Lucas peered in through the broken pane of the abandoned airplane hangar. I stood a couple of paces behind him, my bottom lip held between my teeth.
"What do you see?" I asked, though there was a sudden pull in my gut that made me regret voicing that question.
"Come look for yourself," he exclaimed, glancing over his shoulder at me. "It's creepy as shit."
"Which is why I shouldn't be listening to what you have to say."
Lucas beckoned me forward once more when my feet stayed rooted firmly to the ground. "Seriously, Olivia, come look."
He only called me Olivia under two circumstances: when he was really mad or when he was trying to get me really mad since I hated my full name. Olivia Rosenthal: like some proper English Queen that was to be fitted into corsets and ball gowns, meanwhile, my attire rested solely on tight jeans, t-shirts, and beat up converse.
I stared at Lucas who had a hint of a grin on his face. He knew he had won and I knew it too as I approached the air hangar. From far away, it was sketchy. Up close it was even worse: a rusted shut front door and padlocks on all the others, crumbling brick, chipped paint to expose only more rust and dirt, fallen branches and the oddest thing, to me at least, a wooden bench. It was a few feet from the main entrance and appeared to be in the best shape when compared to the rest of the building. I was going to regret this, I knew.
And yet, I found myself peering into the same window on the door that Lucas had. To the right, my eyes were greeted with a flight of stairs leading up to a darkened floor. To the left, they were greeted with the words, "Property of the U.S. Government,” a few of the letters half missing due to what looked like bullet holes. This was etched into a wall that extended into a hallway which expanded into the space of the hangar. There were torn pages littering the ground, planks of wood, and empty cylinders.
I backed away, exhaling a breath I didn't know I was holding. "And they want to make this a recreational center?"
"Right?!" Lucas' tone held enthusiasm. "To be fair, I'm kind of upset that they are because the story behind this is pretty cool. It was used in World War II as a place for American planes to land and now they'll turn it into a museum or something."
"Or a circus," I gestured to the orange and red tent that was off in the distance alongside some construction trucks. The airplane hangar was on the opposite side of Fort Emerson field, a place that had been unused for years, though was a popular hangout spot for people to partake in activities they didn't want to be seen doing. The scattered needles, syringes, and condoms that Lucas and I came across gave evidence to such claims.
I had never been at Fort Emerson before, but Lucas enjoyed adventures. He also enjoyed knowing things that other people commonly didn't: like the reason you felt like you had to pee when in water was because your body thinks the liquid within it will freeze or that the entire population of the world could fit in to New York City if they stood shoulder to shoulder. So the fact he knew the reason as to why there was an unoccupied airplane hangar in the middle of a field just off the coast of a small brook wasn't anything out of the ordinary.
"We should go see the Circus."
"Another brilliant idea," I groaned, but Lucas was already moving, leaving me to choose between the circus and the airplane hangar.
I caught up to him. This place was enveloped in a world of quiet. There was no wind to disturb the leaves of the trees, the overgrown weeds, and the upturned pebbles of the damaged road. Lucas and I were the only signs of life.
"I wonder why they chose a circus," I commented.
"Maybe they want to make it family friendly." Lucas shrugged.
"To do that, they'll have to get rid of the hangar entirely and hire someone to clean up the garbage and yeah, I wouldn't bring my children here."
"Eh," Lucas paused, wrinkling his nose as he thought. "I probably would."
"Of course you would." I didn't bother listing all the reasons why that was a stupid idea. Instead, I tilted my head back and took in the clouds that suddenly made themselves known in the sky. There was something off about them. They were white, fluffy, but sharply defined as if someone had taken a pencil and marked off where each one began and ended. They seemed almost too lifelike to be real.
"Hey." My elbow lightly brushed into Lucas' side. "Do those clouds look as weird to you as they do to me?"
He pushed a few strands of his dark hair from his eyes. "Huh, a little bit... yeah. They look like clouds from a video game."
"So it's not just me?"
