Things quieted down for a while after that. We still did plenty of firearms training, the daily run, hand-to-combat and various stretches. We also started on first aid like CPR, dealing with concussions, shock, and dealing with bleeding. Not much about stuff you’d have to deal with in the states like allergic reactions and seizures, though.
The weapons-training was getting insane. They started adding random explosions to the mix, moving targets and all sorts of insane stuff, and if we couldn’t do it we would be kept after until we could do it. The only thing we could take breaks for was the run. If we had to miss meals or sleep, then oh well.
There was this one exercise that was the bane of our existence. Targets would run move towards you at huge speeds. You would have an M9 (we had been introduced to pistols at this point) and we’d have to knock them down by shooting them before they could get to us. This wouldn’t be so bad if they were slower. Or if there weren’t so many. We literally needed someone to load the magazine while another person shot the targets, that’s how long we were expected to hold out. Eric and I did it for twelve hours straight, firing so many rounds that we actually overheated a pistol.
The exercises where we had to shoot targets from a distance as they popped up were actually kind of fun, even when the explosions were going off. Especially when explosions were going off. The time when they dragged the M-16s behind the truck without telling us and upping the number of targets we needed to hit while simultaneously lowering the time limit was bullshit, though.
Something disturbing I noticed, (apart from the school’s approach to law and order) was the rapidly lowering temperature. As if this place wasn’t awful enough, it was similar temperature-wise to my home state.
One day, when we were breaking down some FALs and Smith and Wesson revolvers, Doc brought it up. “Man,” he said, “it’s getting so cold!”
We had recently been issued compasses. These particular ones also had analog thermometers. I pulled mine out. “It’s about fifty-five degrees, that’s not too cold.”
“It isn’t fifty-five!” Ray-Gun said. “Fifty-five is what you cook an egg at!”
“Sorry,” I said, “I’m using Fahrenheit. You guys are probably used to Celsius.”
“There are other ways of measuring temperature?” The Monk asked. He seemed genuinely confused by this realization.
“Yeah…” John said, “America uses different measurements for that. It’s probably around thirteen degrees Celsius.”
“That is not much above freezing,” The Monk said. He looked worried.
“It actually is a heck of a lot above freezing,” I said. “At least in American measurements. We think of it as being twenty-three degrees above freezing. You think of it being twelve degrees above freezing.” I paused. “Have you ever been in a place where it was freezing?”
“You mean where water turns hard?” The Monk asked. “No. I have never been in a place like that.”
John, Cross, and I all exchanged looks. We were all from the North Eastern states. It would be arrogant to say we knew cold as we all were well-off enough to afford heating and warm coats. But I was willing to bet we all had been outside in sub-freezing temperatures. “Hopefully,” I said, “we won’t have to deal with doing a run in those temperatures.”
“Very slim hope,” MC Disaster said. He had been cleaning his weapons the entire time. “When we did the campus tour, they told us that it can get down to twenty below. I am pretty sure they meant Celsius.”
I groaned. “I fucking hate the cold!”
Suddenly, Professor Blunt came in over the loudspeaker. “Greetings, maggots!” He said. “Next week is the last week in October! You wimps know what that means!”
Someone shouted out, “No, we don’t!” A few people laughed.
“That’s right!” Blunt said. “It’s time for The Chamber of Horrors!” Half the people there laughed, the other half made noises of disappointment and apprehension.
“Well, that sounds fun!” Both John and I said this at the exact same time and in the exact tone of voice.
Professor Blunt continued on. “For those of you who don’t know what this is, there’s a building by the counselor’s cabin that smells like rotting meat. You dress-up playing little toy soldiers are going to get to visit it, section by section. Also, have you ever wanted a puppy? Well, you’ll be getting more puppies you can fucking handle! It’s a goddamn shame that they’re conditioned to kill anyone they see!”
“Oh joy,” I said. “We get to be in a room filled with rotting meat and rabid dogs.”
