Twenty Floors Down – Chapter 6

“This is it.” Jeremy tested the headlamp and tightened the belt around his waist.

“Testing. Does this thing work?”

Jon’s voice came through Francisco’s earpiece, and he adjusted the volume down. “Works,” he said. He looked both Jon and Jeremy up and down, eyeing their equipment. A belt with a filled water canteen, a couple of protein bars, and a pouch with some gauze and bandages. Headlamps, ear-pieces with built in microphones for communication, a tactical knife, and of course the hand guns that they had only learned to fire with minimal accuracy a few hours prior. “Andrei?”

“Yes. Works.” Andrei’s voice came through his earpiece as well from his position in the computer room.

“The video feed is live?”

“Yes. Looking at it now.”

Francisco closed his eyes and visualized the map of the first floor he had did his best to memorize in the short time that he had, as well as the look at the apartments that he, Jon, and Jeremy had gotten when Andrei had found the camera surveillance program that was live on the first floor, as Barnabas had said. He turned back to the rest of the group, now including Martin, watching a short distance away from the square pillar. “Sofia on standby?”

She nodded, a makeshift nursing station set up a few meters away. Barnabas had been quick with the supplies.

“Turn on your earpiece too, please. We’ll let you know if anything happens that requires immediate medical attention.”

She nodded again, and messed with the equipment in her ear.

He turned back to Jeremy and Jon. “All right. And we’re clear on the plan?”

“Go down to floor one. Look around. See if there’s anything useful. Get back up,” Jon said. “Easy.”

“No hostiles expected, both from the report and initial camera surveillance,” Jeremy said.

Francisco nodded. “All right then. Any last minute concerns?”

Both shook their heads.

Francisco sighed and took the key out of his pocket. He approached the control panel, sliding the key in and giving it a turn. A red LED light changed to green, causing his heart to start pumping. This was really it.

He pushed the rubber button with the key symbol on it, and an audible hiss and click sounded from behind the stairway door. He turned back to the others. “We ready?”

Jeremy nodded, and Jon pounded his fist into his hand. “Let’s do this.”

Francisco looked back one last time at the worried faces of the remainder of the group, took a deep breath, and pushed on the bar handle. It slid open without a sound, and almost immediately a heavy air seemed to spill out from the other side. He started to breathe faster, and wondered if the others could feel it as well.

He took a step forward, stopping at the threshold to peer inside. The stairway itself was picturesque, and nothing like he visualized in his mind. The walls were painted white, and the overhead floodlights filled the room with bright, pleasing light. And yet, the atmosphere grew even more oppressive with his tiny step forward.

Jon laughed from behind him. “Hardly a horror movie, is it?” He strode forward, bumping past Francisco and onto the landing that extended out several feet before the first step descended. It seemed he didn’t feel the heaviness in the air after all.

Francisco looked back at Jeremy, gestured for him to join them, and followed Jon into the landing. They entered, and the door slid shut behind them.

“This one isn’t so scary,” Jeremy said, looking over the railing. “It only goes down one floor.”

Francisco followed Jeremy’s gaze. At the bottom of the stairs was two doors, one leading into the living quarters, and the other one made of steel and leading to the lower levels, complete with a control panel like the one above.

“Right.” Jon started down the stairs. “Cuz they separated the experiments from the living quarters you said, right?”

“Yep.” Jeremy said. He and Francisco followed close behind Jon, and it wasn’t more than a few seconds than they had reached the landing for the first floor down.

Francisco approached the control panel to the second door. The LED shone red, and there was a slot for another key. He raised an eyebrow.

“Something wrong?” Jeremy asked.

“Another key goes here to turn on this control panel and unlock this door.”

“And you don’t have it?”

“I was given two keys. One to the bombs, and one for the top control panel.”

“You will receive the next key after today’s excursion.” A familiar, distorted voice came through their earpieces, sending a shiver down Francisco’s spine.


“Figures he’d be listening,” Jon said.

