This weeks story is a bit different. It’s not Sci-Fi. Not at all. I’d call it fantasy. Set in the modern day. Anyway, I didn’t realise it until reviewing but this story has some definite influences from Dead Space and Devil May Cry. I could say more. Give more detail, but I’m not going to. Instead I’m going to let you know it’s about 7,700 words long and say, I hope you enjoy!
Archibald can think of no place he would like to be less than on the streets of Venritere at night. Just the sound of the howling winds as they rush between the crooked roofs is enough to make his skin crawl. Add on top of that the eerie creaking the trees dotted along the wide paved sidewalks which are uneven illuminated by flickering street lights and you have something akin to a nightmare. So, if this wasn’t of the upmost import he would be inside, as is usual for him and everyone else in the city once the sun sets.
A shiver from the trench coat wearing man with thinning brown hair slows but does not force him to a standstill. That is because the last thing he intends to do is pause. Too many strange occurrences happen on these streets at night. Disappearances are the best you can hope for, the worst he dare not consider. Regrettably his mind gives him little choice, which is why seconds later he gags several times until he ultimately tears the images from his mind and casts them into a box he never intends to view the contents of.
If this mind box were real he would drop it into concrete and then dispose of it in the bay but it is not and so he will have to rely on his mental acuity to keep him from ever peaking inside.
Curiosity can be a real bug bear at times and sadly humans have it in abundance. It might be why Venritere is the way that it is. Or perhaps that is not it at all and a…
Don’t be daft, he thinks to himself while having to brace against a particularly strong gust of wind that seems determined to blow him off his feet and back the way he’s come. It fails in its attempts, though when it does finally abate Archibald cannot help but let out a sigh of relief.
You see the last thing he would want to do is have to re-tread this street, or any other in the city, without good cause.
Is what you are doing, where you are going, good cause to be out?
Silence! He tells this voice in his head.
He does so disdain when his subconscious tries to argue and dissuade him from things he knows are right.
Is that how we have fallen so far? Why the city is cut-off? Why visitors no longer venture? Or is it due to the stories, the disappearances, the violent ends that people meet on a daily basis by hands never seen but sometimes apparently apprehended? He does not know. He cannot. He does not wish too.
Ignorance is bliss; he reminds turning a corner only to be assaulted by another forceful gale.
Until it gets you killed, perhaps that can be assumed to be true.
Silence! I told you, no more of that. I do not wish to think on…
The mind, your mind, is not so simple. You know this. Stop trying to fight it. Embracing truth is the best course of action. Much like staying inside at such a time is…
I am well aware, and don’t need lecturing. But I am out here not for me…
That is my point, this is your mistake. One you should know better than to make. After all, self-preservation is exactly that; something that can only be undertaken by the self. And you being out here is not indicative to such a notion.
I am well aware of that.
Then why do you protest so profusely?
Because that which is necessary cannot, as you well know and are capable of understanding, always be that which is best for the one.
It might be, but I noticed you didn’t refute.
His subconscious says no more. The silence, in his head, is quite soothing, calming; nothing like the winds of the storm which are assaulting his physical form.
Much of his coat is peeled back from his body, exposing it. Something Archibald offers resistance against with considerable fervour through the use of his arms to wrap around his upper torso.
To make matters worse his pace has been ground down to little more than a shuffle.
“Curse these winds, curse these hours; curse these streets that once were ours.” The balding man mutters to himself.
The winds so severe that his words are almost shoved back down his throat. It’s as if the storm, which rages most nights in the city, wishes him to do exactly that, eat his words.
What a vicious place Venrifere has become since these nights of anguish and pain which started so long ago. Archibald barely remembers a time before them, though they started when he was nine years old. Prior to their emergence he, like many of the city boys, used to play out in the streets. Not where the cars, trucks and bikes would blitz past but on the sidewalks and amongst the alleyways. He recalls how joyous it was to play hide and seek with his friends.
