“Dad, I’m bored.” Barbara whined. “Where’s Mark?”
“He’s working, sweetie.”
“Can’t I go see him?”
“You know you’re not allowed to.” He chuckled, gently stroking her neck “Come, I’ll introduce you to Craig’s daughter.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Don’t be shy!”
“You’ll like her, she’s your age and super nice!”
“Urgh” Barbara’s shoulders dropped in defeat as James walked her to Craig, who was talking and laughing with his ex-wife, his younger kid in his arms.
His daughter seemed bored too. She was slumped on the table, tapping on her phone. All the kids below their age were doing a trick or treat tour in the domestic part of the base, framed by a few adults, so the two teenaged girls were staying and waiting in the dining hall in the meantime.
“Hi mate!” James said.
“Oh hey James! Hi, Barbara. You remember me?”
“Yes. We’ve met last year on Family Day.”
Craig smiled and put a gentle hand on his daughter’s wrist to catch her attention:
“Honey, this is James’s daughter. Her name is Barbara.”
The girl looked up, probably curious because of the difference of skin color and facial features between James and her.
“Hi I’m James’s daughter. My name is Barbara.” Barbara repeated with a humorous tone.
Craig’s daughter chuckled and stretched her hand:
“Hi. I’m Carla.”
They shook their hands. James cleared his throat:
“Hum. Well, that’s quite formal. Why don’t you two become more acquainted? You’re both in high school, right?”
“Come on, honey, drop your phone. She’s your age.”
Both girls sighed and left the table together. When they were out of hearing range, Barbara awkwardly started:
“Well, how’s your day going?”
“It’s going ok, I guess. I’m just a bit frustrated we can’t go to the shooting range.”
“Oh, so you shoot? I mean, obviously as you’re American, but- Sorry, that wasn’t a reproach, just-“
“Yeah I shoot.” Carla chuckled “I’d like to enlist.”
“Oh. That’s… kinda cool. So you… like weapons?”
“Yeah, but more as a sport. That’s not why I want to enroll.”
“I just want to help people, protect them and I like action… And you know, having a purpose.”
Barbara raised both her eyebrows:
“That’s the first time I hear a fellow 15-year old say something like that.”
Carla smiled, opening herself a bit, then asked:
“And you? What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know yet. Something with chemistry. That’s my thing and… well you know my dad, I presume?”
“I’ve heard plenty about him, indeed” Carla chuckled. “Did you go to the lab?”
“No, I’m so pissed! They forbade me to! Just like the shooting range!”
That’s when they heard a cacophony of screams. Three little heads appeared from the corridor, yelling and crying. Two of the German men who were talking in a corner of the dining hall jumped on both feet and grabbed the kids in their arms.
“What is wrong with them?” Carla asked.
“I don’t know. Perhaps they got scared or something. They were trick-or-treating, right? Someone probably pulled a bad joke on them.”
“They look terrified. They shouldn’t be, they’re not that young.”
Another man appeared from the corridor:
“Dominic, I’m sorry, I can explain!” the blue-eyed man stammered.
“You were supposed to look after them, not scare the shit out of them, Rook!”
“I know, but they tricked me and fled when I wasn’t looking!”
“Why are they saying they saw a faceless monster?” Dominic shouted back.
“I don’t know! They saw a shadow, perhaps?”
The three kids were sobbing in their dad and uncle’s arms. One of them was pulling at his dad’s sleeve, as if to make him follow him and see what had scared them.
“How about we leave that place full of screams and toddlers?” Barbara offered.
“I know a way to one of the scenario training facilities.”
“A legal way?”
“Haven’t seen a sign telling me it wasn’t” Barbara shrugged with a smile.
Carla smiled in turn. Both girls left the dining hall, going in the yard and circling an independent brick building not too far from the gym.
“It’s an old one.” Barbara commented “But I saw training gear and replicas when dad was giving me a tour.”
They entered by pushing a dusty green wooden door. They walked to a spot marked with orange paint and on the table was sitting a pure treasure for Carla.
“Dude, those replicas are so insane!” she exclaimed.
She rushed to grab a flashbang. It wasn't a real one, but there was a fake weight in it, and a small button to trigger it. She didn’t press it, but she continued to explore the boxes, caressing the equipment. Barbara went to slump in an old couch, pulling a lollipop out of her pocket and her phone.
