Tried to experiment with rhythm in this one. Don’t know how well it worked.
I avoided looking at the people around me. It was safer that way. Animals interpret eye contact as a threat. I kept my eyes low. The bus shook as it went over a bump. The springs were worn out and would have to be replaced soon. I read the safety information, printed in red. The morning was colourless, cold. Someone coughed, a ragged wet sound. Disease spread easily on public transport. I counted twenty-two people. Their faces were hidden behind scarves. A newspaper rustled. One flipped the pages of a book. I willed the time on.
I approached the entrance to my building. It blended into the sky, ashen and bare. I didn’t know when it had been built. I got the sense that it had always been there. Shuttered and locked windows lined the outside walls. Yellowing posters slowly peeled away from the glass. A lot of businesses had inhabited the building over the years. Some survived, but most didn’t. They left suddenly, leaving empty offices. Some vanished in such a hurry they left furniture behind, standing unused and frozen in time. Others stripped the copper wiring from the walls, leaving ragged scars in the plaster. No one said anything about it. It was forty-two steps from the front entrance to the stairwell.
I hoped the receptionist wouldn’t notice. She would try to talk to me. She would ask questions about my day, smiling at me with bright red lipstick. I would get nervous, and mix my answers up. I would say that I had to leave, that I had work to do, but she would continue to talk until I felt sick. She knew that it made me uncomfortable. I would hear her laughing softly to herself as she tapped on her keyboard. I moved quickly, my head down. My shoes squeaked on the linoleum. She looked up from her desk. The fluorescent lighting flickered and I saw the red lips smile at me.
I hurried down to the basement. Sweat beaded on my forehead. There were three flights to descend. I took the stairs two at a time, sometimes three. My identification card bounced on my pocket. When I reached the basement, the security guard lifted a finger in greeting. He opened the door and sat back on his stool. We never speak. I couldn’t even picture his face. Getting through that door was all that mattered to me. As the door swung open, the metal freezers hummed in greeting. Relief poured over me.
It was time to begin. I clenched the chart in my hands. The first of the day. The deceased’s information was neatly typed in black on a white page. She was thirty years old, of average height and weight. No children. A massive cerebral haemorrhage had killed her instantly. She probably didn’t even feel it, just blinked out of consciousness like turning off a switch. But none of this concerned me. It didn’t matter who she was, or where she was from. I told her my name as I snapped on my gloves. Told her that an autopsy was to be performed, that it was my job. I hummed softly to myself, matching the pitch of the freezers. I brushed hair out of her eyes with a gloved finger. I told her about the morning, how grey and chill it was. As I spoke, I moved through my preparation. I laid my tools laid out, descending in order, the metal shining. Superiority dictated by usefulness. Life was not as simple, but death could be. I began to feel my thoughts slow, fade away. It always did here. Soon I would be tranquil as water. I said not to worry; I wouldn’t hurt her. I made my incision. Red blood spilled bright over my gloves. I smiled. I was amongst friends.
Here’s some more short story nonsense.
In the cold hours of an early April morning, Cole Lowman’s feet squelched into half-melted snow as he trudged to work, head ducked low in a tailored black overcoat. The fog hung thickly in velvet sheets, enveloping everything it touched. The sun didn’t seem to have the energy to fight the gloom these days, not that Cole could really blame it. As he walked, sleet drifted down and danced before his face, and cold air stung his eyes. Headlights of sickly yellow cut through the fog as the first car of the morning traffic felt its way along the road. The driver, a lumpy mass of scarf and coat, peered impatiently over his steering wheel as though he believed that pinched face indignation would somehow make the fog lift faster. More headlights soon appeared. The thought occurred to Cole that the world always woke up, no matter how lousy the weather. The apocalypse could occur this very morning, and no doubt people would still go about their routines, oblivious. Unless, perhaps, they pulled up beside the unusual sight of a skeletal horseman stuck in traffic. Jobs to work, money to earn and bills to pay, with the occasional buying of coffee machines and the like. The things we live for. As he squished along the footpath, his feet rapidly turning numb, Cole wondered dimly just when life had become this way. A car bounced through nearby pothole, splattering Cole with icy mud. It was going to be a dismal day.
