Anthony stared in the mirror, his eyes, red-rimmed and bloodshot, stung and ached. Each time he closed them it was harder to reopen them. Not only because of the crippling exhaustion but because he didn’t want to look at this world anymore. Every day a new school shooting or dead black man. Every week more news of war. Every minute a new tweet that seemed to come straight from hell.
She stared down at her hands. They had done this. They had carved through the competition to achieve her dreams. Her eyes glazed over, contemplating whether or not they were truly hers, or if they had now taken on a life and personality of their own. No red tape or doubt could hold them back. They knew what they wanted and they took it, heedless of the shy and conserved woman she used to be. Her attention snapped back into the present as she heard a door open and close somewhere else on the floor. Her lips curled back, baring teeth that had seen more darkness than light through years of shy smiles and hidden scowls. Now they shone in the dim illumination of the exit sign, glinting in eager anticipation. These were not someone else’s hands and teeth. They were hers. And their work wasn’t done just yet.
Joshua loaded up in the truck with a small group of younger peckerwoods, the plan was pretty straightforward, the Faceless were operating in Pico-Union, a bad neighborhood on the best of days, and with MS-13, the Faceless and Desert Rats about to be active, there was no way any cops would show face tonight. Joshua checked his gun for the fifth time since starting the drive. It was going to be bloody, between the three gangs, the streets would become flooded with the blood, piss, and shit of violence and hate. It would be easier for the Rats, if it was brown, kill it. If it were white, don’t. With more than one Latino gang stalking the streets in his city, they would have to think twice about one another, while he and his clique could blast indiscriminately.
There are always two of us, handler and obstructer. They never send just one, and they never send more than two. We arrived late, we almost always do. The family is downstairs, huddled in fear. They almost always are when things are going well. When they’re going bad … well, best not to dwell on the things that can go wrong. I watched the handler out of the corner of my eye as he lied to the family. Nothing malicious, just the sorts of things you had to tell the average citizen to keep them sane and nonviolent. After a moment, I saw that look in the mother’s eyes. She was buying whatever the handler was saying. Her face moved from afraid and panicked to just afraid. He was very good at his job, it’s funny. I’m considered the essential one, but what I do, anyone with a strong enough mind can do, my handler, on the other hand, was skilled. He nodded to me, and I pushed myself off the wall I was leaning on to head up the stairs.
The stairs led to a long hallway lined with doors. Each one would lead to a bedroom or bathroom. But one of them, tonight, would lead to another place. My eyes, colorless and white as my hair scanned the hallway. It was unlikely that anything had come through a doorway yet, given that we and the family downstairs were still alive. I saw the carpet outside the bathroom was wet, a strange mushroom-like growth was beginning to creep out of the room, growing, sporing and spreading even as I watched. I gestured to the floor so my handler knew where I was going. It was important that he watch me, but also that he not see what was happening. Each step was purposeful carrying me closer to the offending doorway, my mouth moved silently forming the words to my own personal meditations. The doorway to the bathroom itself was not the doorway, my heart was clenched, each labored beat struggling to push blood and oxygen through my body. I realized I was holding my breath. I glanced at my handler once and nodded, before taking a long breath and stepping into the bathroom.
The walls were coated in the alien fungi, strange chitin covered things scurried across the floor evading my feet as I moved beyond the threshold. At the back of my mind, I could hear the screaming of the insects and vegetation. A steady pulse, like the horrified chant of panic-stricken worshipers. But this room wasn’t the other place. Instead, the medicine cabinet acted as a portal. I moved quickly, ignoring everything else and blocked the small rectangle of reality and unreality with my body. Through the hole in our sanity, I could see a forest of fleshy trees, swarming with spine covered things that hissed and spat. Something huge moved through the tees, which bent, broken and wailed in anguish at it’s passing. But, due to me blocking the way, it ignored the portal, it passed harmlessly, never realizing our world was within reach.
I don’t know how long I stood there, time is meaningless in those moments, and each second I gaze out into the abyss, refusing it a chance to cast it’s gaze on us feels like centuries are being leeched from my body. The torment feels unending. But it does end, eventually, I find myself staring at bottles of aspirin and old soap. It’s over. I nod to the handler who entered when I stopped sobbing. He would call in the team.
Joshua walked through the streets of Fontana, proudly displaying his tattoos from under the tight white t-shirt and suspenders. He didn’t bother to hide his bald scalp with a hat or bandana either, to do so would be to hide who and what he was, and he had no shame in either. He was proud to be a white man fighting for white families in the streets of America. Those streets were quiet at the moment, and until he was ready to make his move, Josh wanted them to stay that way. He didn’t hide or keep to the shadows, but he kept to back streets that he knew there wouldn’t be as many cops patrolling.
He waits under the bright light on the side of the street. Dark houses line the block, but no cars are visible. Not parked curbside, or in the driveways of the foreboding homes. His Lyft was supposed to be here minutes ago, and now his phone was dead. The darkness between each lamppost seems impenetrable; something hides between those circles of light. It is hungry.