“They are probably not rabid,” The Monk said in voice so calm I irrationally wanted to punch him. “They would have to lose too many students to bites. We don’t pay tuition if we die this semester.”
“We’ll still get infected in that place,” John said. “That rotting meat? Has to be filled with germs.”
The rest of the week was very uneventful, although we did have a fire alarm at two in the morning. When that happened, I literally wanted to kill someone. I guessed so did everyone else. We were not told to line up in formation, so oddly enough I ended up overhearing Richard and Kyle talking. Well, more like Richard giving and what remained of his group listening skeptically. They seemed to have (unsurprisingly) taken heavy casualties.
“…These people,” Richard said, “they think they know America. They don’t. And the changes for us they have in store are against everything we stand for! If they want to corrupt their own country, go for it, I won’t stop them, but our country? Hell. No.” He punched his hand for emphasis on the last two words. I turned away. The only other way I would get through the night without punching him would be if the group he was talking about were time-traveling Nazis or something.
Before I knew it, it was the big day. Everyone was called and ordered to line up in parade positions. Professor Blunt was MCing again, which made me wonder if Professor Zemylachka got the big things off to go back to campus and get a few drinks or something. Again, he was guarded by Campus Security in riot gear.
“Here’s how it works,” Professor Blunt said. “We will call you out by section. You will then enter the Chamber of Horrors. After the being cleared by the medical staff, you will return to your bunks without speaking to anyone. While you wait, you must remain in formation! If you want to cheer on your friends, you may! However, you are not allowed to sit or break formation!”
Yay. A long time with Salim standing right next to me.
Surprisingly, it went a lot better than expected, seeing as Salim did not say a word to me. I didn’t want to comment on this or even acknowledge his presence for fear of him ceasing to ignore me.
We stayed like this for quite a long time. I would say that each group was in there about an average of two hours. I also noticed that each group took a long time, maybe an average of two hours, to go in. Also, I noticed that they seemed to be saving the Seven for last. I didn’t really comment on that with Eric.
There was also the screaming. I really didn’t like the screaming. There was also some shouting from the Chamber of Horrors, as well as a few growls, yips, howls, and other dog noises, but the screaming was much worse. However, after several hours of waiting, just standing was worse. I would shift weight from one foot to the other to balance out the pain.
Another pattern I noticed was that the only person who didn’t seem uncomfortable was Ulfric. Well, he was a little antsy, but I got the feeling that he wanted to be in the Chamber of Horrors. Every time there was a scream, he’d giggle. Every time a group would pass, he’d say, “Good luck! Have fun!”
By the time our section had been called, the sun had set and risen again. Judging by the fact I had stopped being hungry without eating anything, I only had missed lunch and dinner.
When we started moving, my legs burned with pain. Of course, that had been how they felt before, so nothing much had changed. Judging by the occasional groan I heard from other people, I wasn’t the only one.
After the traditional well-wishes from Ulfric, a group of Campus Security directed us to the Chamber. As we got closer, we began to smell rotting meat. Not the rotting meat smell you get from shipping a steak via the post office, but the kind of smell when you’ve left something out so long not even vultures or maggots would want to get into it.
We got onto a ramp leading to the building’s door. The door itself was like the vault door of a bank: large, circular, and imposing. The smell inside made us all gag. Now, to give you some perspective, of the twenty or so people in the group, I think I might have been the only one to have come from what an average American would have called “the good life.” I can’t say that Eric and his group were the norm, but they were probably closer to the norm than I was. One, I was pretty sure had talked about how he had worked in a slaughterhouse. Still, none of us could deal with the stench.
“Here it is,” one of the guards said. “Get in.”
“Are you kidding?” The guy who had worked in the slaughterhouse asked. “This is the definition of unsanitary!” That surprised me. The stories he told about that place had been downright nightmarish. If he didn’t think something was sanitary, the meat probably turned toxic long before today.