His mind switches; he begins to wonder where those boys might be now. It’s been decades since they last were together, back in the summer prior to them departing to venture along paths that they hoped would define their lives. He does pray they are well.
A rush of wind, low as if aimed at his shins, blasts. It wrenches him from his thoughts for he is forced to lean into the gust for the few steps it takes him to reach a nearby signpost. Without thought he reaches, leaps and grasps it before hauling himself toward the angled post and wrapping his arms around it. His feet don’t quite leave the ground but it feels as though they are close to doing so, too close. And when he breathes it feels as though there is no air for his lungs, as if he will suffocate and die. He does not understand it but has heard stories. All of them seem to be blamed upon different things such as curses, ghosts, ghouls, spirits, damnation, impending apocalyptic doom, weapons of human fashioning. He believes the culprit to be none of them. Not only because they range too much with so little evidence to prove a single theory.
Pulling himself from these thoughts he focuses back in on his goal, to reach where he is headed, for there is one man who might hold answers. He will not divulge them if he does but he will lend a hand, of sorts. Yet, to say Archibald is comfortable with the prospect would be fallacy. He’s afraid, terrified even, for this man is an odd sort. Some have claimed he isn’t really a man. Idle gossip from fools, no doubt, but try as he might he cannot get them from his mind.
Is it because they might be neighbours and he is not?
The violent gust threatening to fling Archibald fizzles to a normal rush of air. Gingerly the balding man releases his grip upon the signpost. He has no confidence that the winds will not whip up once more at a moment’s notice, catching him off-guard and casting him back down the street.
Mercifully, no such fate transpires and the balding man with cold blue eyes resumes his trudge once more.
As he goes his eyes dart more than ever as he expects, anticipates, to be jumped by whatever keeps the list of the disappeared ever-expanding and the bodies piling up.
Of course, it might be the disappearances and deaths are not related one bit, but something in his bones suggests that they are.
Another corner turned sees him greeted with a signpost that he quickly surveys, without stopping. It tells him he is close but if before he was fearful, now he feels oppressed. That is the best he can explain it while the wind pulls at his trench coats tails exposing his navy blue cloth covered legs and highly polished but splashed with mud dark brown leather laced up shoes. Catching sight of their mud speckled state Archibald cannot help but exhale, disappointed. Not a moment later rain pours out of the sky sinking the man’s mood further still. He didn’t think it possible previously. Now he realises how wrong he had been. It’s as if the city is reacting to him. It’s daft, idiotic, impossible and yet that is how it feels striding through the quickly forming puddles that reside on the uneven sections of cracked slabs and pitted asphalt that make up the patchwork sidewalk.
If the surface were better on the opposite side of the otherwise lifeless street he would cross, but it will not be he seriously doubts. Nothing in this city is as it once was for everything is in a state of decline, decay.
Thinking back, the blame for the slump Venrifere fell into was initially pinned on the collapse of the milling companies. Then it shifted to the hauliers who no longer brought the trees here to the mills for cutting, and after that… Archibald doesn’t recall but suffice to say a long list of others had blame affixed to their chests.
In truth it was likely not one single thing but a combination of them all. He cannot say for he was but a child, though the effects were not lost on him even at that age. Especially that day when his parents issued a decree that he was forbidden from playing out on the streets like he used to. And it didn’t seem to matter, when he protested because of course he would, that he was with his friends; it was deemed simply too dangerous.
He hadn’t understood why for reasons were not given and so had screamed and roared in defiance wanting answers.
Sadly, Archibald’s parents did not, or could not, provide their son with what he sought. Still, he obeyed. It was how he was brought up. In his teens he thought it a mistake to have complied, as an adult he believes he might have been wise beyond his years.
A sharp hiss reaches Archibald’s ears and immediately draws his attention. He turns and spies a cat hiding in the darkness of an alley entrance. The animals’ eyes glowing yellow frighten the balding man who does not think they are as they should be. It’s why he backs away swiftly until he hears hissing no more and then hastens his stride.