"No, though it would have been much more fun to pretend it was."
"I hate you."
The comment was ignored, all in good fashion. It was nearly impossible for me to hate Lucas, my best friend since middle school. We sat next to each other after our teachers had seated the class in alphabetical order. I had the habit back then, okay it hadn't really left, of muttering profanities and insults under my breath in response to the teachers or other students around me. Lucas heard about seventy five percent of them. Fast forward a few weeks of this cycle repeating and we were sitting together at lunch, hanging out in the school yard, going over to each others' houses. Our time was not as frequent now, both of us in our early twenties and attending university, so when we did see each other, we took advantage of it.
"Seriously, these clouds..."
Neither of us was able to pull our gazes from the clouds nor were we able to stop heading in the direction of the circus where the clouds were accumulated. The sky in the direction we had come from was a smooth sheet of blue.
"Why don't we forget the circus?" Except it wasn't that easy. My legs were drawn to it, one foot meticulously moving in front of the other. I wanted to stop. I knew I should.
"Oli?" Lucas' brow furrowed as if he had realized the same thing.
"We just need to turn around." My legs did not listen.
"Turn around. Got it."
"Yeah, turn around."
We were still proceeding forward until we heard the music. Music that caused me to jump, for I was used to Lucas' voice and only his. The song belonged to a cartoon, high pitched and cheerful. It was coming from the tent.
"What the actual f-?"
"Lucas, we need to go, now." Fear must have overwhelmed the spell on my legs. I felt like I had control of them again and before the opportunity vanished, I pivoted, and began running in the direction of the hangar.
I heard Lucas behind me, the pounding of his shoes against the concrete. My heart was beating rapidly, the pulse echoing against my temples.
I didn't come to a stop until I felt like there was a great enough gap between me and that goddamned tent.
As I gathered my breath, I realized that Lucas and I were once again the only noise makers in the entire field. The music had faded away. I couldn't have been imagining it. Could I? No. Lucas had heard it too.
He didn't speak for a few moments. He inhaled and exhaled. I studied the heavy rising and falling of his chest.
"Yeah. Yeah, fine. It was probably someone pulling a prank or -" He cut himself off. His eyes were hazed with doubt.
"This is why I need to stop listening to you." It was a joke that would hopefully lighten the mood.
"Don't even. What else would you be doing on a Sunday?"
"I'd be on my couch catching up on shows that wouldn't freak me the fuck out."
"I didn't hear you complaining." Lucas chuckled.
"Sorry, I'll file a proper complaint next time." My words were drenched with sarcasm.
Lucas gestured an open palm in my direction. "Thank you. That's all I ask. We've been friends for how many years, Oli? You should know the procedures by now."
"Why don't we get out of here so I can get on that? Besides, I've had enough of a tour for today."
There was a tug of Lucas' lips upward. I awaited his comeback with my arms crossed over my chest. I never received it for Lucas' eyes had widened and his expression went slack, the color fading from his skin.
"Lucas, what? What's the matter?"
"The a...airplane hangar. It's-"
"New..." I breathed, as I shifted my attention to the restored building. The paint was no longer chipped, the padlocks had been removed from the doors, and the window that both of us had looked through had been pieced back together. There was a low rumbling coming from the building.
I stared at Lucas, hoping he'd have some kind of explanation, though I knew that was impossible. This couldn't be someone messing around. No one could fix the rotting air hangar in the minutes that we had been traveling towards the --
I turned around, the same sense of compulsion from earlier washing over me as I searched for the red and orange tent.
It was gone along with the construction trucks. The only thing that remained on the field was the air hangar.
"You know what we have to do, right?"
"No." I protested. "Absolutely not."
"Look at it this way. Either we leave and figure out absolutely nothing or we go over there and put our minds at ease."
I wasn't sure there was anything that could remove the goose bumps from my arms or the chill that made itself home in my bones. Everything had happened so fast without a sign of explanation. Lucas had a point: that we would no longer be grasping for answers if we went to the source.