“You’ve never considered joining a military high school?” Barbara asked.
“I wanted to. But mom didn’t. She wants me to wait for college.”
“And your dad?”
“He agreed with her. And I hate this. What’s the point of having divorced parents if they’re still united in their decisions?” she joked.
“They seemed quite friendly for divorced parents” Barbara frankly blurted.
“Yeah. They’re still friends. They’ve known each other for a very long time, but they weren’t in love anymore.”
“Nah I’m good. It’s better for everyone. I suppose. Besides, they’ve both found love again so I guess that’s the way it was meant to be.”
“You’re strong. I like you.” Barbara chuckled, while putting her Dr. Martens on the armrest.
“Thanks. But since we’re at confidence level… your dad…?”
“Yeaaah I’m adopted, if that’s what you were afraid to ask.”
A gaping silence followed, as Barbara was focused on the YouTube podcast on her phone, while Carla was still scrutinizing the equipment. Taking a pistol in hand and pretending to hold a line of sight, when she was sure Barbara couldn’t see her. But when her podcast ended, Barbara let her head drop on the armrest and groaned:
“URGH I’M SO BLOODY BORED.”
“I wish these were loaded.” Carla said while showing her deagle “We could have played together.”
“You forget the part about having a helmet and a plate carrier.” Barbara chuckled.
Carla laughed too, putting the gun back in its box. Barbara put her phone in her pocket and popped the lollipop out of her mouth:
“You know I keep thinking about those three German kids.”
“The ones who were screaming?”
“Yeah. I mean… what if they really saw something?” Barbara said, putting her feet back on the ground and looking serious.
Carla leant on the table behind her and rolled her eyes:
“They’re kids.” She scoffed “They probably saw their own shadows. You really believe they saw a monster?”
“Of course, they didn’t see a monster. But just… what if they saw something, something scary, you know?”
“Like what? A white sheet hanging in the laundry room?” Carla mocked.
“No but they mentioned something without a face… what about some highly resistant ballistic mask?”
“You mean like my dad’s boyfriend’s?”
“Yeah. Or what if it was some exoskeletal suit? Just… those kids must have seen something. I’m just wondering what it is.”
“And what do you suggest?”
Barbara rubbed her hands together:
“Ah sister, I was hoping you’d ask me that.”
10 minutes later.
“Ok, so it sounded much better in my head.” Barbara sighed.
“But you said you were speaking German!”
“No, I said I was learning German. As second language.”
“Urgh, just… Why can’t we just ask one of the German adults to translate, again?”
“Because it’s very likely that the kids went somewhere they weren’t allowed to go.”
“And why is it a good idea then? There’re rules and-“
“Relax Carlita. We just want to glance at whatever they saw, we’re not doing anything wrong. And besides, if it were really dangerous, they wouldn’t have been able to reach the place, there would have been a code on the door, or something.”
“I don’t like this.”
“But you said you were bored, too!”
Barbara crouched back in front of the three German pups and tried to articulate as best as she could:
“Entschuldigung aber ich möchte gern wissen, wo der hum… Monster war?”
The kids looked at each other, speaking some kiddish German Barbara couldn’t get, then one of them; Andreas, according to the tag he was wearing, stepped forward and said:
“You has bad German voice”
Barbara pulled at her own curly hair:
“Urgh come on, it's not so bad. Just… Wo der Monster, bitte. Der Monster. Wo?”
The kid’s eyes widened, and he looked at his siblings. Then:
“I walk you zu monster?”
Barbara lifted her hands skywards like in a gospel choir:
“Yes! Yes that’s it! Exactly! We walk together to see the monster! Zusammen.”
The kids’ eyes glimmered, and he reached for Barbara’s hand, sticking to her side. And soon, the other two – Benjamin and Sofia - imitated him. Andreas pointed to a direction and Barbara winked at Carla:
“Yeah, well done.” Carla honestly chuckled.
“I wish my teacher could see that.”
They walked through the main corridor, passing by the dorm and when they reached the elevator at the end of it, the kids showed them the evacuation plan on the wall and pointed at the stairs.
"Wow, these kids are super clever!” Barbara puffed.
“What is it?”
“The elevator stops at the second basement.”
“There’s a third one underneath.”
Carla couldn’t help but smile at that. She didn’t like the idea that they would probably step into a forbidden area but… what did the kids see down there? She was getting curious too.
