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Over the Top Secret - Chapter 19
AKA Into the Dungeon
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Start at the beginning (Prologue - AKA Mission Report)
Read the previous chapter (Chapter 18 - AKA Getting to the Bottom of it)
Read the next chapter (Chapter 20 - AKA Out Snooping, Call Back Later)
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The sound of whimpering wakes me up.
I roll to my side, still groggy from the old woman’s perfume, and push myself upright. The ground is cold and wet on my hands. I blink away the blurriness until I can see clearly. The space that lays before me is dimly lit, but as my eyes adjust, I can make out more of the details.
I’m lying in some kind of caged cell on a stone floor. The metal bars all around me look rusty and old like they’ve been growing mold and rotting away for over a hundred years. Something that sounds like white noise fills my head, but as I focus on it, I realize it’s the sound of rushing water in the distance. A lot of it. Makeshift lamps made of filament bulbs and what looks like tennis ball baskets hang five feet apart from each other on the stone walls. They dangle in the hallway from small black wires tacked to the cracks between the cobblestones in the domed ceiling.
Where am I?
I stand up, wiping my hands on my jeans, which are streaked with whatever nasty germs and other gross accumulation of crap the grimy floor has collected over the years. And I’m assuming plenty of years have gone by. This place feels like an ancient dungeon, complete with the sad moaning of tortured souls. Wait a minute, I’m not imagining that sound. Where is it coming from?
I squint and take another, more pointed, look around, and that’s when it hits me. The sad, soft whining, the random shrieks of fear and pain, the insane bits of laughing that drift my way down the dimly lit hallway— I’m in prison.
What kind of prison? I have no idea. But it’s definitely not an ordinary prison. And judging by the wails of pain, I’d say it might even be a torture chamber or something creepy like that.
There’s a man in the cell to my right. He’s moaning and crouched over in the center of his cage.
“Psst— hey,” I whisper. He flinches, but it might just be part of his consistent trembling. “Hello?” I snap my fingers, but he doesn’t turn around. “Where are we?” I continue, hoping he can hear me and is just choosing to ignore me. “What is this place?”
The man wails and turns toward me in a brilliant show of bright light. I shield my eyes from the blinding illumination. His horribly sorrowful sobs pierce my ears.
After a moment, he crouches forward again, and the light begins to flicker. I peer through my fingers to see the man pawing at his glowing eyes— which are an incandescent blue—and realize his eyelids are closed. The light being emitted from his eyeballs is so bright he can’t even contain it with his own eyelids.
While I stand there, trying to comprehend what I see with an open mouth, the man brings his mitten-covered hands to his face in an attempt to hide his eyes. Fraying silver duct tape wrapped around the bottom of his gloves fastens them to his wrists.
What happened to him? Why is he here? How long has he been here?
A sudden rattling to my left calls my attention. I whip around to find an Asian-looking woman cradling herself and rocking back and forth in the center of her cell. I lean closer to the bars that separate us. The woman’s beautiful porcelain face is smeared with dirt, and her straight black hair is plastered to her temples and neck with sweat. Every few seconds, she goes from panting and sweating and licking her lips to rocking back and forth, shivering with goosebumps and a chattering jaw.
I try to grab her attention as well, but her eyes are glazed over. She’s focused on something in an entirely other world.
These poor people.
I step closer to the edge of my cell, facing the hallway to get a better look at my surroundings. It looks like all the cells are occupied by people. Each one of them has been physically deformed in some way or another. The cell across from me is holding a large fish tank, but whatever is inside is way too large to be a fish.
Someone down the hall bursts into a fit of insane laughter, perfect for a movie about The Joker.
But we’re not in a movie. And I’m definitely not Batman.
I need to get out of here.
Okay, first things first. Where is “here”?
I calm my breathing and take another purposeful look around. The floor is wet and cold, the wrought-iron bars are crusty with rust and mold, sounds seem to echo, water rushes in the distance, and everything seems to be covered in a fine layer of mist. We must be somewhere underground. Sewers? Eww. Not a nice thought. Moving on. How to get out? That’s the question.
I decide to treat this like any old Nancy Drew PC game puzzle. It can’t be that hard to find a way out, can it? But I’m not so easily tricked by my own brain. I know this is no ordinary puzzle. I was kidnapped and dragged down a hidden tunnel by an old woman with unnatural strength. I shiver.
Where is Eric? Has he even noticed that I’m gone? How long have I been out? Oh crap. I don’t even know. This is definitely not good. How in the world is Eric going to find me? I remember the flirty waitress and realize Eric has probably not even noticed my absence. Wait. What if the waitress was sent to distract him? I rub my forehead. Ugh. This is getting complicated.
