Hiram Plink kept catching his eyes. Then ‘Klan Rip Him’. Then Hiram Plink. Then ‘Klan Rip Him’. These thoughts raced through his mind constantly. At length, Stern did figure it out. His dying mind, being eaten by the lethal virus, managed to rearrange the phrase ‘Klan Rip Him’. The letters in the cursed phrase are also the letters used to spell Hiram Plink.
“At 3:30 this morning, law enforcement officers raided the home of known bioterrorist Hiram Plink, the man suspected of engineering the deadly virus responsible for thousands of deaths. Before the men could take Plink into custody, he shot himself and died, destroying the hope we might obtain information from him that would lead to a cure for the virus. The disease caused by the virus is now being called Plinks syndrome. For now, the ghost of Hiram Plink lives on. I’m Jane Doe, CNN news, back to you Mark.”
Copyright © 2002 Michael S Upchurch