by Jeremy Szal
STOP DOING THAT!
David Krane knew something was wrong the moment he stepped foot into the town. Not just the sort of wrong he was used to. No, not that at all. It was really, really wrong.
Wrong was one hell of an understatement.
The unsettling fog shifted and spun around him like a spectral embrace as he walked, his heavy boots crunching on gravel and broken glass. He almost felt cold fingers brush against his face, but it was probably the wind.
Yes, it was definitely the wind.
Countless houses were boarded up on the streets, their window panes covered with tape and plastic. Metal skirtings blocked gates, and doors had massive wooden boards nailed to them. Rubbish, blackened bins, wrecked cars and broken toys were thrown everywhere, as if some giant had emptied his bins on the streets. Krane had never been anywhere this unsettling... or quiet.
He shivered despite the warm coat. He liked to think he had seen it all, but he knew it was a lie. His thoughts were cut off as he stepped on a splintered piece of wood, a stabbing pain spiking through his heel.
‘Damn,’ he murmured, stumbling over to a rotting bench and examining his injuries. A nail or a shard of glass had pierced his shoe and breached skin, drawing blood. He wrenched his boot off and examined the cut.
That was when he really started to get worried.
The cut was just as he expected it to be. The blood was what worried him. It was pouring out of the wound and splattering on the ground in perfect crimson droplets. The nail seemed to have struck an artery, but he couldn’t feel anything other than a little numbing throb.
The droplets on the ground let their fluids run like mini-lakes, flowing into each other to form a massive crimson splat that seemed to be moving. Before Krane could make a move, the blood seemed to sink into the ground, as if it was being swallowed up. He blinked, just to be sure he had seen what he thought he had seen. Am I dead or something?
No, the dead don’t feel pain. Suddenly the rotting bench he was sitting on collapsed, sending a crackling noise bouncing down the streets. Confused, he got to his feet and dusted himself off.
‘Hehe. Hehe, haha.’
It sounded like a child laughing.
Krane felt as if an icy bucket of water had been emptied inside him. He glanced around, looking for the source of the sound. There was nothing.
He could have sworn he had heard a child laughing.
I’m losing my mind, he thought. His hand instinctively reached for the ‘puffer’ in his pocket. At least there was no one around here to hide it from. He pressed on the trigger and sucked on the gush of the delicious poison. His head bounced around for a moment and then everything came back to normal.
‘Now, where to?’ He glanced quickly at the directions on the sketchy map that he had been given. He spotted the marked house and set off, his pace slightly faster than before.
He just couldn’t shake the feeling that someone or something was watching him. Watching, watching, watching, watching...
* * *
DO YOU THINK THIS IS A GAME, YOU FOOL?
The date is the 12th of November. I’ve arrived at a place I won’t name. It’s quiet. Where the hell is everyone? It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It feels... different. I just wanna get this done and get the hell out of here and never, ever, ever come back.
Rusty swings in the park rattled in the wind, their chains whimpering and shaking with terror. Krane did his best to ignore it, stepping over a pile of rubbish and navigating his way through a graveyard of broken building scaffolds and timber panelings.
He turned up the stairs and onto a balcony that was soaked with rain and moss, possessive black vines snaking up the woodwork. He tried the door handle, surprised to find that it was open. He entered the dimly lit house, the hallway lined with portraits of what was probably the former residents. They looked hollow and empty, as if someone had sucked all life and joy out of them with a straw.
Suddenly the door slammed shut with a gigantic clang. He walked back to investigate.
Somehow he wasn’t surprised to find that it was locked.
* * *
WHY DON’T YOU JUST TURN AROUND FOR A MOMENT?
I swear I’m going crazy. No disrespect to the people that used to live here, but this is one screwed-up town. And what’s with all the toys on the ground?
There was a half-eaten slice of cake in the kitchen, and Krane hadn’t eaten in hours. He greedily wolfed it down, not even caring how old it was. It was only when he was hungrily chewing on it did he realize that it was warm and tasted fresh. He quickly swallowed and gazed at the cake. It couldn’t have been cooked recently. Half these houses had been empty for years. The thick dust on the floor could attest to that.
He gave up trying to think about an answer. Logic never got him anywhere in situations like this, and it certainly wouldn’t help him now. Glancing down at the plate he noticed the words ‘slice of life’ engraved on it in loopy letters.
Slice of life, he thought. Heh.
One of those awful portraits hung in the kitchen. Actually this one wasn’t so awful. It showed an old woman with a weatherbeaten face, chuckling at some private joke as she smoked on a heavy pipe. He raised the cake in her direction. ‘Grandma, you make some damn good cake.’
He didn’t expect a response and wasn’t disappointed. The portrait didn’t move.
It was time to find a way out of the house. He turned around to go when he noticed that the fridge was on. Now that was strange. He grasped the rusty handle and yanked it open.
Countless body parts were aligned neatly across the shelves, their stumps still bleeding heavily. They bucketed their contents onto the floor. Krane slammed the door shut, almost tripping backwards in his haste to get out of the house.