It was 6.49am when Cole got to the corner of his bus stop. He was adhering to his usual schedule. He had somehow become a punctilious man, although he wasn’t exactly sure when or how it had happened. The bus would arrive at 6.52am, Cole would step onboard, take his usual seat, and stare out the window as the bus clattered down the road, belching black smoke and stopping intermittently to disgorge people along the way. Cole had a few minutes before he was due to cross the road to the bus stop, and paused a moment. He rubbed his hands together, and blew air on his fingers, hoping that the feeling would return to them. His employer would have little use for a frostbitten typist. His boss, a bald, permanently red-faced man with a tie that was always done up too tight, would remind Cole that he had better look after himself, because he didn’t have any sick days left. Cole sighed and watched as his breath spiralled away into the morning air. Faces buried in scarves and jackets hurried past him, each a walking set of blank eyes and headphones marching along to their own soundtrack. One set of eyes cast a glance at Cole, darting downwards and narrowing slightly, before meeting his gaze. The strangely bright eyes, set in an elegant, angular face of a young man, moved towards him. A surge of anxiety spiked in Cole’s chest, and he remained still. The strange man moved close to Cole, and leaned in. ‘Don’t be late, Cole. You’ll miss your bus’ the voice said, softly whispering in his ear. Terror spread through Cole like molten hot metal in his veins. He turned and ran. His pulse drummed in his ears and his mouth turned acrid as he hurried across the road. As he ran, his mind scrambled with panic, he wondered deliriously if anything that morning was real. Cole was prone to panic attacks, and he had been suffering more of them of late. But, in addition to their usual effects, unpleasant as they may be, there would additional consequences today. Cole would no doubt now be late. Secondly, and perhaps more seriously, it caused Cole to be completely unaware as he wandered into the path of the oncoming 409 bus. His thoughts were abruptly interrupted as the bus ploughed into him, flinging him across the road. His skin ground away against the bitumen as the world became a garbled blur of gravel and pain, spinning wildly as he tumbled. A scream sounded from an onlooker as Cole came to a stop in the gutter. Now a mangled mess of broken bones and spreading blood, his thoughts slowly ebbed away into blackness as horrified faces peered down at him.
‘Call an ambulance!’ he heard a voice shriek.
‘Not going to help him, lady. He’s a goner’ a gruff voice replied. He felt a foot poke at his side. ‘Might as well call him a hearse.’
All in all, a dismal day. But, Cole thought deliriously as his vision faded for the final time, a dismal day that was now done.
Cole’s eyes snapped open. He was seated on a worn padded chair, clothed and apparently healthy, free from any of the typical aftereffects of being run over by a bus. He had regained consciousness in a panelled room, dimly lit by a single flickering light, swaying gently from the ceiling. Yellow dust hung thickly in the air, and twisting veins of darkly coloured wood lined the room, warped and in danger of splintering apart. A single closed door stood at one end. A sickly-sweet odour of decay, a nauseating blend of decomposing wood and rotting gardenias, caused Cole to gag violently. This was not where he was supposed to be. Cole slowly rose to his feet, and ran his hands over himself. He was sure that he was supposed to be dead. But, no matter how many times he checked, everything on his body was where it should be. Moving over to a window, he peered out at a blackened sky, splattered with brilliant white cracks that spread like webs to the horizon. Straight roads with glowing streetlamps spread out into the darkness, each dotted with buildings that pumped smoke into the air in rhythmic bursts. Cole stumbled back to his chair. It was all utterly incomprehensible. He pressed his face into his hands.
‘First time?’ a voice asked.
Cole became aware that he was not alone. He looked up, and saw a young man seated in the far corner of the room. He seemed relatively normal, if somewhat unnervingly ambivalent about their current situation. As Cole focused his vision, he saw that the young man’s eyes glowed faintly, as if reflecting a candlelight that wasn’t there.