The rain, still beating, is something he has grown akin to. What he hasn’t is the dampness in his shoes which he wasn’t aware had a leak.
“Rotten way to find out, but in keeping with the backward trend of this night,” he murmurs to himself under his breath.
No one would hear his words even if there were anyone around to hear them. He thinks that might be a victory, an incredibly small one but one nonetheless.
However, the pattern of his strides is broken several steps later when another hiss reaches his ears. Again Archibald turns to see a yellow eyed cat in the darkness. It has to be coincidence, but he steers clear this second time regardless.
Two steps then another hiss. Archibald spins round as he walks expecting to see a cat in hot pursuit. There is nothing, no one. He is alone on the street, heart thundering in his chest. He hates this. It isn’t right. He doesn’t want to be here. He shouldn’t be here. He should be at home, doors locked, windows too, hiding out until dawn breaks. It’s what everyone else in the city will be doing. Except those with no sense or no choice, but those are few and far between.
So why are you out here?
I told you why I’m out here. I don’t have a…
You always have a choice. And this was yours. But did you choose wisely? Or have you made a grave misstep?
Shut up, shut up, shut up! Archibald shouts in his head hoping, praying, it’ll be enough to dispatch the voice. Once and for all would be nice but he isn’t convinced he’s that fortunate he gain such a respite.
His subconscious never stays away for long. Whether that is normal or not, he cannot say. For him it is but for others…
These are dying nights! You should not be out. They will take your life. You’ve been told past twice.
What? I don’t… No, this is a trick. I don’t care. Shut up! No more talking. Or-or-or else…
…Or else what Archie?
There is a pause. Archibald quickens his pace to almost a jog before anymore is said. But at least the wind his died down. The rain hasn’t, though that was not what was hampering his progress. The rain only soaks him through. He can cope with that. Given the choice rain is his preference anyway.
You think I’m in your head and a part of you, but have you considered I might be that which is stalking and coming for you?
Upon hearing those oddly rhymed words, which still sound as if they are in Archibald’s head, he breaks into a full sprint. Cackling starts, it is followed by hissing as cats appear from alleyways on both sides of the street. They are dark with yellow eyes that glow, ominously. None of them look natural to the balding man who is a running for his life, terrified and sure he is soon to die, cursing himself for going out, for trying to do the right thing. It was madness. He has, this night, become one of those fools he spent years criticising upon learning the extent of the mess Venrifere was in and has to endure.
You can’t get away, Archibald hears in his head. He tries to shake the voice away. It seems to work. He hears no more taunting; only the sound of his heavy breathing as he rushes down the street. He is close, so very close. One more road and then he’ll be at his destination. He can make it. He has to make it.
For some reason he looks over his shoulder. It isn’t so much a choice but a compulsion he obeys. Immediately, he is flooded with regret because behind him the cats are bounding after him. Truthfully, they look less like separate entities and more like one single mass guided by piercing yellow shapes. Fangs too are on show as hissing and mulling fills the air.
The balding man cannot explain what is going on. And this isn’t the time even if he were able to understand what he is seeing. That can come later…
I am not recalling this. It’s going in that box, the mind box. I’m locking it and throwing away the key.
You can never be rid of the key Archie; it’s a part of you. It will always be a part of you. That is until you are a part of me.
Roaring laughter follows those words. It howls like the wind, which in that moment returns with a bone chilling whoosh.
Archibald braces against it, fearful the cat-mass that is pursuing him may not be hindered the way he is and that if he does not push he will soon be in its grasp, whatever that it might truly be.
Don’t think, just drive your legs!
He does, as difficult as it might be, manage to continue against the force of the gusts. His legs driving as his body leans in until it’s angled forward precariously. If the wind were to vanish now he would, without doubt, fall flat on his face. But the wind does not die, it continues to assault and tear at him.
