Tales from the Tavern


 John Harrington



Having finished his security route early, James sat in the break room playing one of his favorite games, When Worlds Collide. He had just gotten to a boss fight, some nasty looking alien baddie, when he got a call from Dispatch. Apparently, Ben hadn’t checked in for a few hours, so James was drafted to finish the infamous route 6. Reluctantly, he closed his laptop, stowed it in his locker, and walked towards the start of the route. The path took him through the Mann, Reagan, and Kline buildings. These walks were comprised mainly of stark white corridors and endless steel doors. He checked all the door handles as he passed, making sure the off-limits labs were secure. As he entered his card into the last key check, he wondered if Dispatch had found Ben yet.

“Route 6 to Dispatch.” James waited a few seconds. No answer. He repeated the call. “Ned, you there?” No answer. “What the hell, Dispatch? Come in.” Nothing. He sighed as he continued on. No one took security at Kenway Enterprises seriously. The grounds were locked down with electric fences. There were never any break-ins. The guards were there for show, otherwise they would have let James carry a gun, instead of weak pepper spray and the tiny flashlight they gave him to carry around. They could at least let them have one of those big Mag flashlights, the kind you could use as a club. But nope, they weren’t supposed to interact with any intruders, only observe and report.

James stopped short of the fencing surrounding the Kenway building. Damn Ned for making him walk route 6. He should stop answering dispatch when they called him. Next time they could find someone else to pick up Ben’s slack. No doubt he was goofing off somewhere. James scanned the courtyard, not surprised he didn’t see the other guard.

He stared ahead at the old Kenway building. Everyone hated route 6 because of it. The outside grounds reminded him of a post-apocalyptic movie and according to his coworkers, it had been unoccupied since the early 70’s. Grass grew up through the concrete walkways. The exterior stone of the building crumbled with age, ivy creeping around it like a giant snake constricting its prey. Many windows were boarded up which made James wonder how they had been broken. It wasn’t like there were any vandals around.

The Kenway building contained many old labs. And these weren’t the nice shiny labs from the rest of the campus. Which those were disturbing enough with all the testing on rats, rabbits, monkeys, and even dogs. Going from dead silence to one of those damn monkey’s chatter or howl in the middle of the night was enough to make someone piss his pants. No, the Kenway labs had equipment that looked like the machines that brought Frankenstein’s monster to life. He only had to go through once by himself before. But once was plenty to shake him to never want to go back through it again.

James swiped his keycard to unlock the side door and entered. He inserted the same card to trigger the key check on the interior wall and flipped on the lights. Only a few flickered to life down the long corridor. Super. He triggered the key check and pulled out his flashlight. Clicking it on, he walked slowly down the poorly lit tunnel. All the doors opened to darkened rooms. He knew they were empty. But he also knew working the night shift in these places played tricks on your senses.

James cursed himself for playing a horror game at work. He picked up his pace, trying not to think of the realistic-looking aliens and the nightmarish imagery his mind created. He tried not to glance into the darkened rooms to find the imaginary creatures hiding, waiting for him to look in so they could jump out and attack him. He turned a corner, almost jogging and ran into something. He yelped and jumped back, then realized it was only a plastic sheet that blocked the hallway. He cursed out loud, his heart racing. A sign attached to the plastic read: Please do not enter the area without proper ventilation. Asbestos Hazard.

Great. He quickly scanned the area for a mask, but found none.

James decided to try Ned again. “Route 6 to dispatch,” he said into his radio.

“Ben, where the heck have you been?” Ned answered.

“Uh, no Dispatch, this is James. Remember, I’m re-walking Route 6 for Ben.”

“Oh, right.” a short pause. “Well what do you want? I’m out on the route trying to find that buddy of yours.”

Wow, good thing James wasn’t in any actual trouble. “There is a sign in the Kenway building. Something about Asbestos, but I don’t see any masks or anything.”

This time a long pause. “Just do the route. That stuff is only dangerous when they stir it up in the air.”