Francisco did his best to calm his nerves and looked up at the camera on the ceiling. He waved at it. “Andrei, can you see us?”

“Yes.” Came the reply.

“All right. We’re entering the living quarters now.” With that, Francisco gripped the handle and pulled the door outward. In front of him extended a long, dark hallway with doors dotting the sides. The hallway ran a distance before branching off horizontally to either side several times as it continued, leading to other hallways and apartments. Francisco flipped on the light switch, and bulbs overhead illuminated the halls with the same pleasing light as the stairwell. “Let’s clear these hallways first,” he said, taking his gun into his hand. “Guns out.”

The two men nodded and unholstered their guns.

Francisco started forward, looking at each door as he passed it, until he came to the first fork. He gestured to either side, and Jeremy and Jon nodded and started down opposite sides. Francisco continued forward until he reached the second fork. He turned to the left and grunted in surprise, taking a step back. A few feet down the hall lay a rotting corpse.

“You all right?” Jon asked from the earpiece.

“Yes. Just found the corpse we saw on the camera. Forgot about it, I guess.”

“My hall is clear,” Jeremy said.

“Mine too,” said Jon.

“Ok. I’m down the second fork on the left. Jon head to me and go to the right, and Jeremy continue to the last fork.”


Francisco wrinkled his nose at the smell coming from the corpse, and gave it a wide berth as he continued down the hall. Flies buzzed around the rancid flesh, a clear bullet hole in its forehead. He shivered and continued down until he reached the end of the hall, and turned back.

After a few minutes, he, Jeremy, and Jon met back up at the end of the second fork.

“Thirty-two apartments,” Jon said. “We going through them all?”

“Yep,” Francisco said.

“Should we split up?” Jon asked. “It’ll go faster.”

“Cuz that’s always a great idea in the movies, eh?” Jeremy said.

“Don’t be a pussy,” Jon said. “They cleared out this level. I’m not saying we do it for the next floors.”

Jeremy looked to Francisco who shrugged.

“I don’t think it’s a problem. The documentation said they were very thorough.”

Jeremy grunted and turned on his heel, stopping at the first door. Jon smirked and approached a different one. Francisco once again started down the hall and stopped at the first door on the left. He tightened his grip on his gun, turned the handle, and pushed the door inward. No sound came from the hinges as it swung inward revealing a dark, lonely apartment within, barely illuminated by the light from the hallway. Francisco stuck his hand into the room and felt along the wall for the light switch, holding his breath as he flipped it on when he found it.

Jeremy’s voice came through the earpiece. “Nothing here so far in 24.”

“No shit,” said Jon. “Cameras and docs said there wouldn’t be anything. Maybe keep the line quiet unless you do find something or clear the whole apartment. This ain’t the movies.”

“Fuck off, dude,” said Jeremy, but then he went quiet.

Francisco grunted and turned his attention to the now illuminated studio apartment. It was much more upscale than he was expecting. Nice paintings, a kitchenette, a fridge, a king size bed, and more. Francisco eyed his surroundings and walked to the fridge. He gave a growl of disappointment when he opened it to reveal nothing inside. He opened all of the cabinets and drawers, but found them all empty.

“Not finding any supplies,” Francisco said. “I guess they were either taken out by the previous team or otherwise cleared out before our arrival.” He didn’t wait for a response before continuing forward. Living area, closet, bedroom space. Every nook and cranny was barren except for the furniture. “Why is everything so clean?” he asked.

“Hey, Matthew here. One of the documents said they cleared out the bodies because they were potentially looking to move their living spaces down there.”

“You’d think they’d have taken care of that one in the hallway,” Jon said.

“That corpse was one of them.”

Francisco’s hair stood on end at Barnabas’ voice coming through his earpiece. “Them being the previous team, you mean?”


Francisco remembered the bullet wound to the head and reaffirmed his position of keeping the weapons under lock and key until they descended or for practice. He shook his head and went back to the room, but it wasn’t long until he had searched the place from top to bottom, coming up empty handed. “28 is clear. I’m moving to the next one. Nothing of note.”