He suppresses a shudder as he thinks his eyes catch movement. Strange, he thinks, how irrational you can become in the darkness, when silence is the only companion, allowing your imagination to fill the space where life usually happens. But he can’t shake the sensation that there is a shark circling the spotlight of safety he is standing in. Waiting for him to step out of the light and into its waiting maw. It is hungry, after all.
He sees the oncoming headlights and pink light of his Lyft approaching and feels silly for the fear that had welled up inside him so easily when faced with the dark. As it passed a streetlight, the Lyft logo turns off. At the next, the headlights vanish into the shadows. It was still hungry.
Just a small warning, this story contains plenty of violence and racism.
Joshua reached out and crushed the life out of the roach crawling along the windowsill, listening to the way the crunching sound rang so clear and loudly to his chemically boosted senses. He examined the white and black entrails on his fingers, the way the ichor didn’t run down his hands like blood should. Finally wiping his hand off on his jeans, he became aware that someone was talking to him. One of his favorite side effects of the meth was his ability to focus so intensely on what he wanted to focus on when he wanted to, drowning out the unpleasant side effects of life. Joshua didn’t look immediately at the source of noise, he knew who it was and what it was about. Instead, he let his eyes linger on the smoke coming from his cigarette and how dull the cherry looked through the washed out lights of their trailer home.
When we walked through that place, we became aware that we were not alone. The question was if we had ever been alone, or if he had been stalking us through fate and destiny to this moment and this place? Was he confined to a four-dimensional space like we are? Whatever the answer to those questions was, it was also meaningless. It was in that place that he found us. One by one we disappeared into the shadows casts by the moon against the thick trees.
Each time one of us went missing, we would murmur and suggest that we look, but we knew we wouldn’t. Some deep-seated knowledge, primordial in our core, knew that our friends were already dead. I didn’t know if they were tortured first, but at that point, I didn’t care. I only cared about escape. Each turn through the forests brought us to a new mist-shrouded corpse of trees. At each one, a new atrocity visited on an old friend. A corpse for each corpse. Tied or pinned to one trunk, skin stretched out welcoming us in carrion embrace to join forever in oblivion. We ran, we would not escape for long.
April 7th, 1723
Praise her, the veil is torn open, reality’s womb spilling forth a perfect creature. As promised with book and ritual, I went down to the larder as was joined by the compatriots, those loyal to our cause, and began the ritual. It is unnatural to perform such a ritual hidden away, it should be done in the starlight, under the moon and trees as sacred as our Mistress, but the necessity of hiding our actions forced us into this hole.
When I first discovered there was a tunnel in the park I had my doubts. After all, who would dig a hole, let alone a tunnel in a public park? The post, written on an obscure travel blog, designed to help urban explorers discover oddities, was as obscure and vague as it could possibly be. No pictures, no real description, even clicking on the link had been an accident. I had been looking for something to do, to distract myself from the leaden stomach and crushing loneliness she had left inside me. I had lived here for years, but had I experienced it? My sudden interest was inorganic, exploring and adventure was not my cup of tea. But now, I needed a new cup, and a new drink to fill it if I were going to learn how to live again. So, with pressure from more successful and happy friends I had begun to explore the possibilities. The park was not far, and a tunnel sounded safe enough, though I suppose there could be drifters and dangerous drug addicts within. But what was the worst that could happen, I lose a few bucks to panhandlers? With this mentality, I packed a backpack and headed to the park.
The tunnel had been easy to find using the instruction from the blog. Hidden behind the corpses of trees that lined the dry creek, it yawned wide, welcoming anyone who dared to venture inside. Only a few meters in I could see it shrank to a smaller size, and became impenetrably dark. This represented something primal to me, as though the tunnel itself was the birth canal that I would reborn from. The ground around the entrance was springy and soft, giving gently with each step, welcoming me. Moving deeper into the tunnel the ground grew sterner, chiding me for second thoughts. I moved my flashlight over the walls, looking for graffiti or anything interesting. I felt the rock catching my foot, my toes hooked under the stone and sending me sprawling into the wall, and into oblivion.
When I came to, I was lying on my side, my ankle throbbing, each heartbeat sending a fresh wave of agony through my leg. My flashlight was just out of reach, but as I reached for it, the sound of scuffling made me freeze. I followed the beam of light with my eyes and saw my backpack laying there on the ground halfway lit. It was open, rifled through. The meager guts spilled out on the tunnel floor. Something fluttered down from above. I grabbed it, finding the picture of her and me in front of her house last Christmas. A figure leaned down and smiled at me, a dangerous insane smile, and I couldn’t stop myself from screaming. Screaming long after the figure had grabbed my backpack and flashlight and left. Screaming until my voice hoarse and torn gave out.
It had been my face there smiling down from the shadows.