‘Is this your first time through, I mean’ said the young man. He leant back in his chair and stretched.
Cole got up and pulled frantically at the lone door, before banging on it with his fists.
‘That won’t do anything. It doesn’t open until you’re called’ he said as Cole clawed at the door. ‘Didn’t you read the sign?’ He yawned and gestured to a sign hung pointedly above the door. It read:
‘Sit until called. Do not leave the room. Do not cut the line. No fighting. And don’t forget to smile!*
*Failure to smile is an offence
Printed by Because I Said So Civic Control Corp.’
‘The no fighting part always makes me laugh,’ the young man continued. ‘I mean, what’s the point of fighting if the person you just killed can just reattach their head?’
Cole slumped into a corner, breathing rapidly. He tried to remember the breathing exercises his doctor had given him, but realised with horror that these may not work if you aren’t breathing at all. The curious young man stood, and moved over to Cole. He knelt on his haunches, and placed a hand on Cole’s shoulder.
‘I’m sorry, I forget sometimes that this isn’t exactly easy. I’m Nine. Stupid name, I know, but it isn’t my original. Long story.’ He took Cole’s hand and shook it.
‘I’m … Cole.’
Nine smiled. ‘Well Cole, I find the best way is the most direct. You’re dead, and you’ve ended up here. I don’t know if this is the afterlife, but if it is, it’s pretty disappointing, really.’ Nine looked around the room, and sighed.
Coles breathing began to slow. He looked up at the young man with the glowing eyes.
‘The last thing I remember,’ Cole said, ‘was crossing a road. And maybe a bus. And pain.’ He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts.
Nine grimaced. ‘You remember less each time, but that doesn’t sound like a good one. I’ve had a few bad ones myself. One happened on a roller coaster called ‘The Slicer.’ Nine walked over to the window, and peered through. ‘If I’d known it was going to be that literal, I probably wouldn’t have gotten on.’
Suddenly, an announcement sounded from a crackling speaker.
‘Cole Lowman, please enter Receiving Room One.’
Nine helped Cole to his feet, and brushed the dust from his clothes in quick swipes.
‘That’s you. Better get in there. You don’t want to miss your appointment, or you’ll end up like old man Dusty over there.’ Nine pointed to a dimly lit corner. There sat an old man, gnarled and grey, beard trailing on the ground and covered in brown dust, unmoving and blended into the wall.
‘That’s a man?’ Cole said, recoiling.
‘Used to be, I guess. No one knows how long he’s been here for. His marbles have pretty much all rolled away now.’
The old man creaked his head in their direction, dust falling from him in clumps of dirty snow.
‘On and on we try, born without being alive, but there can be no hope, in a place where not even time can fly’ the old man rasped, soil blowing from his lungs.
Cole hesitantly opened the door. A desk stood in a circle of light, behind which a tall man stood. His back turned, he was clutching an open file, his arms unnaturally long. Cole saw with horror that a noose was tied around his neck, buried into glaring red flesh. He took a step back.
‘Don’t worry. It’ll be alright. Well, maybe. But you have to go in.’ Nine placed an arm around Cole’s shoulder. ‘I’ll see you again, ok? I guarantee it.’
Cole nodded, and slowly headed into the room, the door slamming shut behind him.
Cole looked out across the vast factory. Oil dripped freely from the walls, forming brown pools upon the rivet-studded floor, shimmering with heat. Blasts of steam hissed as the machines pumped, throwing rust and metal shavings into the air where it slowly fell in polluted flakes. Sallow faces stared at the conveyor belt in front of them, assembling parts that came past. His fellow workers, some of whom still carried evidence of their latest demise, stared straight ahead through glassy eyes, mouths agape and covered in ochre grime. The strange man in the room had certainly not sugar coated it. He had been given a pamphlet, taken to a bus, shoved onboard, and promptly driven to his new place of work. The pamphlet, entitled ‘So, you’re life-impaired!’ explained that as a new arrival, Cole was entitled to a dwelling and employment, where he was expected to work. It was all part of what was termed the ‘adjusting period’. Cole could expect to work here for a few hundred years, before a position possibly opened up in management. It was not optional. Each factory was staffed with similar men to the one in the room, each with a noose around their neck, and they prowled around the factory floor, making sure that everything remained in order. They often dragged malingerers to a lower floor of the factory, and usually, they did not return. To Cole, this seemed to be a slight subversion of ‘eternal rest’. But, with no choice given, he worked.