In the hallway, it just got worse. Images were flashing before his eyes, colours screaming at him, twisting, turning. Three bloodied corpses in the hallway, lashings of blood on the walls and floor. The portraits all staring, their faces contorting into savage snarls. Something screaming. An axe being lifted and smashing down. A fire. Smoke, ash, burning. Things burning. Burning, burning, burning.
He fumbled for his puffer, and with shaky hands inhaled deeply. He squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again.
It was all gone.
Barely able to stand up straight, he stumbled into the next room, barely hearing the door behind him slam and lock shut.
* * *
HEHEHEHEH. YOU’RE REALLY CLUELESS, AREN’T YOU?
YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE COME HERE, BUT YOU PROBABLY KNOW THAT BY NOW.
Was it that cake? No, it can’t be. And how the HELL is there a freshly baked cake here? No. I can’t focus on that now... I need to... do what I have to do. Then I’ll leave.
After everything he had ever seen in his entire life, nothing came close to this.
He had been in this room for a good hour now, and there was still no way out. His puffer was running low. If he became stuck here without it... No. Don’t even think that. Don’t give in.
It was an old lounge room with antique furniture and a shimmering mirror that let off a sensation that really bothered him. When he approached the mirror, it seemed to glow and sent a vibration pulsing through the air, making a low hissing noise.
He noticed a .45 caliber revolver lying smugly on the desk. Aiming at the mirror, he fired off the three rounds. The sounds were deafening, but none of those sounds were the mirror shattering. It stood there mocking him, as impenetrable as always. He threw the gun down in anger, on the verge of giving up.
It was then that he noticed half the items in the room weren’t visible in the mirror, such as the lamp on the desk. He could see himself walking over to it, but when he picked it up, the movement was not visible in the mirror. It showed him holding empty air.
‘Huh.’ He let his hand go limp, dropping the lamp. It smashed to the ground, making a loud smash that was louder than it had any right to be. When he looked in the mirror, he saw something materializing on the desk. A few moments later he saw that it was the lamp, a perfect reflection of what had been there a few moments ago. But when he looked back at the floor, the lamp bronze shards were shattered into countless pieces.
Was it because I broke it?
What else was different? Gazing carefully into the mirror, he noticed there were a few objects that he could see but the mirror couldn’t. Waking over to a picture frame — one that showed a large spiral tower, completely drawn with black charcoal — he dislodged it from the wall, tearing the image from the frame. Just like the lamp, the mirror showed the eerie picture where it had been a few moments ago, framed perfectly on the wall.
Not even considering the why or how, he started destroying everything he could see in the room that differed from the mirror’s reflection. A vase, a toy of a UFO, a plastic stick, a CD-ROM, and an umbrella.
But it still didn’t change anything.
It was then he noticed the purple candle, sitting quietly in the corner. He walked over to it, a sudden inkling coming over him. Reaching into his jacket pocket, he brought out a lighter, flicking a hungry blue flame into the air. He lit the candle and stepped back, a strange smell seeping into the air.
He jumped as the mirror behind him shattered, giant fragments of glass spilling onto the floor. He had done it.
Gingerly stepping over the glass splinters, he headed into the next room.
* * *
HOW CAN YOU BE SURE ABOUT ANYTHING ANYMORE?
I need to get out of here. I’ll come here for what I came for and then get out. This place wants to destroy me. Have to get out... I can’t stay here... have to escape...
Krane walked down the dusty hallway, wiping the cobwebs away as they caught in his face. Coming to the end of the hallway, he pushed the door open, not knowing what he would see.
The room was raining.
It was raining inside. The ceiling was pouring rain. There was no noise, and the water sank into the ground the moment it touched the wooden floor.
Just like the blood.
He had to hurry. Pulling his hood over his head, he strode past the toys and drawings on the floor, noticing for the first time that this room was a child’s room.
A shard of ice spiked through his heart.
He walked over to the desk, his hands finding the two things he was looking for. The object, and the note.
He looked at the object, a slender talisman with a clouded jewel in the middle. It was strange to think that such a small piece of twisted, black metal had destroyed this entire town and everyone in it. But he had learned long ago not to be fooled by appearances. The more innocent something was, the more dangerous it was likely to be. He placed it in his pocket and then glanced at the note, the water splattering on the page and dripping to the floor, crying ink.
I had to do it. I didn’t want to, but I did. No one understands what it’s like having this power. She found out about it. I had no choice. I’m sorry. It had to be done, and I would do it again, again, again, again, just to make sure no one finds out. But I’m done now. Whoever you are, you can have it. It’s twisted everything it touches beyond recognition and reality.
Don’t try to find me. You won’t. No one will. It has to be like this. That poor, poor little girl... Why did she have to find out? This burden is mine to carry. But this one burden... her burden... it’s too much. I’m getting out of here.
God forgive me.
12th of June, 19- 4, Lamb Street
Krane walked out of the house, out of the street, out of the town, with no one but the rain for company.
Copyright © 2014 by Jeremy Szal