“They’ll never forgive me.”
“They’ll never forgive either of us.”
“Because this isn’t about us. It isn’t about them remembering us fondly.”
“Then what is it about?”
“You really want to know?”
“I do. At this point, I have to.”
“Knowledge is a burden. Perhaps one of the greatest burdens in life.”
“You can’t ever unknow. You’ll wish you could. I know because I wish I could. You’ll hate me and you’ll hate yourself.”
“Then why choose me?”
“Because unlike any of the others, you know how to hate yourself and keep standing. Because more than any of the others, you’re like me.”
“No. A monster.”
“They’re gonna know something’s wrong. I don’t know when they’ll know or how, but they’ll know.”
“I know they will,” Warren said. “I don’t need to be invisible, I just need time.”
“They don’t normally even trace here.”
“They will if they see where I’m going.”
“This is fucked up,” Tyler said. “It feels…wrong.”
“That’s because it is.”
“I know,” Warren said, sadly. “Just promise me you’ll wake up.”
“Yeah,” Tyler replied flatly.
“Ty,” Warren said, making firm eye contact, “promise me.”
“Same,” Tyler said. Departing, he stopped and turned back, “I’m sorry about Em,” he said.
“Still, I wanted to say it. I just…I didn’t mean to…” he clenched his jaw, ran his tongue against his teeth, and swallowed hard. “I just…”
“I know,” Warren said again. “I know.
Warren looked into the strange miasma that sprawled before him where the world seemed to divide like where a dim-lit morning meets the edge of a storm. Two jagged edges pressed together like fault lines.
In the sky, he saw shapes that slithered through storm clouds that roared in the voice of a dying bear over a broken megaphone.
He stepped into the water that, even beneath the grim lighting that seemed to paint the world in various hues of ink and indigo, showed a stark crimson that matched the hue of Hollywood violence.
The Fume was dense like a midwest summer, and it smelled of dying leaves and smoldering coal. In the distance were set the silhouettes of buildings, some of which seemed to shift as he went as though they were stars in the sky forever hurdling away, and away, and away.
Others moved from shadow to substance in the course of a dozen steps. Eager landmarks that rushed up to meet him and offering doors of various shapes and sizes. Some rose up on stilts to be away from the bloody marsh in which he waded. Some showed only a tiny peek of what they were, a sliver of a roof or a chimney that rose up like the arm of drowning man – each one, Warren felt certain, was not asking to be pulled up and out, but rather threatening to pull him down and in.
When he saw shadows that crept by, he stopped and remained still – a part of his mind trying to deal with demons like a child in bed who believes if they are still and they are silent, then they are safe.
The waters rose as the land slipped lower and lower beneath his feet until it was near his thighs and his movement felt less than half of what it should have been.
“Come back again?” a voice like TV static mixed with a bullfrog spoke. “Come back for what was lost?”
Warren did not answer, but moved slowly forward, his eyes struggling to find the definition in the shapes within the world around him.
“Come back for lost?” the voice asked.
Warren felt the shadows slithering around him as the water seemed somehow thicker, the ground beneath softer as though he were walking over a field of rotting corpses and wet ash.
“Come back…” the voice droned. “Come back?”
The sound suddenly erupted around him and the sky flashed in angry pulses of purple and black. Shapes pressed against the distorted clouds like suffocating faces shoved against a plastic sheet.
He heard the sound of water behind him, to the side of him, and he pressed forward as he tried to call for a place that he was struggling to remember.
The noise grew and the voice sang, “Come back for home?”
He called to a house with a door that wouldn’t quite close, surrounded by…what? What was it surrounded by?
He trudged slowly, his mind trying to run where his feet were fumbling while he felt a wave of pins and needles rise up against his skin. He felt blood blossoming from his pores, his flesh weeping where wounds he’d never known were now introducing themselves with proper names.
He called to a house with a door that wouldn’t quite close, surrounded by a low fence that used to be white, but that was now old and gray and rain weathered. He called to a house where the second floor was but a single room and it had no windows and leading up to it was a door with a knob on only one side, and a peephole for looking in.
Warren stumbled within, his clothing clinging to his body from both blood and water, though he felt that both very much the same in this land.
He turned and closed the door behind him as best he could and set the sliding chain lock to keep it shut, though it still showed a space that was wide enough he could slip his whole hand through it sideways as the widest point near the floor.
The chain pulled tight while things that looked like a shifting assumption of what fingers were as dreamed up by a drunk toddler living in a world of vertigo slipped into the space between the door and the frame. They pressed and twisted and grew and shrank.
Warren hobbled through the interior of a home that looked like something from the early nineteen fifties, with a large, tube television in a front room that was covered in dust.
At the doorway to the second floor, Warren stopped and placed his hand upon the knob. He stopped momentarily and then looked through the peephole to see a wide eye staring back at him.
“Come to find?” the voice asked.
Warren took a deep breath while at the front of the house, he heard the door slamming from where things were trying to force their way within. He heard screaming from lungs that were gargling their own demise.
He turned the knob and opened the door.
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 9