In response, our escort cocked their weapons. Six P90s and two M-249 LMGs were now primed and pointed at us. “Ok,” I said, a little bitterly, “we get the picture.” I walked up the ramp, flipping the guards off as I did so. “Hope you enjoy your sleep tonight.”
“You will thank us one day,” one of the guards said. The only response he got was someone spitting at him. They did not react.
The interior of the Chamber of Horrors was every bit as nightmarish as the name suggested it was. I’ll start with the nicer parts and work my way up to the horrifying stuff.
The room was composed of animal parts lit by fluorescent lights. Towers of chopped-up cows and pigs were piled everywhere. The towers were of varying heights. Some were only up to my waist, some only stopped at the ceiling. This contrasted rather strangely with the cleanroom feel of the white walls. Looking at these meat mountains, however was better than considering what we were standing in.
You see, the reason we had to go up about a half a story was because there was an unidentified liquid or goo covering the floor that went up a bit past my shins. It was a strange, sickly green substance. On the one hand, its consistency saved my much-abused knees from the drop. On the other, it was completely unidentifiable and felt like Jell-O. Blood and the bodies of some of the previous people floated on top of it, as well as various dogs.
However, that still wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was the smell. It was probably the most awful thing you could ever smell, the stink literally burning my nostrils. Many people, even the slaughterhouse guy, vomited instantly upon entering the room. The vomit, like the dog and people corpses, floated in the unidentifiable muck. People would then try to move towards the vomit and blood because that smell was better than the room’s ambient stench.
I sat on a pile on a nearby pile of rotting meat. “Killer!” Eric said, after he was done removing what little food he had left in his stomach, “What is wrong with you?”
“My knees are killing me,” I said, “and I’m pretty sure we’re going to have to climb those,” I pointed to one of the taller meat mountains, “if we’re going to live.”
“He is right,” Salim said. Everyone turned to face him. His burned, eyepatched face was glowering as usual, though this time it wasn’t directed at a person. I followed his gaze. He was looking at a camera. “They,” he said, referring to our educators, “think it is easy to kill. They believe surviving is harder. They are giving us two choices: either do something more distasteful than killing or die. Either way, they win.”
“My take?” I said. “We get to choose if we win as well.” I stood up, which was a mistake. After my spasm of pain, I said, “When the dogs come in, these meat mountains should provide some defense. Also gives us a chance to find a bone or something to use as a weapon.”
“Distasteful as it is agreeing with you,” Salim said, “you are right.”
“Do we really have to climb these?” Someone else asked. “Can’t we just make our stand here?”
“I am no detective,” Eric said, “But there seems to be a lot of bodies down in this goop, and not a lot on the piles.” He walked a bit further into the room. “Now, the bodies could have floated away, but most of the dog corpses are around the base of or on the piles. Most of the dead people… are where we are currently standing.” He shrugged. “Maybe I am wrong, but I want to be in a place that kills more dogs than people.”
As soon as he finished speaking, an alarm began to blare. Everyone began to clamber up a meat mountain. I went to the one Eric and his crew were heading for. Before I started climbing, I asked them, “Did you bring your weapons?”
“Yes, my friend,” The Monk said. “However, you will have to find your own weapon.” As I climbed, I looked for a suitable weapon. Finally, I found a large bone. It was wedged in really tight. Instead of doing the smart thing and waiting, I pulled harder.
“Leave it, you fool!” Doc yelled.
He was too late. As soon as he finished calling me a fool, it popped out. I had been using my legs as a brace, so I fell backwards. There honestly was no way I could have regained my balance, so the fact that half the meat mountain fell away just added insult to injury.
I hit the green sludge at the bottom with a sickening splat. I opened my mouth to yell, letting a large gob of it in. I don’t think there are any words for how vile it tasted. I struggled to my feet. Every time I opened my eyes, the goop leaked in, burning them. At least my glasses were fine. I could still see.
After I was done gagging and spitting, I noticed something odd. The alarm had stop blaring. Then I heard the howl.