Hatch

This is the first part of an adventure series where YOU determine the next step in the story.

Led by a single black-clad figure, your team of five moves like wraiths between the trees. Since you entered the forest three hours ago, the only sounds you’ve heard are boots swishing through the underbrush and the occasional sound of a rifle shifting in someone’s hands. No animals. No birds. Not even a single bug. The air is stagnant and smells like decay. Everyone’s edgy. It hadn’t taken you long to decide this mission sucks.

Ahead, you see the tainted, bloody glow of the moon peeking through the trees. Your team’s tracker leads you toward it, until the trees finally break around a small grassy circle.

At the edge of the clearing, the tracker holds up one clenched fist and your team comes to a halt. Weapons are at the ready. You check the small black box hanging from your utility belt. The needles are going crazy with activity.

Your team leader motions for silence. He tosses another quick glance around the area and fixes the tracker with an irritated glare. The tracker returns his stare and points toward the center of the field.

In three years, the tracker has never been wrong. If she says these are the coordinates specified in the assignment then they are. It isn’t her fault that there’s nothing here.

Your team leader gestures at you and you know you’re up.

You unfasten a large silver ring hanging from your belt. Metal tabs printed with various symbols hang from the ring, and are rubber-banded together. You remove the band and hold the ring between two fingers.

The tabs come alive, spinning around the ring. After a few seconds, you expect them to rest and point in a specific direction, but they don’t. They continue to slide around the ring and fan out in different directions. More than half point to the ground.

Occult energy is everywhere. You can’t pinpoint the source.

You walk around the field’s perimeter, watching the tabs closely as you move. Twenty feet from your original position, every tab slides to the left side of the ring.

You follow the tabs back into the trees and wade into a pile of leaves and dead brush. Just as your boots clomp down on something hard and metallic, the tabs unanimously point down.

You snap your fingers to grab your teammates’ attention. In the aberrant silence of the forest, the sound carries easily. After the team assumes a defensive position, the tracker starts sweeping away the leaves.

It’s a hatch in the ground. The number 27 is printed at the top with a symbol beneath it. You don’t know the symbol. You’ve learned about all the attack and defense symbols and this is neither. You check the box hanging from your belt. The device indicates that the symbol is active, but it can’t determine the symbol’s purpose.

As the tracker finishes clearing the hatch, her arm hits a long object matted with leaves and sends it rolling toward you. You stop it with your boot and pick it up. You peel away a few of the leaves, exposing dried blood and human toes. Repulsed, you drop it and jump back. The rest of your team turns its weapons on the dismembered foot as if it might attack.

After a few tense seconds, your teammates visibly relax and try to stifle chuckles. Your team leader glares at you and jerks his head, dismissing you to finish your sweep of the field.

The tabs lead you to the opposite side of the clearing. This time they’re pointing at the edge of the grass. You kneel down for a closer inspection and find a layer of sod resting atop another hatch. You snap your fingers and back away.

As your teammates arrive, you finish rolling back the sod. The hatch below is nearly identical to the first one you saw. The number 27 is printed at the top, but the symbol below is different: the top halves of two opposing symbols have been joined together. According to your black box, the symbol is active. You aren’t sure how that’s possible. The hatch is crossed by deep gashes that appear to be claw marks. Red and black blood is smeared everywhere.

Your team leader silently points to the hatch before you, then to the one on the opposite side of the clearing. He looks at you expectantly.

The “spook stuff”, as he calls it, is your business. He wants your expertise to determine which hatch to enter. It’s a good thing he’s ordered silence or you might have to confess that you don’t have a clue.

What do you do?

A: Choose Hatch #1: Unknown symbol with the dismembered human foot
B: Choose Hatch #2: Opposing symbols and blood everywhere

Vote in the comments or on Twitter. Voting ends Tuesday night. The highest vote will be the next step in the story, posted on Fridays.

Image courtesy of R_A_L.

UPDATE: Voting is now closed. This Friday, you will open hatch #2. Thanks to all who participated!