Cole felt a tap on his shoulder. He wasn’t sure how long he had been working, or even if time really meant anything in a place such as this. He turned to see the face of Nine close to his.
‘Follow me’ Nine said, his voice low.
Cole never usually liked to leave in the middle of shifts. In his old life, he was infamous for being one of the few employees to have remained at his desk during a building fire. Luckily for Cole, it was extinguished shortly before he had to get up.
‘Yes. Now. This way.’
Ducking low, Nine slunk through the factory, avoiding the gaze of the patrolling Noose-men. He stopped at a large iron door which led outside, and gestured for Cole to hurry. Reluctantly, Cole crouched, and followed.
Cole and Nine stood on top of a cliff, overlooking an immense murky sea. The sable waves churned below, crashing into jagged rocks that stuck out like broken teeth, stained inky black by time. A lone wooden sign stood at the peak. It read: ‘Everywhere is nowhere. Everyone is no one. There is no escape’.
‘Ignore that,’ Nine said, shrugging off his jacket. ‘That’s just there as a loss-prevention device.’
Cole looked down over the edge of the cliff to the crashing waves below.
‘This next part might get a little wet. That down there, is how you get out of here. Only way to do it is to jump. Might want to hold your nose, or something.’
Cole backed away from the edge. He had never been a great swimmer.
‘That’s how to escape?’ Cole said, hugging himself against the wind. ‘Isn’t there a better way?’
Nine stripped off his shirt.
‘Believe me, I’ve looked. This is the only way. I’ve done this before.’ A tinge of sadness crept into his voice. ‘It leads to the surface, or whatever world you left behind. Problem is, they look for you, and find ways to bring you back. Each time you move between the two, you lose a little piece of yourself.’ Nine crouched, and ran his hands through the rough gravel of the clifftop, pebbles falling through his fingers. ‘Pieces chip away from you, like your memory. Nine isn’t my name. Truth is, I can’t remember it anymore. It’s only the number of times I came through here before I lost count. To be completely honest, I’m not even sure if I’m human anymore.’ Nine looked up at Cole, his eyes glowing faintly. ‘But you have to make a choice. I made mine. And now you do too.’ With that, Nine leapt off the cliff, disappearing into the waves below.
Cole was never one to break rules. His whole life he had done what he was told, sat up as straight as he could, and the only thing it had gotten him was the privilege of being hit by a bus. He wasn’t sure of it, but he felt he was close to grasping the answer to a question that had long eluded him. The answer lay at the bottom of that cliff. With a deep breath, Cole stepped off the edge, into the abyss below.
Hello. It has been a while since the last post, I know. It’s busy work wasting time, believe me. Anyway, here’s a little something I wrote for a class I took last year. It still needs work, and isn’t all that subtle, but like I said, it’s not like I get paid. I also couldn’t think of a good title. Those things are hard.
Hector was fairly certain that he wasn’t crazy, but it seemed that something always disagreed with him. The device on his wrist was the main culprit, frequently telling him that he was indeed crazy. It had started early today. ‘Hector Hemmingway!’ it flashed in lurid green. ‘You’re crazy if you pass up on this!’. It then proceeded to show him an advertisement for televisions. Hector already had a television. In fact, he had six of them. In his mind, this raised the uncomfortable question of just who exactly was watching who. It was a cold April morning, and Hector huddled into his coat as he hurried down a city street. He was leaving forever, he had decided. Once out of the city, he would go south, to somewhere quiet and peaceful where green was the colour of grass, and not of neon. Still, the device on his wrist chattered at him. He pressed angrily at it, although he knew that it was impossible to turn it off. At birth, everyone was given a device that was attached to the wrist, and would flash brightly with offers at various points during the day. These could never be removed or turned off. As a consolation, you did eventually get to choose a colour. Hector’s was blue. He had grown to hate the colour. They only displayed advertisements, and it was mandatory that one of these offers be accepted, regardless if one had a need for the product or not.