“Affirmative.” James shook his head. He didn’t want to look like a whiny bitch, so he continued on through a slit in the middle of the plastic wall. He’d heard bad stuff about asbestos, but couldn’t remember what. It’s alright, he’d sue the damn company if he got sick. His radio beeped. Low battery. Protocol required him to go back and get a charged one. Then again, protocol there in practice was to ignore your guards apparently, so whatever. Not like dispatch ever needed to contact him with something important. And he had his phone if anything ever got too dicey.

He walked to the end of a hallway, hitting the key check. The light switch there did nothing at all. One fixture every twenty feet gave off enough to see by. Barely. The walls were stained with reddish streaks, most likely from rusty, iron pipes leaking behind the plaster. But in the grimy darkness, he couldn’t stop thinking it looked like old blood from all animals they had slaughtered. He wrung his hands, trying to keep them from shaking. Get ahold of yourself, damnit, it’s just your imagination. Continuing on, he passed a drinking fountain which had been inexplicably yanked halfway out of the wall, held only by the pipes. Broken into small pieces, the tiling down the current hallway crunched beneath his boots. The entire building was falling apart.

After several more dimly lit hallways, James arrived in the Lobby. Other than the main entry doors being boarded up, the foyer area was in remarkably pristine condition, unlike the condemned rat hole that made up the rest of the building. The lighting was brighter too, though still dark enough to keep James on edge.

Nested in the wall, an antique elevator focused his gaze. Like something he’d seen from a Twilight Zone episode, it had two metal gates for doors and above it, one of those clock-like dials with an arrow pointing to the floor the car was located. The dial currently indicated floor 1. One of the two lights in the room flickered slowly, causing an eerie strobe effect. He walked over to the elevator to get a better view when he felt his foot kick something on the ground. The flashlight rolled a moment before stopping. Identical to James’ flashlight, he picked it up to examine.

“Route 6 to dispatch.”

“Now what do you need?” Ned sounded as annoyed as before.

“Are you back at control?”

“Negative, route 6. If you find that no-good, piece of crap, tell him to report to contr—“  The radio chirped. James tried pushing in his talk button and looked at the radio on his hip. Dead, damn it.

“H—hello?” A muffled voice called out. It sounded like it came from the room directly behind him.


“James? Help man, I fell down,” Ben said.

James moved to where the voice originated. A doorway with no door led into a pitch-black room. The lights did not come on. He shined his flashlight into the room. A waiting room with rows of chairs bolted to the floor. James saw no one.

“Where are you?” he whispered loudly.

“Down here.”

James entered the room and looked around until he found a hole in the corner. James could have fit through it maybe, but no way could tubby Ben have fallen through that hole. He shined his flashlight down. Ben looked up and blocked the light with his hand.

“Come on, man. Shit’s bright.”


“Do you see my flashlight up there anywhere?”

“Yeah, I have it right here. I’ll drop it down to you.”



“Drop it already. Fucking dark as hell down here.”

James dropped it and heard a crack.

“Damn it.”

“You get it?” James called out, knowing the dumbass had dropped it.

“It’s not working.”

“Now.” He paused. “It’s not working now.” He shook his head and sighed. “I asked if you were ready.”

“Come on man, get me out of here, this place gives me the creeps and it smells real bad down here.”

“Did you try the elevator?”

“I can barely see in front of my face. Drop me your flashlight.”

“Fuck you.”

“Come on, man, you have lights up there. I can’t see anything.”

James noticed scuff marks around the hole and a long scrape led away from it. Following with his flashlight, it led to the doorway. He shined down the hole again.

“What are you doing?” Ben said.

“How did you fall down there?”

“I—I don’t remember.”

“Why did you even come in here? There aren’t any key checks.”

“I don’t know, man. I remember walking my route, I came to the lobby and then…I don’t remember. I must have heard something and checked it out.”

Yeah right. Ben was the last person that would actually check something out on his own.

“Come on, I don’t want to be down here anymore, wherever I am.”

James gripped the flashlight. “Alright, but fucking catch it this time.”