"Alright, but I don't like this."
"Neither do I." He met my gaze, his body still until he obtained confirmation from me, which was a hesitant nod of my head.
There still seemed to be nobody around the hangar, but that didn't stop us from muffling the sounds we made. We treaded lightly and held our breaths within our throats until we reached the entrance. A light lingered beneath the door.
I didn't know why, but I felt like I needed to take the risk. I pressed my nose against the glass of the window. The staircase was still encased in shadow. The light was coming from down the hallway. The empty space had been filled with desks. People, no, men in uniform sat at these desks writing, reading, and fiddling with machines that I didn't know the names of. Behind them were a handful of small planes with 'U.S. Air Force' painted on the side along with a blue sphere encasing a white star. Extending from both sides of the sphere were one red and one white line.
I sidestepped from the window, my back resting against the wall. Lucas glanced from me to the window and then back to me.
"There are soldiers in there, and planes; exact planes that were used in World War II. Even the uniforms are the freakin' same."
Lucas saw for himself and as he withdrew from the scene, his lips pressed into a thin line across his face. "We need to go inside, but the front door isn't an option."
"Thank you for that much needed information."
He didn't respond. Rather he began scanning the building for any signs of an opening. "There," he pointed upward.
I followed where he was pointing. There was an open window on the second story that we could fit through.
"I'll go first." I offered for two reasons: one, I knew there was no getting out of this. Two, I didn't want anything to happen to Lucas if this was a death trap.
"Oli, I can -"
"No. No. Just give me a lift."
Lucas obeyed, lowering down to one knee, his hand extended. I placed my foot carefully in his palm and I rose up in a quick sweep. My fingers grasped onto the window sill and I pulled myself up as best as I could. I dropped onto the floor with a thud, too loud in my opinion, though nothing happened. No one rushed upstairs. An alarm didn't sound. I was seated on the floor of a darkened hallway. There were a couple of doors that lined each side and then the stairs that led to what I assumed to be the entrance we couldn't get in.
I had almost forgotten about Lucas until I heard 'psst' from below. I scrambled to my feet and extended both of my arms outward. "Get your footing and I'll pull you up." Hopefully, I added silently to myself.
Lucas' foot nestled in between a gap in the cement and brick. Once he was close enough to me, I grabbed hold of him under his armpits and yanked him upward as hard as I could. He knocked into me as he came through the window, his chest pressing against mine. I pushed him off with a grunt and listened again for any disturbance from below.
It didn't come. Thank god.
Lucas too was relieved and he slowly rose to his feet, squinting as he took the hallway in for himself. "Wait a second," he murmured, digging into his pocket and retrieving a small flashlight that he always kept on him. It was black with a picture of a dragon on it. The creature's tail was extended towards the end of the flashlight while the dragon's open mouth was the source of the light at the front. He had gotten it from some comic exhibition he had attended last summer and he carried it around for good luck.
"We're doing this fast. In and out, okay?"
"Okay," Lucas agreed.
We began checking the doors. The first one, with the name Officer Reynolds was locked. The second, with the name Officer Bryant was also locked.
The pattern repeated until we got to the fourth door which bore the name Lieutenant Scott. As Lucas' hand grabbed the knob, I heard an "Aha" and then, "Door's open, just... a little...stuck." He rammed his shoulder into the wooden door, my eyes slamming shut as I heard his body make contact.
Too loud. This time it had to be, especially when Lucas rammed the door a second time and it swung open with a heavy creak.
My heart was in my throat. My palms were slicked with sweat that didn't seem to fade even as I wiped them briskly along the sides of my jeans. Lucas was frozen in place. He expected the same result I did, someone coming after us. The only explanation I had for the all-too-lucky fate that had been dropped at our feet was the soldiers had left, or they were preoccupied with the plane they had brought into the hangar. At least, that's what I assumed was the cause of the rumbling from before.