I roll my eyes at the thought of him. He stole my Lactaid and sent me to the bathroom in the first place. Technically this is all his fault. The warm feeling of anger surges through my body, heating me up and fueling my adrenaline.
I’d better assume Eric isn’t coming for me. Which means I’m on my own now.
I gulp down the coming onslaught of terror and anxiety. I recount the words of The Director, “There’s no room for doubt.” It’s time to take action.
I reach for my fanny pack— there must be a laser cutter pen or a lock hacking pen or something to get me out of this cage— but my fanny pack is gone. The old lady must have taken it! Oh, snap. Now they not only have my favorite fanny pack, but they also have T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. weaponry!
Despite the genuine possibility of contracting tetanus, and the somewhat ridiculous possibility of this rusty door being electrified, I grip the bars of the cell, shaking with purpose and a whole new reason to get out of here.
My whole body is thrown across the cell in a bolt of electricity. I smack into the back wall, get hit with another surge of electricity and land face-first into the gross puddle in the center of my cell.
I groan, adding to the orchestra of pain. The horrible smell of burnt hair fills my nostrils. I push myself back up with numb hands and a back that’s sure to bruise for weeks to come. Assuming I’m alive for that long. I force myself to move, stepping toward the cell door for a re-assessment. Upon inspection, I notice a keypad on the outside of the cell, humming with the buzz of electricity.
I should have looked more closely before.
The familiar sound of click-clacking heels echoes down the hall.
The old lady.
She’s whistling poorly, pulling someone on a gurney into an empty cell at the other end of the hall. Blood seeps from white bandages wrapped around the person’s head.
I hold my breath, trying not to make any sudden movements. It doesn’t look like the person is alive until the body adds yet another moan to the cacophony of wails among us.
Dear God. What is the old lady doing to all these people? What is she going to do to me?
It’s like she can hear my thoughts.
She turns on her out-of-character high heels and heads down the hall— toward me! Quickly, I think of all the ways this could go down. In every scenario, I end up dead, which isn’t very encouraging. I gulp down my fears and grip my hands into tight fists, hoping my first punch will be a good one. She’s only a few feet away now. I’m sure she’s coming toward me. She has to have seen me by now.
Just as she reaches the Asian woman’s cell, all the lights go out with a loud ZZZZZZZZZZ, leaving all of us in complete darkness.
“Merde,” the woman curses, her raspy voice a reminder of just how old she really is.
Did all the electricity go out? I think about opening the cell door and making a run for it while Mrs. Old Lady is distracted, but with my clumsy track record I decide it’s probably best not to do anything too rash. Yet. Instead, I’ll just nudge the door open ever so slightly so it doesn’t connect. Then wait and see.
Her heels click-clack past me to the other side of the tunnel. She fumbles around with something metallic until it makes a loud SWITCH sound, but nothing happens.
She sighs. More fumbling.
FFFFTTT! A tiny match lights a small circle at the end of the tunnel, and then POOF! A much larger circle of light is formed when the little flame spreads onto a torch, revealing another set of stairs I hadn’t noticed before. They’re heading up.
The way out.
CCCRRRRKKK— something staticky fills the air.
“Chantal!” a grumpy, high-pitched voice says through a walkie talkie.
The old woman answers, “Yes, Doctor, I know.”
They’re speaking in French with heavy accents.
“The breaker’s down. Looks like they finally turned our power off.”
“Damn it, I’m in the middle of working with subject three thirty-three.” Beat. “Get down here. And bring with you more HCurrent. I’ve used a whole cannister already. And I need your steady hands.”
Steady hands? If this wrinkly old lady has steadier hands than the doctor, then I really don’t want to get called in for a check-up.
“Only if we get to use my steady hands for pleasure.”
“Do you have no boundaries, woman?”
“That’s why you love me.”
Uck! I stifle a gag.
The old woman puts her walkie talkie back on her waist and starts walking down the hallway, holding her torch high and ignoring the whimpering sounds of suffering from each prisoner she walks by.
I duck when she gets close to me. Hopefully, she doesn’t remember I’m here or see the cage door is slightly of its latch. She hesitates for a moment, just in front of my cell.
Right when I think she’s about to bust into my cage and drag me downstairs, she turns to the cell in front of me. The one with the fish tank. She eyes her reflection, fluffs up her hair, and puckers her lips, kissing the air with a loud smooching sound. I wonder if she even notices the twitching humanoid figure behind the glass.
Then she turns on her heel and saunters toward the opposite staircase she came in from— the one that heads down.