Before he left the city, he had one last thing to do. Hector slipped into an alley, and when he was sure that no one was watching, ripped the device from his wrist. This was a terrible crime. The morning crowds rushed past, no one noticing that a cardinal sin had just been committed in their presence. The removal of your device meant disappearing into a rehabilitation facility, and they surely would be coming for him now.
’You’re crazy!’ the device implored, as it lay on the ground. Hector poked at it with his toe, curious about the object that for so long had dictated his life. It presented a compelling second opinion to be sure, and Hector knew that the world had just become a lot more dangerous. But, he just couldn’t continue with this life. As he cautiously ducked out of the alley and back into the flow of people on the street, he reflected that although his recent conclusion there was something terribly wrong with the world had not come easily, it was nonetheless an important place to have arrived at. He was smart enough to know that it was a dangerous opinion to have, and so had initially decided to ignore it, doing his best to bury it amongst the minutiae of daily life. Despite his efforts, he had found it increasingly difficult to escape from. It had progressed in an infuriatingly resolute manner, and Hector’s inability to disregard it had bothered him greatly. The thought begun small and difficult to grasp, only flickering briefly before fading away, like a dying bulb. As time went on, it grew steadily until it began to feel as if he was waking from a dream. It was now present when he woke in the morning, and as he walked down the street, bursting into his thoughts with increasing frequency throughout the day. It had even begun to enter his dreams, where nightmares of being an increasingly faded photocopy woke him gasping for breath. Impossible to placate, and yet equally impossible to act upon; it was the worst kind of idea. But now, with the idea formed and actionable, he finally had purpose. Lost in thought, Hector bumped solidly into a passer-by. This was the kind of slip-up that could end an escape before it began, and Hector’s bare wrist was now a giveaway. Panicked, Hector began to apologise repeatedly, but the man was focused on his wrist, and didn’t glance up. Instead, he turned to the woman next to him.
‘Look honey!’ he said, pointing. ‘Half-price vacuum cleaners, now we can have one for each room!’
‘Good idea, I’ll get some too!’ the woman replied, tapping furiously.
The clocks struck over to midday, and it was time for the mandatory buy. As the clocks chimed, everyone stopped in place and looked hungrily to their various devices, eagerly awaiting the new round of offers. Hector joined in with the routine for what he hoped was the last time, his face adopting the accepted expression of eager anticipation. It was safer that way. Cars stopped in the streets, their drivers now occupied with more important tasks. This caused more than few accidents, but no one seemed to mind. A large Cadillac collided with a wall, spilling its driver onto the hood. He smiled groggily as he accepted an offer for discounted helmets. Activity resumed as the daily buy ended, and the cars began moving again, inching their way to their various destinations through a maze of steel and tinted windows.
Hector was close to the station now. All he had to do was purchase a ticket, and he would be on his way. He saw a familiar face approaching, and ducked into his jacket. It was his neighbour, Davidson. He was genial, enthusiastic man who always wanted to discuss his latest purchases with Hector. Short, rotund and blessed with the unpleasant skill of being able to sneak up on people, he frequently cornered Hector every morning, wherever he may be. His round face would flush brightly whenever he discussed whatever products he had purchased recently, and had a habit of bouncing excitedly on his feet, like a child would do. Hector hated him intensely. He briefly considered turning around, but Davidson had spotted him immediately, and was homing in on him like a beige missile.
‘Hector!’ Davidson called as he pushed through the crowd. Too late now. Hector turned, and with some effort adopted a smile.
‘Hello Davidson. Cold morning, isn’t it?’ Hector said. He never quite knew why he always said more than was necessary. Was being rude to a man he hated such a terrible thing? No one seemed to be rude anymore. Everyone greeted each other with smiles as plastic as the products they bought, and had grown so used to it that the alternative seemed unthinkable.