Then again, I had been lying to myself a lot since we arrived at Emerson Field.
We deemed the coast clear and stepped inside the room, closing the door agonizingly slow behind us. It was an office, a desk centered atop of a rug, two mahogany bookcases up against the back wall, and a notice board littered with torn pieces of paper that were push pinned into a map of the world. There were circles drawn in red marker that isolated particular places, lines as well connecting various cities, towns, or continents and a date corresponding to every locale.
"Oli, All of these dates, they match."
"No..." I whispered as my eyes scurried through each marked point on the map.
"Where the fuck are we?" I noticed it then, the complete erasure of curiosity that I was used to witnessing in Lucas.
"...1941." The year crept forward into the air between us.
"But that's not...none of this is possible. We didn't just travel back in time. Time doesn't work that way. The universe doesn't work that way."
"I th... think we need to forget that for right now, Lucas, cause as far as I can tell we're in an airplane hangar for the United States army in... World War II."
"No. There's gotta be an explanation, something..." Lucas opened the top drawer of the desk, a stack of files stamped with red ink: CONFIDENTIAL. He flipped each of them open, scanning through them as quickly as he could before switching to the next one.
The longer he did so, the more paranoid I got. Any one of those soldiers could come up the steps and find us. There was nowhere to hide.
"Lucas, Lucas, stop!" I pleaded, my fingers fumbling for his and yanking them away from the files. The one that he had in his grasp however, slipped and the papers scattered around the floor. I began to gather and organize them as they had been, picking up on phrases like: body discarded, death caused by water boarding, operating under double agencies. And just like that I couldn't help myself. Men and women alike had been brought here and killed. There was no trial, no public announcement. One second they were alive and the next they became a document stashed into the drawer of a desk.
The names seemed endless.
My chest grew tight. Every breath took a greater tug of my lungs to achieve it. I shoved the file back in the desk with the others as if it had shocked me and closed the drawer.
Lucas was facing my direction, but he was seeing right through me. He was realizing just how bad of an idea this had been. I wasn't going to let him sink. For if he shut down, going back home would be impossible.
I wasn't brave. Just the thought of a horror movie made me jump. I was scared of thunder until thirteen, the dark until, well, let me not actually share that. I was the worst person to be in this situation with Lucas. I'm certain that he understood this from all the times he tried to get me to play the "coolest" game ever, or for all the times he tried to trick me into watching something that would cause me to scream or wet my pants, or both. I merely was going to pretend that the person he was standing next to wasn't the same easily triggered best friend he had known.
I was ready to get us out of there when there was a popping sound. My throat burned. I couldn't stop coughing.
Then darkness rose up to greet me.
I awoke to a sound I never wanted to hear: Lucas screaming. It was a sharp cry, sudden.
I jerked in the direction of the sound, but was pulled back. There was rope around my wrists which were connected to a wooden beam. I had temporarily forgotten that we were in one of the offices when my consciousness was stolen from me. The records of what Lucas and I found flooded my mind and the contents of my stomach flipped.
They weren't afraid of hurting people and they were hurting Lucas. I tugged at my restraints again only to be pulled back into place.
I took a second, gathered my surroundings. I was at the back of the air hangar, at least from what I could tell. Four miniature planes that were lined up obscured my view. Lucas had to be behind them. Another one of his screams rammed against my ears. A current of electricity ran through me. I grew more determined to free myself, my wrists burning as my skin made vigorous contact with the rope.
"Still determined on keeping quiet?"
I heard a thwack, followed by another cry.
It needed to stop.
God, it needed to stop.
As if my prayers were answered, the screaming ceased. I heard footsteps and scuffling; a soldier and Lucas. Lucas whose left eye was near swollen shut, his lip cut alongside the corner of his mouth, his shirt stuck to his front, the fabric stained scarlet. He was moving, thankfully, but his jaw was clenched, biting back pain.
