Sam continued down the hallway, acutely aware of the absence of any sound, with the beating of his heart the only exception, thumping loudly in his ears. Placing his hand under his coat, he felt for his weapon – a Colt. 45, reassuring and solid in his hand. Counting off the apartment numbers in his head, he wondered how anyone could have lived here, where the despair was so thick that it coated the walls like paint. In this city, it wasn’t all that surprising, he supposed. Silence was its only inhabitant now, and despite the people here undoubtedly keeping to themselves, as curiosity can kill more than cats in a place such as this, Sam could not help but feel that something was profoundly wrong. An indistinct terror was following him, the darkness refusing to be lifted by the scattered dirty light. A presence was pervading around the edges of what he could barely see. There was something very wrong here. Attempting to divert his attention, he remembered that the last time he played Scrabble, he was missing some letters. Important ones too, like E. That made things difficult. But then, nothing was ever easy.
Arriving at Apartment 164 he entered quickly, denying himself the chance to contemplate the decision in any depth. There was always something about doors, he thought. Innocuous and terrifying, like moving from concealed darkness to stepping into its very heart. Moving inside, a television set sat flickering in the corner of the tiny apartment, illuminating the room in snapshots. A body lay on the floor, a man in perhaps his early thirties, frozen in the last motion he ever took; arms outstretched towards the sky, hands twisted together like grotesque claws. Dried blood ran from his eyes and both arms, pooling in scarlet stains on the carpet. A book lay next to him, open and torn. Sam stood in the centre of the room, observing in silence. The walls were cracked, with yellowing paint flaking off and laying to rest in piles at its base. Despite this, there did not seem to be any signs of struggle, or forced entry. Even the victim himself did not seem to have sustained any obviously fatal injury. Sam approached the body slowly. ‘It looks as though he was pleading,’ he thought. ‘But to whom?’ His eyes scanned the room, coming to rest upon a section of floor, briefly lit by the blinking television. Looking closer, he saw that words had been written into the carpet, in thick splashes of blood.
‘He who calls
Into darkness so bright
For hope or favour of rescue of man
Dances the peril of endless night’
Sam read the message aloud, scribbling it down into a tattered note book. He was certain he had heard this before, but could not remember when. However, he was sure of one thing; that messages written in blood are seldom uplifting tales, and this was no exception. Reading it again, he reached for his radio. Strangely, he was answered with only static. Trying again, he reasoned that the radio must be malfunctioning, as a lot of the departments equipment was old and in need of replacing. Heading back towards the hall, he felt as though something was different. The apartment seemed larger, as though he was in danger of becoming lost inside it. Inexplicably, and to his horror, Sam saw the door begin to retreat away from him, sliding away ethereally until it was merely a shadow on the horizon. Breathing raggedly, he drew his weapon, and began to shout, hoping that the patrolman would hear him, and could possibly free him from whatever was happening at that moment. Retreating against a wall, he saw that they had begun to drip black – a dark, slithering liquid, creeping out from every crack. Stepping away, Sam’s mind raced as his struggled to comprehend what was happening around him. A low, piercing rumble began to emanate from the air, a chaotic crescendo that ate at Sam’s bones, before a figure appeared before him, sheathed in black, with six arching wings sprouting from its back. It raised its head to look at Sam, as he rapidly fired his weapon at the creature, the empty shell cases arcing through the air. Suddenly, an indescribable force flung him backwards, slamming him into a wall, before he collapsed to the floor. The noise receded for a moment, as the two regarded each other. The figure moved forward, darkness flowing around it like a cloak, washing over the room.
‘What … what are you?’ Sam gasped, clutching his chest.
The creature spoke in a low, melodic tone; a choir of voices all speaking at once.
‘I was called here. Called to relieve this man of his pain. His pain with living. His pain with this shallow, pointless world – a world burdened with the injustice of being forced to exist long after it’s to do so has gone. He asked to be taken away, but things are never that easy. I granted his wish, but told him the price: that this place, and everyone in it, would be forever shrouded in darkness. They may never leave, and never be seen. If he was willing to pay this price, then I would take him. If he would curse hundreds of his own kind. And he did.’
The creature remained fixated on Sam, the room pulsing in time with a demonic breath. Sam remained silent. His head was turning in on itself, swimming amongst a maelstrom of fear and desire to fight. ‘These people will never return?’ he asked, finally.
‘This place will always be in darkness, until his debt is paid.’ The creature remained silent for a moment, considering Sam with eyes that he could not bear to look into.
‘ I also know you. And I will be watching you, Sam Blackwater.’ With that, it began to fade, dissolving amongst the increasingly acrid air. Sam rose to his feet.
‘Will we meet again?’ he asked, breathlessly.
‘Oh yes. We will’