“Yeah, alright, come on.”

“Here it is.” James dropped it down.

“Got it!”

“Yeah, okay. What do you see?”

A long pause.

“Well?” James tried to be irritated, but also heard fear in his own voice.

“I see the elevator, but the call buttons aren’t working.”

“Hold on.” James walked around the area, searching for the stairwell. When he found it, however, the stairs didn’t go down, only up. James walked over to the elevator and pushed the buttons. Nothing happened. The building had power, but maybe the call buttons had been disabled so people wouldn’t try to use it. Handles extended from both the exterior and interior gates. He remembered really old elevators were manually controlled. Squinting, he peered into the dark car. The large lever inside might have still worked. But, taking an old rickety elevator down into a basement where stairs didn’t follow gave him more than a little pause. He walked back to the hole and Ben shined his flashlight up.

“Any luck–” Ben’s voice was cut off by a high-pitched, screeching noise, then a low whomp whomp whomp echoed off the walls.

James felt the hairs on his body stand up.

“Wha…what the hell was that?” Ben said in barely a whisper.

“I don’t know,” James said, trying to keep his voice from wavering.

“Get me out of here, man.”

“There are stairs but they don’t go down.”

“What the hell?”

“I know. Listen, my radio’s dead, how’s yours?”

“I landed on it when I fell down.”

James pulled out his phone. No signal. “Okay, just…just stay there, I’m gonna go get help. My phone isn’t getting a signal in here.”

“Wait! Don’t leave me down here.” Ben looked from side to side. “That wasn’t the only strange noise I’ve heard since I came to.”

James didn’t really want to go down, but knew how he would feel if it was him down there. “Well, the elevator’s manually controlled. I might be able to come get you.”

“Thanks, man. I owe you.”

“Yeah…” James said under his breath. He walked back to the elevator, slid open the first gate, then the second. It had a single dim bulb inset into the ceiling. He closed the gates, then looked at the large levered-control. Squinting, he could make out an arced arrow going to one side that said down. He glanced upwards, hoping the damn thing wouldn’t work, forcing him to go get help instead.

James pulled the lever down and the lift lurched downwards. He instinctively let go and the lever sprang back to the stop position, the car shaking as it braked. Trying again, he held it down this time. After a few seconds, he saw the bright haze of Ben’s flashlight.

“Thank fucking god.” Ben said as James came into view. James let go of the lever and the elevator shook to a stop again.

“Yeah, you owe me a case of soda.” James opened both gates and Ben hobbled in.

“Sure, man, whatever you want.” Ben gave him a weak smile. His clothes were covered in dirt and blood.

“You alright? You look like crap.”

“Yeah, it looks worse than it is.”

“Alright let’s get—“ The elevator started shaking, slowly at first, then violently.

“Earthquake,” they said in unison. They ran back into the hallway where they dodged plaster falling from ceiling.

“Over there.” James pointed to a large steel table and crawled under it. Ben followed. After half a minute, the shaking subsided.

“What a fantastic time to have an earthquake,” Ben said.

“Yeah, you have some bad luck.”


“Yeah, let’s get the hell out of here before the aftershock.” They got back into the elevator and closed the gates. James squinted at the control again to make sure he moved the lever in the right direction.

“What the…” Ben whispered in a cracked voice.


“Didn’t you see that? Something just moved out there. Ben’s hand shook as he shined the flashlight toward the darkened room they had exited.

James felt a chill through his body and his eyes water. He quickly pushed the lever toward up. A whirring noise, but they didn’t move. “What did you see?” James said in a hoarse whisper.

“I don’t know.”

“It was probably just a mouse or a rat.” James tried to convince himself more than Ben.

“The fuck, man. It wasn’t a rat, it was a heck of a lot bigger. Go, get us out of here.”

“I’m trying, it’s not working.” James said. He moved the lever multiple times, but it just whirred and he smelled burnt wiring. Then he saw a large, shadowy figure lope in from an adjacent doorway heading toward them. Ben shakily raised his flashlight and James caught a glimpse of inhumanly-large eyes before he—it dashed to the right out of the light, and out of view. Ben swung his flashlight back and forth searching for whatever they had just seen, but nothing stirred.

