At first I thought it was an earthquake. The entire world shuddered and groaned as if some massive thing was under the surface trying to shake off the cities we built on its back. I had never been in an earthquake before, my curiosity got the best of me, I was curious how the buildings looked, I heard they sway.Continue reading Flash Friday: Towering
Do you see that house? Shrouded overgrown plants like some sort of forgotten temple in the wilds of South America. You can imagine strange rites to stranger gods, swinging sex parties that devolve into cannibalistic orgies of violence. But none of that is real, all in your head. You see, that house is just that, a simple overgrown house, it doesn’t matter.
You don’t see them hop, you see them before the bounce, and if you are fast enough, you can see them once they land. But when they jump it’s completely different. Each parasitic intruder is moving so fast they can’t be seen. It means for that fraction of a second between jump and land, they are everywhere at once. There is no space that is not filled completely with fleas. When you can’t see them it means they are in motion, looming closer to us with each unfurling of bristled legs to pop into the every-space and then back.
Empty grocery store aisles beckon, he knows it’s a trap. It’s always a trap. Somewhere in the confines of that darkened storefront, things wait to make an easy meal out of fools looking for an easy meal. All he has is a machete, and his hunger to drive him inside.
They didn’t come all at once. But rather, I found them one at a time or in pairs, scuttling under the oven when I flipped on the light. And at first, I didn’t think anything of it. What were a few little bugs, escaping the rain or cold? By the time I realized they were a problem it was too late. We were infested.
The things covered walls, strutting in the open sunlight in defiance. There was nothing I could do, no matter how many I killed, how many traps or poisons. This was no longer my home, but theirs.
The door was closed.
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.
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.
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.
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.