You would call out to him now, wouldn’t you? Typical human. Many of you either cling ridiculously to your idols, and others abandon them until they are needed or wanted. It’s no wonder your world continues to degrade when you cannot find even one thing to truly believe.
And what did he believe? Could he possibly believe anything while making her go about these actions, reliving the day that true life ended?
Howard guided the car past the intersection and the hill once again went down gradient and curved. The cars there were too congested. While trying to maneuver around one he leapt into the left lane and found that there was another out of sight that was driving at an ungodly slow speed.
Impulsive thinking was never his strong ground. He shot to the left, into oncoming traffic to avoid the car. At first he had survived, but from around the corner, before he could react, a semi chugged along.
The scene seemed rendered in glass and frozen oxygen. For a moment all was clear, another moment later there was a boom and crackle of breaking class and metal and then an opposing force that drove Mil backward, just as she had been driven backward through the darkness, which was where she returned.
She floated through the endless black against the howling of a wind unknown. The cold air stung at her again, and she fell into a deep sleep, not much different from a coma. In a few minutes, she would awaken and find her assailant.
The world appeared as complex smudges of color and streams and glitters of reflected light. A white light eschewed in through a window next to her, seemed to moan and call out. It was serene light, but not the type she had seen on past summer and spring days, but one that seemed off, it seemed...
Fake, she thought. This light is fake.
And fake it was. Had Mil watched horror films, she might have thought herself to be inside The Hive, waiting for the countless undead to pounce and make a breakfast of her. They, or anyone else, did not come.
She lay bound to a bed, not knowning how long she had been out. It could have been an hour or five hours. Maybe even five days.
"Actually, it's only been fifteen minutes."
Mil started. She could not move beyond that because she was strapped down. She turned her attention away from the window and finally got a good view of her room, with her vision fully in tact. She was in an unremarkable hospital room, one with two beds, a couple waiting chairs, and a bedside table. She saw a card there, one that read Get well, Marcus.
Sitting in one of the waiting chairs was a man wearing a beaten and old gray robe. She didn't see the man’s entire face, but beheld the dark and angular chin that stood out with a light five o'clock shadow and a cynical smile, his eyes hidden beneath his hood.
"Who the fuck-"
"Where are my manners? Marcus. Cygnal Marcus, Necromancers of Neuville, vice chaplain."
Mil expected him to stick his hand out to shake. His voice was calm and professional, though she recognized it as the warbling voice that entered her head and her recorder. Her fists bundled up, clenching to the point of aching.
"What the hell do you want from me?"
"What did I tell you before all this happened?"
"Don't ignore my-"
Before her words could leave her, Marcus planted a heavy slap across her face. The smile became a sneer and tiny pearls of teeth showed beneath his dark red lips.
"I told you not to damage the body you were in possession of. That is, the body that belonged to my familiar."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
Marcus sighed, swallowed, shook his head, and said:
"The body you took belonged to my familiar. If you do not know the word-"
"I know the goddamn word, thank you, and I think-"
"And I think you would do best to keep that fucking whore’s mouth of yours shut before I shut it for you! Now, my familiar had a body, you damaged it beyond use despite my warnings. All you had to do was leave the body alone, I would have taken it, and you would not be in this situation."
Tears poured down from her eyes. She shook her head, slowly at first and then doubled the speed to a frantic tantrum. She looked Marcus in the eyes and asked one more question.
"What are you doing to me?"
"Examining you, of course. Doing as you do to bodies, only I am examining your soul."
"Why haven't you killed me yet?" she asked.
"We necromancers do abide a code. Just because we are malicious does not mean we kill everything when we feel like it. At first, I was going to find some way to dispose of you. Instead, I prodded your insides, looking for clues to the pieces of the soul you've shrouded, the one you left behind when you left your God."
"What are you?"
"Death-shapers. People who have sat by over the centuries and watched as you apes overtook our cathedrals one by one. This city was one of those cathedrals, and you apes have stolen it from us."
"What were you doing in my head? What the fuck right do you have-"
Another sharp slap slid across her face, threw her head to the side, and for the first time she felt some give on the belts that bound her. Perhaps the belts were as fake as the sunlight pouring in from the outside. This "hive" might have more tricks to it than she expected.
"Where are we?"
"We're right here."
"And I goddamn well told you we are right here!"
Silence, and then:
"I prodded you because I saw something in that faint ape-brain that piqued my interest."