“What was that, a bear?”

James exhaled, realizing he had been holding his breath. “It, it wasn’t a bear, it moved so fast,” he swallowed, “but on two legs–” The screeching noise they heard before came again, though this time it sounded like it was right around the corner.

“Go, man, go!” Ben was near hysterics. James froze, his mind racing, trying to justify what had to have been some illusion or trick of the light.

“I. Can’t. Not working.”

“What is it that—oh shit—what is that thing?” Ben was whimpering.

A smell wafted into James nostrils, a stench like something mixed between rotten eggs and raw sewage. James swallowed down the vomit that tried to escape.

“Fuck, go!” Ben reached over and slammed the lever. In the down position. The car sped downwards, catching James stomach, forcing the chunks back up and onto the ground. He wiped his mouth and tried to get Ben off the lever, but he had an iron grip on the thing. James jabbed him in the stomach and the large man doubled over and let go. The handle reset back to its default off position, but they kept moving.

“What did you do? You idiot. We’re going down further.” The walls rushed by through the gates as they descended. “What the hell, how far does this go?” He tried moving the lever both ways, but it did nothing. They weren’t falling, thankfully. The speed wasn’t incredibly fast, but fast enough he thought they should have reached the bottom after the first twenty seconds. Ben huddled in the corner of the elevator.

“Ben.” James pushed on his shoulder and he flinched back more into himself.

After about a minute, the elevator came to an abrupt stop. James looked out into a brightly lit hallway. Where were they? How far had they gone underground? He tried the lever again for up or down. A low humming sound came from the lever, but they didn’t move. He sat down by Ben, wondering what they should do.

A flash of a grotesque face entered his mind, causing him to jump. Ben had jumped too.

“Ok, what was that?” Ben shuddered. “A face, a hideous face just appeared in my mind.”

“Yeah, me too,” James said. “I don’t know what’s going on, but let’s figure a way out of here.” Burying the image in his mind, he forced himself to believe it was his imagination. Some sort of hallucination. He shook off the queasiness that threatened to return and went over to Ben.

He shook Ben’s shoulder. “Come on, man, pull it together.” James grabbed his flashlight from the floor and checked to make sure it still worked.

“What was that thing? It’s eyes…This can’t be happening.”

“Look, I think there is a way out of here.”

“What do you mean?” He looked at James, blinking.

“This elevator is ancient and the call buttons weren’t working right?”

Ben nodded.

“Okay, there are bright lights and this vestibule area looks modern. I don’t think whoever is using this underground bunker, or whatever it is, would even be able to use this elevator. Look around in here, the floor is filthy. Out there, is clean, which means people. Come on.” James opened the gates and Ben stood up. He looked better and the color had returned to his face.

“Okay, but where are we?”

“We’re probably in a secret government facility. The Kenway Company has been around since the early 1900’s. I’m sure they did lots of contractual testing for the government.” James walked out into the extremely clean and white foyer area. The humid air had a metallic taste to it like he’d licked a penny. Ben followed, clutching his broken flashlight. A slight breeze blew from the elevator shaft behind them, causing a low whistle.

The emerald colored door had a golden plate next to it but no handle. Having a hunch, he pressed his hand on the plate. The hall became unnaturally quiet. James turned to find a wall behind them. He turned back and the door in front of them was gone, revealing a hallway, the same brilliant white as where they stood.

They walked slowly down the corridor, the lighting flipping on ahead of them as they continued. The hall was different than any of the laboratories James had seen on the rest of the Kenway campus. The walls were silver like metal, but gave no reflection. The doors, spaced apart evenly, had no door handles, only the small, gold plates next to them. These had markings he could only compare to as hieroglyphs.

“This looks like we’re in an X-Files episode,” Ben said and coughed for a few seconds.