‘Oh yes, deathly cold’ Davidson said. ‘Glad I bought that crate of surplus thermals during the last weekly special.’
Hector hoped he wouldn’t continue.
‘Sure, some of them have a bit of a chemical smell,’ Davidson continued. ‘But the price was right, and it gave us a chance to use the seven surplus boxes of air freshener we bought. Personally, I think new car is a fine thing to smell like.’
Hector glanced longingly at the entrance the station.
‘Say, you don’t look well.’ Davidson said, adopting a look of concern. ‘Are you buying enough?’ He placed a hand on Hector’s shoulder. Hector looked at the pink, chubby hand resting on his coat and felt a throbbing begin to grow behind his eyes.
‘Yes, I’m buying as much I should. I meet the quota every week.’
‘Well it can’t hurt to go above, can it? Me and the wife go above every week, just to be safe. I hear that they recently caught a bunch of people who hadn’t been spending for weeks. Can you believe it? Weeks!’
‘You don’t say? Shocking.’ Hector hoped he sounded an appropriate level of appalled.
‘So, what was your latest buy?’ Davidson asked.
‘Well, it was …’
The silence dragged out as Hector struggled to think of an answer. It was unthinkable that someone would not remember their last purchase, but Hector had frozen, unable to think as the possible answers became hopelessly jumbled in his head. To be foiled by the most innocuous of questions seemed a strangely ironic way for him to be caught.
‘You don’t remember your last buy?’ Davidson said, now suspicious. ‘Are you sure you’re feeling alright?’
Hector began to back away slowly. His pulse thumped in his ears as he edged towards the station. If he could just make it inside, everything would be fine.
‘Your wrist …’ Davidson had noticed Hector’s bare wrist. It was only a matter of time now. Davidson’s mouth opened in mute terror, and he pointed at Hector.
‘Saver!’ he screamed shrilly. ‘You’re a Saver!’
Everyone in the immediate vicinity froze. To be labelled a Saver, one who did not spend, was to be branded a dangerous deviant, and those who were labelled as such frequently disappeared, only to emerge sometime later as drooling shadows of what they used to be. A woman screamed. He turned to run, but a crowd had formed, blocking his path. ‘Saver! Saver!’ the crowd screamed. A rock struck him in the head, drawing blood. It would only take moments for them to tear him apart.
With a shove, Hector forced his way through the crowd, and sprinted into the station. His only chance was to hope he could board a train, and escape the city before his identity was circulated. As he barged through the doors of the station, a black van shrieked to a halt behind him. Men clad in black uniforms, their faces hidden behind masks, emerged in precise and co-ordinated movements. Armed with truncheons, they were the feared Green Boots, named for the striking green colour of their footwear. They were responsible for keeping order, and ensuring that people met their daily buy quota. Few ever encountered them and returned. With surprising speed, they pursued Hector into the station. Hector gasped for breath as he willed his legs to go faster, his sight set on the nearest train, which was preparing to depart. If he could somehow get onto the train before the Green Boots reached him, he would be safe. The rhythmic thump of boots grew louder behind him. Nearly at the train, Hector put the last of his energy into one final burst. All those exercise machines he had bought were perhaps not such a waste after all. Suddenly, a shiny black shoe emerged from the crowd, and tripped Hector in one swift motion. He crashed to the tiles of the station floor, only a few feet from the train that was to be his salvation. Dazed and gasping for breath, Hector rolled onto his back and stared at the station ceiling. A black-suited figure stood over him, and a curiously friendly face leaned in.
‘Hello, Hector. Let’s have a talk, shall we?’
Some months later, Hector sat on a park bench on an overcast day. The season had turned, and now the leaves floated to the ground around him, blown along the concrete on a chill breeze. An offer flashed up on his wrist. Hector smiled as he accepted it, a scar prominent on his forehead. ‘You’re crazy if you miss this!’ the device said.
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’