The seams of his trench coat strain, then fail. The garment is torn from his body. Archibald gasps. It crosses his mind he might be caught. That this was a trap all along and that he has walked into it, like some foolish blind imbecile.
Before long he cranes his neck to look back over his shoulder. The cat-mass is continuing its pursuit but has not reached him as he feared. Discovering that gives him some semblance of relief and spurs his will to continue on. Still, he would be lying if he did not admit that the effort required to do so is becoming more considerable by the second. Doubtful his drive, determination, energy reserves will last forever. That simply is not how the human body works, for better or for worse. Right now that would undoubtedly be for the worse.
Lifting his head, Archibald concludes that he doesn’t understand where he is for the street seems to have folded in on itself ahead of him. That isn’t possible. He knows that for a fact and yet that is what his eyes are showing him. He rubs at them. A considerable effort taken to raise his arms to his face without stopping his push against the invisible force tearing at his navy coloured waistcoat and the grey shirt beneath that which is fastened to almost the top with a red cravat to fill the void where otherwise flesh could be glimpsed.
A quick rub of his eyes changes nothing. The street continues to appear as though it is folded in, a dead end. Archibald knows Venrifere well. This street is not a dead end. It runs for three miles all told, so how is it…?
Something grabs the heel of the dark brown leather shoe on his left foot. He gasps, lets out a shriek, stumbles, goes head over heels and lands on his back. Lying there Archibald accepts his fate, that he will be taken, become one more name on the list of disappeared. But no such fate welcomes him. He peels open his eyes to find he is greeted by a strong light. It is one of the street lamps, though is shining far brighter and in a different shade than he can ever recall having seen any of them do previously. His brow furrows. Then he realises his ears are ringing. Confusion envelopes him before, as if by magic, the ringing comes to an end, ceases. It is at that point he becomes aware of the hissing and meowing. He jumps, almost out of his skin, and lands on his feet. Terrified he prepares to run, only to discover there is nowhere to run too. It makes no sense but his eyes are not deceiving him, and so he turns on the spot looking for an out, of any kind. It takes no time at all for his eyes to land on the cat-mass, the thing making all the noise, writhing too. At the sight of it he pauses, his head tilts one way.
“It-it looks trapped.” Archibald stutters to himself, eyes probing at the sight that is laid out before them.
“I-I don’t understand. Where am I? What is…?”
The balding man hell-bent on doing what is right stops. He never finishes his statement for it dawns on him there has been no reply. Nothing has uttered or issued taunts and torments back at him. He finds that odd. He shouldn’t for this is normal but he does.
When a loud creaking noise fills his ears a few short moments later however Archibald is once more filled with abject horror. Even as he turns slowly toward the direction of it he feels confident his fate is assured; signed, sealed and delivered he recalls being the phrase uttered by his mother throughout his life. That was up until the day she died from something that afflicted her lungs but he to this day cannot pronounce.
You see Archibald’s mother worked in one of the cities mills in the days before they shuttered. It transpired that for her efforts, her years of service, one of the trees that grows locally which was often used because of its abundance and cheapness, in fact contained a dust which when released into the air and then inhaled slowly eroded the alveoli in the lungs. It was a painful way to watch someone you loved die. After her death Archibald’s father gave up. Became a ghost of his former self until the day he became one of the disappeared. Unlike most counted on that list he didn’t stay missing. His body was found a few days later. It was blue, shrivelled and affixed with an expression, so Archibald was told, that suggested he had been scared to death.
Eyes fixed upon that gaping wound of an open doorway, the balding man thinks he has some idea of how his father must’ve felt as he waits for whatever might reside within to attack.
No such event comes to pass. Rather, Archibald eventually looks up to see the sign hanging above the door in neon colours. He breathes a sigh of relief for this is where he had been aiming to get too all this time. And somehow he is here, in one piece, alive. A smile tears across his face, his breathing still short, does nothing to prevent him from stepping forward and entering into the darkness.