“Roger,” Jon said.

“Noted in the documentation,” Matthew said.

One by one, the three men went through the apartments, but found each telling the same empty story. Finally, after what seemed like hours later, the group converged on the last apartment.

“Last one,” Jeremy said. “Let’s get this done and get out of here.” He wasted no time in opening the door and switching on the light.

Francisco blinked in surprise. The apartment was disheveled, with furniture overturned and shards of glass and blood strewn about on the floor. He gulped and squeezed his gun to reassure himself. Neither Jeremy nor Jon started forward. With a deep breath, Francisco stepped into the apartment, eyes daring to every corner of the room.

“So Matthew, something different to note here.”

“I see it,” Matthew said. “We’re watching on the computer screen with Andrei.”

“I’ll take the living area,” Francisco said. “Jon take the kitchen and Jeremy the bedroom area.” They nodded and Francisco walked to the bed, glass crunching under his boot with each step. He had just begun his search when Jeremy’s loud voice took his by surprise.

“Jesus fucking Christ!”

Both Francisco and Jon whipped around to face their comrade, who backed several steps away from the closet door he had just opened.

“What is it?” Jon asked, rushing to Jeremy’s side. He took a peek in the closet and winced. “Goddamn.”

Francisco joined them and held back a retch. A dead woman in her late twenties was wrapped head to toe in plastic wrap, face frozen in horror, and a bullet wound in her chest. He started trembling but forced away the urge to hyperventilate.

“Matthew,” he said, voice shaking. “We’ve found a body. Completely covered in plastic wrap.”

“Jesus. Dead I presume?”



“Hard to tell. She also seems to have been shot in the chest.”

“That would be the previous hacker,” Barnabas’ garbled voice said through the headset. “I request that you bring both corpses to the supply room for disposal.”

“Stone cold, man.” Jon rubbed his temple and groaned.

Jeremy walked to the couch and sat down, putting his face in his hands. His shoulders shook and he sobbed quietly. Francisco walked over to him and put a hand on his shoulder, saying nothing.

“I’ll uh–” Jon’s voice cracked and he closed the closet door. “I’ll finish searching the room and then we can decide how to get these bodies out.” He went back to the kitchen and began rummaging around.

Jeremy let out a deep sigh and looked up at Francisco, eyes moist and red. “Francisco,” he whispered.

Francisco looked down at him. “Yes?”

“I don’t want to die here, man,” he said.

Francisco looked at the ground and swallowed.

“I really don’t want to put all of this on your shoulders,” Jeremy said from beside him, “but you’re the leader. I know you can’t promise me that we won’t die from anything down here that tries to hurt us, but you really need to be on top of making sure we don’t turn on each other like they did.”

Francisco’s heart pounded in his chest and his mouth ran dry. He said nothing, but after some time he looked up and gave Jeremy’s shoulder a squeeze. “We won’t. I’ll make sure of it.” There was silence, and Francisco wondered what the others were thinking. Given the earpieces everyone could hear their conversation, but nobody had saw fit to comment.

“Right.” Jeremy stood and wiped his eyes with his sleeve. “We’ve got a job to do. Let’s finish this and get out of here. Jon? Give me a hand?” He walked back to the closet and opened the door. “Let’s take this up. We’ll come back down for the other one. Maybe bring a heavy blanket or something so we don’t have to touch it since it’s not…wrapped like this one.”

Jon nodded and the two men maneuvered the body out of the closet. They turned it face down and began carrying her out of the apartment. Francisco stepped out of their way, but then walked back to the closet to look at the empty space the body had once occupied. Several bullet holes lined the wall. Tears sprang to his own eyes, but he shook his head vigorously to force them away. Jeremy was right. He was the leader. He was responsible to make sure that they didn’t kill each other.

“Francisco?” Jon said from behind him. “You want to get the door?”

“Yeah,” he took one last glance at the bullet holes in the wall. “I’m coming.”