The man leered as he saw me, tossing Lucas to the floor. He didn't bother tying Lucas like they had me, as if he already resolved in his mind there would be no fight. "See that?" He chimed. "That's what happens when you're not cooperative so I would recommend you tell us the real story once we figure out what we're going to do to you." He turned and headed towards where he had come from. There were voices, a murmured and static filled conversation that I wasn't anywhere near focused to make out.
I inched towards Lucas, extended my leg so my toe could tap against his side as gently as possible. "Lucas," I hissed. "Lucas."
"Mm." This time it was louder. He rolled onto his side and through his uninjured eye, I saw that he was looking at me. But I couldn't bring myself to do the same, not yet, for the light that seeped in from the windows colored his blood an even deeper red, the bruises an even deeper blue and purple.
This couldn't be happening. This couldn't be fucking happening.
"T...they think -"
"Don't. You need whatever energy you've got."
But Lucas didn't seem to care. He forced himself up on his elbows. "He...thinks... we're spies. He wants i...information." He uttered these words in between pressing his shirt against whatever wound he had received.
We were no longer able to deny the fact that this place was dangerous. We were no longer able to pretend that this would fix itself. Somehow, we were in the middle of a World War with soldiers who wouldn't dare believe us to be anything other than foreign: the way we spoke, our clothes, our intrusion into their air hangar. There were only two conclusions for how this would turn out and I was unable to guarantee the one in my mind where we survived.
"I g...got something."
My brows lifted. Lucas retrieved a pocket knife that was tucked into the band of his pants.
"How the --"
"Magic." He chuckled, though it ceased almost as soon as it began. He inched himself closer to me, his palm clenched around the base of the blade. He was trembling as he cut through the ropes, my hands falling away from the beam. Etched into my skin were red lines that singed as the air hit them. Those were petty in comparison to Lucas' wounds; he had either been sliced or whipped across his chest.
"Lu-" If he hadn't interrupted me with a 'sh', he would have heard my voice crack.
"Wait for h...him. Then run. He's c...calling others."
"Not without you."
"I'll be right b...behind you." I wanted to believe him for Lucas always came through for me. If he made a promise, he kept it, except he hadn't been half beaten in the past when he had made these promises.
"I s...swear." He smiled at me despite the fact it hurt and I believed him then. Or maybe I simply needed something to believe in.
He'd be there. He would.
I folded my hands behind my back and cupped the blade. I could hear bits and pieces of the conversation now.
"Make either of them break."
"...doesn't matter what..."
"...still a spy."
"We follow the same procedures."
My breath was in my throat as footsteps approached where Lucas and I were. I counted them silently to myself. I held on tighter to the knife. Lucas shot me a glance and I nodded. I could do this. I had to do this.
"You two are in for a world of fun." It was the same soldier from before, the only one here from what I gathered. I didn't like the way his eyes hovered over me, an unforgiving malice within them.
A hand grabbed a chunk of my hair, jerking my head back. I bit back a squeak. I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction he craved. My face was close to his. I could feel his breath on my lips.
And that was when I plunged the knife into the side of his neck. I hadn't thought. I just reacted. His eyes widened as he pulled the blade out. The blood began to pool. He knew however, it was too late. I heard his voice curdle and his body started to tip.
I had done that. I was the reason for someone's death. Lying there on the ground, twitching until their last breath. I couldn't dwell on the fact despite it screaming as loudly as it could within my head.
I hurried to my feet and helped Lucas up who was thankfully able to stand on his own, although not without a grunt and not without his knees shaking. He stared at the soldier for a split second.
The door to the air hangar opened and in came two soldiers, those who I presumed that the now dead soldier had been conversing with. We didn't wait for them to spot us.
We took off, straight for the exit. The other soldiers were startled, but the illusion faded fast as they reached for their belt and I knew what they were going to draw, and that we wouldn't stand a chance if they fired.
"Go l... left!" Lucas called out to me. I could hear his voice strain.