Mil tried to wriggle discreetly, insomuch as one could when their mind could be read. She maintained eye contact with her assailant, trying not to make it too obvious. It wasn't the grin on his face, one that smacked of whiskey on a late night in dark alleys, that made her stop trying, but a tug on the bed sheets that she was certain was not her. She looked down to see the very apex of something crawling up them. At first she thought it was a hairless rat. Upon closer inspection she saw that it had a beak like a bird, red and black leathery skin, and where hands should have been were long nubs like fleshy scythes. What she saw seemed less than material, and she understood what it was he was saying. This was death crafted into a pseudo-life.
It pulled itself closer to her and Marcus's smile broadened. She could not see his eyes, but could feel the gleam coming from them like heat from the sun. And it was that heat that gave her the strength to pull herself free of the straps.
She toppled sideways off the bed, away from Marcus and into the fake sunlight. The creature on the bed toppled with her and laid there on the floor. She thought nothing of it, not to stomp on it, or kick it, or anything. God only knew what kind of diseases it carried. Marcus had not registered what she had done until she had regained her bearings. Before he could respond she sent her left foot sailing into his balls. She rang the bell to stop this session of class, and ran out the door, leaving her assailant on his knees and beside himself.
Outside the door was the same hallway from before, littered as always with rubble and reeking of urine and humidity. It was Murphy’s Law yet again that she would fall within ten feet of the door. She cursed the piece of rubble that tripped her only to find it was her purse. She did not know how it got from her locker to the floor here, but she reached for it anyway. Inside, she found something that brought hope cascading down on her and sent her soaring again to her feet.
Her cell phone.
Matt Johnson arrived at the clinic at 7 AM, and had been there for some time joined up with the team investigating what was one of the most mysterious cases he had ever seen. All around the place where the autopsy room resided were signs of struggle, hints of foul play, and shades of an indescribable occurrence.
Nor did he want such descriptions.
Symbols littered the walls. Some of them were half drawn, others had pieces missing, not like someone had erased part or purposely drawn only part of them, but as if the absent pieces were waiting somewhere else on the other side of the walls. He could feel the echoes of something large and heinous. There was a subtle stench on the air sent everyone's senses into paranoia. The entire team felt eyes upon them that they hoped were not there.
Matt's findings were the most curious, because he had found physical evidence of what possibly transpired there in the clinic. Another investigator, Jeremy Matisse arrived and met him at the entrance to the clinic.
I know this guy is a fuck, Matt thought, but he's a hell of an investigator.
"How are the kids?"
"Irritating. Dispose of the bullshit, Matt. What do you got?"
Matt paused. He didn't know what to say. He decided to let the halls and rooms do the talking. They first walked over to the autopsy room: a place for everything, and everything very much out of place. Anything that was not bolted down was on the floor. Matt explained that his had to be signs of a struggle, and the only person it could have involved was a woman working here by the name of Mildred Lancy.
"How did you find out about her?" Jeremy asked.
"From the janitor. He saw her last night. Said she was investigating a John Doe."
"Looks like John Doe didn't want an investigation."
"Someone may not have, anyway," Matt said.
They walked down the hallway to an office.
"This is another point of interest," Matt said.
They entered, and saw only reflections of what transpired.
Mildred was on her feet in a flash. She didn't want to chance looking for the parking lot again. He may have control over that yet. She hoped he didn't have control over this entire area. She ran to the first door she saw and tried to the knob. It slid open with ease and granted her passage. She shut the door behind her and checked the knob for a locking mechanism. To her chagrin there was none.
The inside of this room was cold, and the floor was flooded up to her ankles.
("As you can see," Matt said, "the floor here is soaked with water. We have no idea where it came from. There are no pipes or plumbing that come into this room. If you check around the walls, it shows that it was even deeper before. There's a line of moisture around the wall that's about six inches off the ground. The astounding thing is there's no trace of this water outside this room. Water that high would have exited out under the door, but there's not any water or moisture outside." )
She waded through the water, not caring what could be there. There had to be a purpose to this room. On the wall was the same sigil she had seen before, only half of it-the lower horizontal half- was missing.
("What do you make of the symbol on the wall?" Jeremy asked.
"I don't know. Possibly ritualistic. It's not something I recognize."
"I've seen it once before."
"Really? Where?" Matt asked.
"I'll tell you later, when we're in a more sober setting.")