I wait until I can no longer hear her footsteps before letting out the breath I’ve been holding. I need to get out of here before I become subject three thirty-four!
Cautiously, I step forward, careful of any remaining electrical currents that might still be alive within the rusty iron cell gate. Even with an inch of space between the latch and the handle, it might still connect. I crane my head and arch my body in a weird position to try to get another glimpse at the keypad on the door.
The little red dot is now totally black. I reach my hand out and quickly pat the iron, just in case it wants to zap me across the room again.
Whew! This is my chance to get out of here. I grab hold of the gate with both hands and push as hard as I can. The gate doesn’t budge a centimeter. I take another deep breath, plant my feet on the cold, wet ground and push harder, this time with as much of my core as I can. Still nothing.
Damn it! I shake the fence angrily, and it pulls toward me as effortlessly as a swinging saloon door on a Western movie set.
Pull not push. What an idiot!
I pull the door toward me. It creaks as loud as a screaming banshee.
My pulse pounds in my ears. I glance around at my fellow inmates, but surprisingly none of them heard. Or maybe they did, but they’re just unable to show it. These poor people, being tortured like this. Why? Who is The Doctor? What is he up to?
Never mind that.
To make things as quick and painless as possible, I yank the door toward me in one smooth motion, so the creaking only lasts a second or two. Then I step into the hallway.
It feels colder in the open airway. A chill that has nothing to do with the temperature pebbles down my back. I head toward the staircase leading up, as I assume that one will lead back out to civilization.
A few of the other inmates watch me with scrunched up faces of confusion. Shoot, how could I forget about them? I race to the closest cell. A blonde little girl wearing a Scooby-Doo T-shirt, not more than eight years old, looks up at me with sad eyes. The image breaks my heart.
“Shh.” I hold a finger to my lips as I quietly approach her cell. “Don’t worry, I’m here to help—” But as I reach for her cell, the little girl pounces toward me with an ear-shattering screech. She scratches my arm with sharp fingernails on hands shaped like bird talons. I recoil from the contact and cradle my bleeding arm, wincing at the sound. What the heck?!
The other inmates stir, moving closer to their doors to see what’s causing all the raucous. “I told you, I’m not going to hurt you—” I start, but the girl screeches again, yelling at me in some sort of animalistic language. She bounds to the other side of her cell with one hop and clamps onto the crisscrossed cell bars connecting her to a neighboring inmate. Now she’s screaming at the rest of them from her perch and the other prisoners start whimpering and crying and making little noises of their own.
This is not good.
“Keep your voice down!” I whisper loudly, but it’s pretty clear the little girl wants nothing to do with me. And to be honest, it feels like she’s spreading rumors about me to the other inmates, because now they’re all giving me the evil eye. My heart rate hikes at the thought that I could be attacked by these people (can they even still be called people?) before the old lady even has a chance to torture me.
As much as I hate to admit it, I think these prisoners are past the point of saving.
After a quick promise to the inmates that I’ll have T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. HQ send help for them later, I grab the torch hanging on the wall (a lot heavier than it looks) and dart up the steps two at a time. It’s a risky move, especially now that I’m handling a stick of fire, but I figure there’s no time to waste.
Then something stops me.
This place was in my vision. A vision that The McGuffin sent me, which means The Backup is here. It has to be.
And there’s no way Eric will find the secret passage. He probably ordered another round of champagne to split with the waitress. I roll my eyes, something I realize is turning into a knee-jerk physical response to the mere thought of Eric.
I guess it really is up to me to find The Backup. Without it, I’m The McGuffin, and there’s no way I’ll be able to return to my normal life. I think about that phrase for a second, “normal life,” and all the images that go with it. Mom’s chicken soup, my lazy hometown beach city, walking along the ocean’s shore with nothing better to do and not a care in the world…
It seems so unrealistic now, and somehow the idea of lying on the couch at home feels a little wrong. How can anyone lie on their sofa when bad guys are capturing people and doing who knows what to them?
It makes me angry. Would The Backup have been stolen regardless if I’d become The McGuffin? Would The McGuffin have sent Eric to this place to retrieve it regardless of me getting involved?
There’s no use wondering because I’m here now, and I have a job to do.
The dancing flames of the torch illuminate the stairwell heading towards the surface, a final reminder that it could be my only way out of here alive. I square my shoulders and turn around, heading back across the eerie hallway quickly. Before I change my mind. And before the bird girl discovers her cage isn’t locked anymore.
Only half a second’s hesitation takes hold of me before I head down, further into the Evil Villain’s lair.
Things keep getting crazier, goofballs. Drop an emoji in the comments to let me know how you’re feeling at this point in our zany T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. adventure! 👀