“You spend so long adrift in a world where nothing seems material. A landscape of oil paint and charcoal clouds. Those faces you see grinning back are the Cheshire cat. Until they’re not. You only get to make that mistake one…”
He moved slow, features cowered low behind a high collar – spindly body tucked tightly in the cloth of a too-large coat. His coughs came ragged and wet like a man wearing sickness in his veins as thick and heavy as most of the denizens of the Carmine wore booze and prism in their own.
Red light flooded like blood, pumping through the streets and alleys in the distorted rhythm of music that merged and echoed, rattled off the walls like ghosts of eternity doing battle with the threat of good morning.
Vacant eyes peered out with faces upturned to a sky that they probably couldn’t see.
People stood with cigarettes hanging from their mouths, serpents of ash slithering away from their lips before leaping to the ground in a declaration of resignation.
All Warren could see – all he could hear – was the hum that still vibrated in his very heart. Like a touch from a tuning fork had lept into his skin and refused to leave.
He’d left what breadcrumbs he could. He’d tried to thread the needle as smoothly as he could. Even then, the hounds at been at his heels the moment he tried to exit the Drain. The Fume was thin where he’d walked. A world that felt wrongly certain. Strangely whole. A land where water felt wet and winds were more than whispers.
He’d wanted to visit the Vista but the eyes were watching him now. They could smell him. They’d tasted his frequency.
His only other avenue was the Gallows.
Ducking through grimy avenues, he slipped into a house that made others look regal in a land that made carnal delights look divine and refuse looks like respite. Inside was the normal sort that he’d expect to find. Eyes mostly closed to hide pupils that were far too wide. Needles hanging from arms. Pulses were a luxury for most who lingered there. Most would see their own relegated to the past tense, or try their hardest to do so.
Calvin had not been so different. But then, Calvin had been entirely different.
They’d all been different.
Broken things that didn’t understand why their minds were the way they were. Trying to find an escape from some false insanity in a truer version of the same.
Trying to escape the very thing everyone else was trying to run to.
There was a sad irony in both cases.
Warren moved amongst the barely living and the mostly dead to find a place tucked far from where eyes would wander and minds would care. Cradled neatly in the detritus of those that the world silently hoped would snuff out their own candles so they wouldn’t have to watch it happen in the sunlight.
His feet were in the water as he pushed through the Valley and into the Mire. He tried to be quick. Called out to the waters that ran gray. Where the world felt solid in the way a dream does when it’s too much like the waking world. He waited for a moment – his mind like fingers on an erratic pulse. The fly feeling the web for the spider feeling for the fly.
When silence met his nerves he began to walk.
He called out for the waters that rolled black and reflected like blood in the moonlight. Called out for the land where every terror you’ve dreamt of was swimming in the murk like chaos in a pit of tar and ashes. He moved fast as the world changed to meet him. Felt the wind deaden, the Fume press against him like a towel pressed upon his face and soaked in motor oil. He moved with steps that sank into a world that felt of mud and sewage.
He felt the webs tremble. He heard the Tracer like the sound of funeral bell whose tone and timber built while sounding very much like it was playing in reverse.
The pitch of his own frequency railed and rallied at the sound like a little boy being called home by his mother. He felt the knots in his stomach as the feeling of the Glare grew like frostbite in the air.
He knew his steps were damned by either success or failure.
Not even tracers would follow into the Gallows. The land where nightmares rage and terrors toil. Even as he heard the Tracer slip away with a piercing shriek, he was granted his reward: a land where the clouds moved like monsters in the sky, looking with eyes of a million bend and bloated stars. Where all the shadows seeped and slithered and coiled about with a hunger of demons.
This is a collaboration piece I’m working on with Tara at Caribou Crossing. She will be doing even-numbered parts and I’ll be doing odd-numbered parts.
Link for Part 6