She looked down at the cell phone to find a full set of bars. How it could work in a place like this she didn't know, and she didn't care. She dialed the first number that came to mind: her sister. She couldn't do anything for her, she knew, but she had to check on her to make sure that she was okay.
("Do you believe this Mildred Lancy had anything to do with what happened in here?" Jeremy asked.
"I'm not sure, but I just found out about twenty minutes ago that her younger sister was found dead in her home. She was cut open like corpse would be for an autopsy."
"Who found her?"
"Her husband. She was in bed with the phone in her hand.")
There was the familiar signal that the phone was ringing. Mil's heart raced as the seconds went by. Her sister had to answer, she can't be hurt! It had to be an illusion.
"Oh my god, Jonna! Jonna, it's Milly!"
"Yeah, Jonna, please listen!"
"Milly, you let it happen."
"Let what happen, baby?"
"You let him get inside me, like he got inside you. Only he got in your head."
Silence. Jonna continued, her voice growing deeper and more dreadful with each syllable.
"He got in my body, Milly. He got into my body and stole... he stole... he stole my... Oh GAWD Milly it hurts!"
The hope that once found Mil floated away. Her face screwed up as tears began to well in her face again. She closed her phone and saw that there were no bars now. Her one phone call was spent, and now she had nothing else left to fall back on. She opened the door and ran out. None of the flooded water spilled out or even dampened the floor in the hall. She had little time to question this perplexity. She took to flight and tried to find another way out.
Matt and Jeremy opened a door that led to a stairwell. Matt climbed up one set of stairs and stopped. Half a writing on the wall announced that "Erne- was he-". On the ground was a small pool of dried blood.
"We're running a test on this blood," Matt said.
"$50 says it belongs to Ms. Lancy."
"Is this all?" Jeremy asked.
Mil tried another door and came out in a stairwell. Limited on choices, she climbed up the stairs. Up the first set she went, and stopped at a sight that paralyzed her: a still-beating heart laying in a pool of blood at her feet. She walked around it, trying not to get too close. She never knew when it would sprout something like arms or legs, or god forbid tentacles. She went up the first stair and tripped.
("This other blood stain," Matt said, "is where someone tripped and hit their nose. This explains the blood on the stair itself and all along side going down. This also would explain the trail of blood drops leading from here up the stairs.")
The wound in her nose cascaded again. She was momentarily dazed, but didn't bother to check her nose. She ran up the stairs, blood dropping from her face to the floor.
In the center of the stairwell was a tower of unnatural darkness. She was sure it was just a trick of light until she heard a click resound from it. She stopped at the feeling of recognition-
("She stopped here, because this is where the drops are highly concentrated-")
and turned to the right just as the scythe-armed mongrel leaped out from the tower and onto her chest. It crawled around and situated itself on her back, released an eerie whistle, and then took a bite out of her shoulder. She screamed and rushed forward, smacking her face on the wall.
("There must have been a struggle here, because there's a smudge of blood on the wall where a face would be, particularly a bloodied face, like someone had a bloody nose.")
She reached around and grabbed the familiar. It clicked a few more times and continued its attack, biting other areas of the same shoulder. It wasn't going for anything major, or even drawing blood on her which had to mean one thing.
It's not trying to kill me, it's only trying to slow me down.
In an act of despair, she threw herself backward to try to crush the creature. She felt it give between her and the wall like a lump of jelly. She turned to check the damage. All she saw was the blood stain from before looking back at her, an omen written in her own blood. She somehow signed a pact that was written on the wall and agreed to give up her soul. She knew it, could feel it. Darkness coalesced bellow the stain on the floor, and she knew what it was. She didn't give it time to regroup, and took off.
("There are also a few random spots of blood on the floor around this area, also insinuating a struggle. She also ran up this way leaving a streak of blood on the railing.")
Mil climbed the stairs to the next floor and tried the door. She didn't know if this would put her away from the exit or closer. She knew in her bones that this place didn't follow the rules of physics, but somehow cheated.
"She left a little blood on this knob as well as she went through," Matt said. He looked at Jeremy, who gave him the usual superior expression, as if he would come up with something more solid than Matt's explanation on the fly, and only think of himself as being better for it.
They went through the door and into another hallway. The entire hall was darkened except for one section in the very middle where the lighting was not turned off.
"This is where I found this thing," Matt said, and produced a bag with a cell phone in it. He put on a rubber glove and dipped into the sack, pulling the cell from its new home and flipped it open. "When we found it, it was left on the video camera feature. You really should watch the video on here. You might find it... interesting..."