“Yeah, but this is better than back toward that thing above us. Not that we have a choice anyway.” James started coughing too.

“Why do I feel like I just ate a battery?” Ben said and smacked his lips between coughs.

“I don’t know. Something in the air.” He coughed more and then had a hard time stopping. Ben gasped for breath. James turned to go back, but another, closer wall had appeared and blocked their retreat. When he faced back toward Ben, he lay crumpled on the ground.

“Ben?” he whispered. His breath came in short rasps. The lights started going out one by one toward him. He couldn’t catch his breath and kept coughing. His hand felt wet and when he looked at it, saw blood. He continued coughing and more blood spewed. He passed out before the last light went dark.


James woke. His head hazy, he tried to sit up, but he couldn’t move. He couldn’t feel anything. He was paralyzed. His vision was at an angle and he could see from side to side. The room was dimly lit with a blue glow. The ceiling was low and he felt like if he could stand up, he’d hit his head on it. The walls were made of a partially clear material. To the left he could see through to several more rooms before it became too opaque to see through. All had tables with bodies lying on them. He recognized Ned first, his skin pale, and another security officer whose name he couldn’t remember. He could make out several more uniformed figures, but there were people in regular street clothes too.

James looked in the other direction and there a body lay without a head, it’s clothing ragged and bloodied. He knew who it belonged to. Blood soaked the front of Ben’s shirt. He wanted to scream out, to demand he be freed. But he couldn’t. He tried to shut his eyes, but his eyelids refused to obey. This had to be a nightmare. It couldn’t be real. Why would someone at the government capture and behead them? What kind of people do that?

A series of mechanical clicks sounded from in front of him. James focused on the area the sound came from. Another blue overhead light came on, illuminating a corner. Two blocky figures that were at most 4 or 5 foot tall, but wide as linebackers, appeared through a doorway. The shiny red clothing they wore reflected unnaturally bright. James tried to make out their faces but it was too dark. Their shapes resembled the figure they had saw from the elevator.

They stood in front of a console and faced each other, making a clicking noies back and forth. Then one of them made the terrifying screeching noise James and Ben had heard from before. James strained his eyes and the room brightened some. He could then make out what he could only guess was a face. The figures had no head or neck. Instead, the face protruded out from the top of the torso. The eyes were large, and emitted a crimson glow from them. There was no nose and a maw which looked like a owl’s mouth, opened and closed slowing, emitting a tinny clicking. Occasionally one would gesture toward James.

‘Hey!’ James tried to yell out. But he couldn’t speak. ‘What is this? Let me go.’ But he could only speak in his mind. The creatures stopped and stared at James for a few moments. Their eyes gleamed and threatened to blind him. He turned away and they began clicking again. Out of his peripheral, James watched one staring at him and the other move to the opposite corner which was too dim to see well.

“Click click click…” Tinny and hollow and completely inhuman.

James turned back to look at the monster. It glared at him and pressed the console in front of it. James didn’t know how, but he was now able to move. He rose off the bed.

The second creature came back over to the console, clicking at the first.

The first made a motion that almost looked like nodding, if it’d had a neck.

James tried to talk again, but still couldn’t. What was going on? They were clearly talking to each other.

The first clicked some more to the second. The noise increased in speed and intensity.

The second interjected and seemed irritated. It picked up a tray that held a large ball of hair matted with dark red.

The first pushed the second and the ball of hair fell to the floor and rolled over to James. It was then he realized it was a human head. The scalp flapped around as it rolled, revealing its empty cavity where a brain used to be. It stopped just a few feet from James, the face towards him. He stared at the empty gaze of the eyes looking back at him. The face on the head didn’t register for a second, but then James realized he was looking at his own facial features. Realization taking hold, he spun around and saw a headless body lying on the bed. It was his body strapped down. He looked back down to his head on the floor, panicking. He swung around the room, trying to make sense of what was happening until he saw the coiled wiring and metal arm extending from the ceiling leading into whatever mechanism fed the image to his brain. He screamed, but the sound only filled his disembodied mind.

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