Hunger: Chapter Five

As the shrieking cry rattled through the area, Raul felt his courage shrivel up and fall away. The space lost its dreamy qualities. Raul no longer felt a haziness pressing on his mind and for a second he had to wonder if this was real. As the six, inhumanly tall and slender birds crept nearer, Raul realized he might just be awake. Yet, if he weren’t dreaming, then he was in more danger than any he had been in before. Even were the birds not interested in eating human flesh, they could very well rip him to shreds and leave him for dead.

Raul’s eyes shot around in his head, he had to find something to defend himself with or it was over for him. There wasn’t anything floating about besides plant and mushrooms, but just beyond the grate, he remembered there were bones. A bunch of thin, frail pup bones wouldn’t do much good but it would be something. Wriggling fingers through the grates, Raul laid hands on the rib cage and pulled it at the metal full force. The bones broke apart, giving Raul a cluster of shivs he could bury in one of the birds but that was becoming less of a concern. His fingers were felling and almost resembling a jelly as he pulled them back through the grate.

They became hard to control, nearly impossible to keep closed with any grip on the ribs bones, but most especially, they were peeling. Like a bundle of bananas the outer skin was coming loose in dense strips that almost made Raul puked. He could see the meat beneath the flesh and it almost looked like it had turned brown. The sepia fingers still swung around and flung the rib bones in the beak of the bird before Raul took flight. His mind raced acknowledging he wouldn’t have stood a chance toe to toe with one of those things in the first place but with his body growing limp Raul was surely dead. Out running them seemed a death wish just waiting to be completed but he had to try. The third wet lab had a stairwell, where Raul couldn’t approximate from the lower floor, but he’d have to find it if he wanted to survive.

As he burst into a sprint, Raul could feel his other limbs go wobbly like his fingers had just seconds prior. And before he knew it, the other five birds were rushing after him going at least his speed if not faster. The only real upside to it all was that the floor did not dip down as the second lab’s had. It was a smooth, even run but then as Raul passed the center, that was disrupted by a sudden splash. Raul hadn’t realized what had decended from on high just before him, too busy looking around at the birds, but before he ran headlong into, he saw the ice.

The block of solid ice was easily taller than Raul by a couple of feet and was twice his width. Had he not seen it when he had, Raul would have crashed into the block and been snatched up by the birds. Instead, he narrowly swerved the ice as steam began to rise from its base, a hissing and popping sound booming from the contact. There may have been something in it, Raul decided as he kept on is way, the shadows in the lower part of the labs were misleading at times but he could have sworn he saw an outline. Something unmistakable humanoid, but for all Raul could worry it was the furthest thing from his mind. On the far side of the room was the steel staircase leading up to the platform, he was almost home free.

The birds spiraled around the block, their pace slowing momentarily as their unearthly crowing took a strange turn. Raul didn’t bother even glancing back, he knew he would be face to face with a set of those bizarre teeth if he did. Nearly sliding passed the first step, Raul launched himself up the stairs hitting every third footfall just barely before leaping again. The metallic echo of his boots against the grated steps sounded off before being echoed by a bony scrapping against the stairs. As he turned on the platform midway down, Raul caught a glimpse of all six birds clustered around the first steps. Their leader had gotten its talons stuck in the grate, making it impossible for the others to push forward. It swapped its fellows back whenever they tried push and shove, likely because any movement was damaging its hooked nail.

With a lunge, Raul cleared the chain gate that sectioned off the stairs from the rest of the lab. On the outside of the stairs, parallel with the chain were two scanners almost like what would stand at the exit of any department store. The second Raul cleared them the lights on top of them began spinning, flashing yellow then red, caution and danger. Before he could get to his feet, Raul saw a dense black iron door clamp shut on the exit. It looked like something off of a submarine for how impenetrable it appeared. Raul ran to it, unsure how long the birds would halt in their pursuit. Putting all his weight into turning the wheel on the center of the door he couldn’t get it to budge. Cold-sweat, colder than all of that which already drenched him, sliced down his spine. Raul had no where to go this time and would certainly be taking a talon to the guts or more likely have his face hollowed out by those terrifying teeth. Yet, Raul was no coward, he would face this end on his feet and face first.

Turning on his heel, Raul fell against the door awaiting for the pain to start or blood to flow and splatter. Rather than any of the terrors that could have afflicted him, Raul was met with an empty platform, save for the equipment and tables. He felt like his brain was turning into a dense pudding, his mind was lost and either he was utterly delusional or the birds gave up their chase. Looking through the grates of the floor, Raul could see some of them milling about in the fucshia colored water. Most of them were there, five of them, sticking close to the block of ice. The cube was wearing down with haste and more steam was rising by the second but where was the third bird. Creeping closer to the stairs and peering over the railing, Raul found it, still stuck in the grates.

With a dry rasp, Raul coughed out what could hardly be considered a laugh, until finally moisture slick his throat once more. He began to cackle madly at the stuck creature which hissed and cried up at him with fury and hatred. Raul couldn’t think of anything funnier than seeing something so dreadfully terrifying as one of those birds become stuck in such an absurd manner. The moment caught him all at once and even the thought of his skin peeling back on his fingers eluded Raul then. Finally, as his throat ran dry again and he fought for breath, Raul’s reality set back in.

The birds may be trapped down below, perhaps even stuck until their leader ventured to break off the talon or the others set him. That latter option seemed less than likely as all of the leader’s peers fell away and didn’t seem interested in returning. But even if they did not, Raul was trapped behind that blast door with no means of opening. Still, more important than the door was the problem in Raul’s body. Though the worms had been helpful in this unprecidented situation, they were still an infestation of parasites within him. He still wanted them purged but as that thought crossed his mind, Raul’s stomach gargled at him. Now, he realized, the worms weren’t the biggest issue, starvation was, at that moment. And with no knowledge of when anyone may return, Raul was going to have to make some drastic moves just to keep from starving over the weekend. That was, if it was the weekend anymore. Raul wished he kept his grandfather’s watch now instead of pawning it because without it, time was uncertain. A day could have passed, a few hours, three weeks, Raul couldn’t know for certain, but he did know he needed food.

Cocking his head to the side, he examined the thin, frail looking bird creature as it fought against that first wrung. They were humanoid sure, and likely enough some of their dna was that of another person but was it the same as eating another human? The question really was, could Raul live with that knowledge he had eaten what was essentially a human? It was that or he wouldn’t be living much longer at all which also took care of any fear he had for being ripped and torn by one of the monsters. Though for all the rash thinking Raul was doing, he wouldn’t go at the bird, captive or not, without any means to slay it.

Looking over the tables and racks that were welded onto the platform, Raul found any number of tools that could quickly be made weapons. Syringes carrying god knows what were a choice, but a poison could contaminant the flesh. There were hand saws, possibly for cutting through bone but that seemed a method that would cost too much time. A cleaver of sorts sat smiling up at Raul, he slid that in his belt as a sort of fallback. Then he came across a long, narrow blade attached to a motor that looked to be the medical equivalent of a chainsaw. It was no crude device, but something that seemed to have been manufactured and for the express purpose of slicing flesh and bone in one go. Undoubtedly, if the prospect of cutting into one of those birds with a chainsaw wasn’t incentive enough, seeing those hungry teeth on the saw certainly the clencher. Examining the rest of the tables, Raul found nothing more or less useful than what he had. If only he could capture on of the birds and strap them to one of the racks that sat at every corner of the platform. That was asking too much though, just eating would be enough for Raul at the moment.

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