Mil entered the hallway. She was sick of this, always halls, always doors that probably lead nowhere. Her speed was down now, and her legs shaky. She could barely stand or think straight. She only wanted release, she didn't care how. She threw herself forward, running down the hall, both feeling and hearing the loud slap her feet made on the floor.
She got halfway down the hall when a sick feeling overtook her and stole the last of her energy. She collapsed to her knees, her shaking growing exponentially and a feeling of malaise washing over her. She knew that this was the end. She opened her cell phone, her mind absent from her body, and found the video option. She spun her phone around and looked into the eye, sobbing. She wanted something to say for her last words, but could pull nothing up but more sobs.
Behind her and in front of her, at either far end of the hallway, the lights shut off simultaneously. After that, the next pair over followed suit, and the next pair, and the next pair. Pair after pair faded into darkness, leaving any hope of exit in the dust that was the past. She watched as her doom made a climactic approach. At last, she was surrounded on either side by darkness, just one light fixture above emanated down on her. She looked up at it and pretended it was the sun, just as she remembered feeling it on the days at the lake. Like the light in her room before, it was fake; a synthetic sun devoid of promise or health. Tears streamed down her face, but she bade herself not to look into the eyes of her conqueror.
A shape stepped out from the darkness to her right. She didn't dare look up at him. She only wanted to acknowledge the memory that she was feeling, the last bit of heaven she would not be denied by anyone or anything. Even as she was pressed back against the wall by an unseen force, she did not take her gaze away from the last bit of light she would ever see.
"I found one thing, daughter of men, that made you worth keeping around. You're damned lucky that I need you, otherwise I would have cut you the fuck up."
Beside him strode in his rat-sized familiar. It fawned over her with eyes it didn't have. It sat, waiting for instruction, beside his right foot.
"Your soul proved one thing to me: that you are a perfect match in the type of person for my familiar. He, like all familiars, needs a place to live, and you stole that from him, but now... Now you goddamn bitch! You can give that back! All you need is the right soul. You are a little marred, sure, but at least you can heal."
The necromancer laughed and trailed off, repeating his own words and giggling in amusement. She could sense tones in his voice, and could tell that compared to the rest of his ilk he had to be a bitter, idiotic outcast. The rest of them had to be more wicked than this man, more cunning, and probably less petty and impressed with their own stupidities.
His familiar crawled forward and hesitated, then pounced and clasped onto either side of her face. Mil shut her eyes, only so she would never look at her assailant. The creature expanded her mouth, flexed it beyond what would have been physically possible. Here, physics were cheated. Laws were exceptions.
The pain was excruciating, feeling her lips expand but never break. Her jaw popped out of place and then the pain worked its way down to her throat. She could feel the creature tunneling through what was left of the organs and muscles in her mouth. Everything was stripped away after the tongue. Eaten, obliterated, erased. It didn't matter. The pain was searing, stinging, unbearable.
And still, she affected none of it. She never looked at the bastard responsible, never groaned, and never opened her eyes. She thought of white; blank, empty white. Now, and even as the creature tunneled down her throat, tearing away her vocal cords and wind pipe, and even when it went into her insides and hollowed them out.
All she thought was white.
The cell phone video started at her panting and sobbing, and ended after the lights next to her went out. Matt and Jeremy knew not what to make of the video, but Matt put it back in the plastic bag.
"So, what do you make of that?" Matt asked.
Jeremy shrugged. His cockiness waned, and Matt could not disguise the smirk that was forming.
The investigation was far from over, but even Matt knew how this was going to end: a cold case.
Matt exited the building for a smoke. He deserved it after tearing the fool's crown off the fuck known as Jeremy. If he had a better look of Mil than from a dark cell phone video, he would have easily picked her out across the street. She looked on the clinic, affecting nothing still, with a strange sense of vestige.
And in her eyes where the twinkle of life would have been was nothing but a hollow ring of color and a pupil. The soul that once inhabited her body had vacated, giving way to the mongrel that slept in her now empty belly.
And in the end, all got what they wanted. Marcus's familiar had a new home, and Mil no longer received calls from her sister.
About the Author
Joseph Shaffer was born on Thanksgiving Day. He now lives in a quiet town near the West Coast of the US, and primarily spends his time reading, writing, playing video games, and goofing off. He is not the same Joseph Shaffer that was wanted for murder some 10 years ago, so please stop bothering him about that.
© 2008 Joseph Shaffer