I veered to my left using the wheels of the nearest plane as a shield for the bullets that I heard fire. One grazed past the wheel. Another followed. I sucked in a breath and moved to the next wheel, searching for the location of the soldiers as I went. They had split up, one heading towards the south of the air hangar, the other heading towards me. His eyes held the same intent as his comrade's; he wanted me dead.
To avoid my death, I could either make a break for the exit which was a curved line to my right or I could keep hopping from barrier to barrier with the hopes to run into Lucas and avoid the bullets from those chasing us. I didn't have the time needed to choose as the soldier came around the wheel and pulled the trigger of his gun.
I dodged, preventing my brains from being splattered about. I ducked to evade becoming like the man I had killed. The soldier growled, but didn't hesitate in aiming the barrel of the gun at me once more.
I never understood until then what it meant to run for my life, to have fear pumping in my veins, a sign that if I didn't hurry, I would end up hurt... or worse. My feet hitting the ground were the only sound I heard. Keep going was the only thought that rushed through my mind. I didn't stop when my chest began to burn. I didn't stop when sweat began to bead atop my forehead. I didn't stop when my tongue grew dry and my breathing labored. I didn't stop when there was a searing pain in my arm and shortly thereafter, my hip. It hurt, but I didn't care. I couldn't afford to care.
I stopped only when I had made it outside and noticed the tent was back. The goddamned circus tent. It stood tall and proud, mocking me as I collapsed onto the ground. You're going to die here, it said. I glared at it despite knowing it wouldn't react. The action was a small drop of personal satisfaction as I gulped in the air around me. In. Out. In. Out.
There were smears of my blood on the concrete. My hand made its way to my hip. The wound was slightly deeper than the surface level of my skin. I stared at my stained fingers, the way more red liquid trickled down from a hole in my arm.
I tried processing what happened. An air hangar, a completely run down air hangar, had transformed into a hangar from the second World War. Inside that hangar, people were tortured and killed. I had been shot at. I should still be running.
I forced myself to a sitting position and then swivelled around. All I could see was an expanse of concrete and the air hangar, the once again run down air hanger. Where were the soldiers? Where was Lucas? He told me he'd make it.
"LUCAS!” I called out only to receive an echo in return.
I waited five seconds and tried again. The echo answered once more.
There was only one thing for me to do; head back to the air hangar. My body ached at the conclusion I drew, but I fought against it. Lucas could still be in there. No. Lucas had to be in there.
I hobbled towards the air hangar. It was a stupid idea. I had no plan and no weapon, but Lucas was in there and that was all that mattered. The air hangar was empty, abandoned, the glass in the panel of the door broken. The only difference was the door was no longer locked. I pressed my bloody palm against it, watched with folded lips as it swung open. Papers along with empty bullet shells were scattered on the floor. There were no people - just like before. Except it wasn't just like before because Lucas wasn't there and the air around me was heavy.
Time slowed with each step I took. I kept my arms close to my body as if they would somehow protect me. They wouldn't, not if someone jumped out and grabbed me, not if someone shoved something into either one of my wounds, not if someone pulled the trigger of a gun. They most especially wouldn't save me from what I saw when I glanced down at my feet. Smudged with dirt was a half sheet of torn paper with the word ‘Thompson’ in the upper right hand corner.
I picked up the sheet with shaking hands. I made it about four words in before I dropped it, like I had been shocked.
His throat had been slit. His. Throat. Had. Been. Slit. The sentence became a mantra in my head. The oxygen around me grew thin, my breathing shallow.
It wasn't possible. None of this was possible.
"L...Lucas. This...this isn't funny." I didn't recognize the sound of my voice, the way it shook.
I backed away from the paper. Something crunched under my feet. I didn't want to look. I didn't want to be a part of this sick joke any more.
I betrayed myself, my eyes shifting to the black and crumbled pieces that were under my sneaker. Black and crumbled pieces with an open dragon's mouth.
I...no, no, no, no, no, no.
A scream erupted from my throat. I didn't believe I'd ever stop.