The kids were holding their hands tightly, as they were playing big sisters and walked down the stairs to the third basement. The atmosphere immediately got colder, as the temperature went down and a deep silent filled the staircase. The light was clicking, like in a horror movie, and they were glad to have the green glare of the emergency light as a backup in case they would be plunged into pitch black.
The kids led them through a room that looked like a briefing place, with a table, a few chairs and a blank whiteboard. Then, they pointed at a dark corridor, only lighted by the same green emergency lights. It was very narrow; two adults couldn’t stand next to each other in it. Carla went first, little Benjamin on her side, and Barbara followed closely, with Sofia and Andreas. The kids suddenly started to tense when they reached the middle of the corridor. They shakily pointed at the thick glass wall on the right, which looked like an aquarium wall, except there was nothing but pitch dark in it.
“M-Monster. Hier.” Andreas whispered.
The two teens squinted at it, trying to make something out in the darkness.
“I don’t see anything, do you?” Carla murmured, trying to keep her voice as low as possible.
“No… But what is this place anyway? This is so creepy. Have you seen those cameras up there, with the blue light? They’re moving, as if they were trying to focus on something in the dark.”
“Perhaps it’s some kind of invisible drone?” Carla wondered.
“A drone would have scared the kids?”
“Well you know, those things can make weird noises.”
“But they talked about a monster with no face.”
Benjamin crept closer to Carla, cuddling against her and she instinctively put her hand around his little shoulder in a protective way. Barbara had already Sofia and Andreas by her sides.
“Still, I think I understand why the kids were so afraid. That thing is just gloomy enough.” Barbara murmured, trying to joke.
“There’s something in there.” Carla suddenly whispered.
Barbara gaped. The kids were petrified.
“As in, y-you have a bad feeling, r-right?”
“As in, I’m sure I saw something move.”
“In the d-darkness?”
“Yeah.” Carla whispered again, looking straight at the dark “There’s something roaming.”
Carla’s heart was beating fast and Barbara had tightened her hands around the kids, her breathing hitching. There was nothing but silence surrounding them.
She slowly turned her head towards the glass to look at what Carla was fixing, it was dark... so dark.
A black human-like shadow suddenly banged on the glass and everybody screamed:
“HOLY FOCKING BLOODY SHITE”
“SON OF A B-“
Barbara and the German kids raced for the exit and Carla fell on her butt, crawling backwards. The thing was human, there was no doubt, the way it was moving but… it didn’t have a face. It was covered with a long dark sheet, it looked like the girl from The freaking Ring. The silhouette put her hands on the glass, her body standing and seemingly looking at Carla, and its fingers pointed at the exit.
“Yup, fuck this shit I’m out!” Carla agreed. She stood up and sprinted towards the exit.
There, in the briefing room they had passed by, two adults were comforting the kids; a German man who she recognized as a colleague from Dominic, and a French woman with green eyes. They both were talking in German, likely saying soothing things to the freaked-out kids. Barbara was leaning against the wall and waved at Carla:
“Ok so that was a tad embarrassing.”
“What the hell is that thing?!” Carla shouted.
“It’s an operator. She’s called Nøkk. She’s from Danish jaeger corps.”
“She was testing out a special cloaking device, making her invisible to cameras and optical sensors. They were testing it in a night scenario, to see how much they could also blur thermal sensors and… well, that happened.”
Carla puffed, honestly ashamed of how she got freaked out considering her age. The kids’ sobs were dimming as “Marius” was calming them and Barbara was speaking with the French woman:
“Do you think we could… I mean… take a look at the device? Pretty please, ma’am?”
“I’m sorry sweetie, that’s top secret.”
“You know I’ve already signed the bloody NDA papers, right?”
“Aaah you really are James’s daughter, curious and pigheaded.” The Frenchwoman laughed.
“It’s just that… if we could-“
But her words died in her throat as another woman came in sight. She immediately recognized the suit and the sheet the woman was holding in her gloved hands. She was wearing a helmet, black camo paint on her face. Her gaze was dark but a smirk was forming on the corner of her lips:
“Sorry I scared you, kids.”
“You! You’re the… “
“Yes. I was the monster creeping in the dark.”
The children gaped. But Carla and Barbara were in awe.
“I have so many questions!” Barbara said.
“Yeah, me too!” Carla added.