We didn’t have much time. The sandstorm was getting closer. The wind howled in the distance, grains of sand bounced off my cloak and goggles. But we were already at the hatch. I entered the combination and pulled the lever. The door gave way.
We entered the dank, dark corridor, closing the hatch behind us. I took out a glowstick from my bag, pulling back my hood and goggles. The faint greenish light illuminated the metal walls of the tunnel in front of me. The light only reached about seven feet. Everything beyond that was dark.
I heard Barbas rummaging in his bag. A second later I caught the luminescent greenness of another glowstick with the corner of my eye. “This bunker looks nothing like ours, Aidan, does it,” he said with his singsong voice. That annoying voice. I was dreading the moment we’d be back within walls where the sandstorm would no longer prevent us from speaking.
“Would you kindly shut up, Barbas?”
“Oh come on,” he said as we walked on. I could hear him smile. “Don’t be like that. I’m just trying to start a conversation. I just like talking to you, you know? And since we got sent on this mission together, why not make the most of it?”
He put his hand on my shoulder. I stopped and grabbed it, turned around, twisting the hand in the process, and looked him straight in those large, mismatched eyes. “Touch me again and you’re dead.”
For some reason, Barbas would always follow me back in our bunker. But perhaps I wasn’t the only one. He was new, having transferred only a few weeks back. Most people loved him. What everyone enjoyed about him – his jokes, his face, his voice – only served to annoy me. I wanted nothing to do with him, even less than with anyone else. I was shocked he got sent on this mission with me. The higher-ups knew I worked best alone. Others only served to slow me down. And yet, here I was, stuck with this imbecile.
For an imbecile, it was pretty surprising how well he found his way around the bunker. It was painful for me to admit, but he turned out pretty useful. I would have met my premature end on more than one occasion if it weren’t for his quick reactions and near telepathic awareness of our surroundings. As we edged closer and closer to our destination, I began to feel I was in good hands. I think I trusted him.
After walking countless crossroads, we were finally there. A large metallic door, a metal plaque right in the middle. “Heads, no. 1,” Barbas read out loud. “This the place?”
“Yes,” I nodded.
“What does that even mean?”
“I don’t know. That’s why we were sent here.”
“Yes, that’s true,” I could see him grin slightly. Paying it no mind, I pulled the lever. With a metallic clank, the door opened.
“I can’t see anything,” I said as I went in. I heard the door close behind me, followed by the sound of a glowstick breaking in half. “Barbas?” There was no answer.
My light source was running out. I could barely see a foot around me. Surrounded by darkness, hearing nothing but a drop of water falling on the metallic surface, I started to walk, hoping to find the wall. The pale green light was fading away. I could barely see my hands. That’s when I tripped and fell. I landed on a stack of something hard, smooth, fragile. The glowstick that fell out of my hand showed me exactly what I was lying on. Skulls. The floor was covered in skulls.
“Fuck,” I whispered, my heart beating fast, breath shallow. Then I saw a shoe. It was familiar. Regular issue shoe, the same we all wore in the bunker. Standing in it was someone I couldn’t see. Only their shoe was illuminated in the fading green light. But I wasn’t stupid. I knew who it was. “Help me up, Barbas.”
“I’m really sorry, Aidan, but I can’t do that,” he said in his regular jovial tone. “I’m supposed to make sure you stay here.”
It all made sense now. That’s why they sent him on a mission with me, even though they knew I worked better alone. One thing was still unclear. “But why?”
“You’ve served your purpose well, but they’re done with you. Someone with your skill can only serve as a hindrance in the approaching time of peace. Don’t worry, though. I’ll make it painless.”
I heard a clank as his weapon hit the ground next to me. My quick reflexes saved me once again. I managed to grab it and wrestle it out of his hands. He was so, so much weaker than me. Was he really responsible for all the skulls in this place? I found that hard to believe. He went down so easy. He went down so silently. He lay there motionless, no longer talking, somewhere on the ground. I couldn’t see him. The glowstick had run out of fuel. I lost my bag somewhere. I had no more light.
Everything was dark.