Monday, March 29, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter VIII - In the Dark

Allison knew James was in trouble instantly. His back arched and he nearly lost control of the little Honda. He regained control quickly and twisted hard on the throttle. The bike shot forward. Allison tried to keep up but suddenly found that her bike was losing power. The pressure gauge on the propane gauge was quickly drifting towards zero. She tore her eyes from the gauge just in time to see the grandaddy of all wraiths shamble out into the alley in front of her. It was at least 600 pounds and four feet at the shoulder. The sword like front claws marked it as a Master. A glittering chain of metallic objects adorned its thick neck. She managed to avoid hitting it with the bike only by running into a small plastic trash can. The bike flipped end for end and she found herself tumbling through the air. She thudded into a solid wall that turned out to be the wraith. It felt like she had hit a lightly padded brick wall. Despite its bulk it moved as lightly as a house cat and pinned her to the ground ... literally. Its two right fore claws were driven all the way through her left arm and into the ground. It leaned in close to her, head tilted to one side to peer into her face. One eye was a complete ruin from a run in with a mountain lion years ago, but the other was a sparkling black obsidian, full of malevolent intelligence. Its breath was like a week old rotted corpse.

As if sensing that its hold was only as secure as the limits of the terror she could endure before ripping her own arm off to get away, it abruptly pulled its claws out of her arm. It quickly repositioned paw on her chest, claws resting on either side of her neck. There was no escape now. All it had to do was clench its two center finger toes and she would be effectively decapitated. But still she fought, she clawed and kicked and even bit at the creature. It just calmly stared down at her as she gouged its skin and tore out handfuls of the spiny hairs of its main. She grabbed at the necklace it wore in a vain attempt to strangle it, but the chain was far too weak and broke in her hands. This seemed to anger the beast and it swatted her to the other side of the alley. She was free, but only for a few seconds. By this time several lesser wraiths had closed around her. They pounced on her, piling on top of her en masse. She felt her ribs creaking under the weight. She could not breath and soon passed out.

She was surprised to wake up some time later. She had no idea where she was, only that it was completely dark and foul beyond her worst nightmares. She was covered in filth and seemed glued to the floor by a thick slime. Her conscious mind absolutely refused to speculate as to what the fuck it was and bitch slapped her subconscious every time it attempted to supply her with the answer.

She was briefly concerned about the possibility of her wounds becoming infected, but realized that it was highly unlikely she would live long enough for that to be a problem. She hoped that James had got away.

She had seriously fucked things up this time.

With great effort she was able to get one leg up and then her right arm. Twice her hands encountered irregularly shaped solid objects in the muck. She shied away from touching them. Maggots and other unidentified vermin writhed through the slime. She managed to roll herself onto her side and crawl through the darkness until she found a wall.

She had never been religious, she figured an all powerful God would have never let shit go down like this. Unless he was just a sadistic asshole. In which case she wanted absolutely nothing to do with him. But as Pastor Tom had said one of the few times her father had managed to get her to go to church, when the Devil has you beat, you're screwed seven ways to Sunday and there's nothing else to do, pray. She could not think that the situation could possibly get any worse.

A memory of her father knelt in prayer when he thought he was alone came to mind. His multiple sclerosis had been flaring up again and the optic neuritis was really causing him some agony. He said it was like he had been staring into the sun all day. His balance had been off too. She had heard a thump from the study and went in to see if he had fallen. He was kneeling in front of the book case, some books scattered at his feet. She was about to call out to him but for some reason did not. She could hear him quite clearly even though he was talking softly. The floors were tiled and the walls were concrete block, with very little in the room to absorb or muffle sounds. A year later a couple of large area rugs and some additional bookcases would be installed and perhaps she might not have heard him.

It was a private moment and she always felt guilty for not leaving immediately. But for some reason she could not tear herself away. He knelt there for quite some time and she knew he had to be hurting, but when he stood up again he seemed stronger and did not have to steady himself on his desk.

She knelt in the darkness and filth as she had seen him she began to pray.

"God I know I have not been what you'd call a faithful servant. I'm not even sure that I believe in you. That probably doesn't really help my case here, but I feel I really should be honest. It's kinda become obvious to me that I have made some pretty fucked up decisions. Sorry about the profanity but I tend to cuss a lot when I'm scared. I really could use some help here. Barring that, if you could just give me some reassurance that there is something waiting for me other than a ... a ... a dark and empty silence, maybe this would be a little easier. Also could you look out for Dee and Olly for me? If it's your will that I die here, could I at least have an explanation when I get to the other side? I guess Your will be done. Amen."

Feeling very little of the comfort her father sometimes seemed to draw from his prayers, she leaned back up against the filth encrusted wall and drew her knees up to her chest. Something poked her in her right tit and she jumped, afraid it might be one of the wraith bugs under her clothes. She reached in with her right hand and found a bead chain like used for an overhead light pull with a few dozen keys dangling from it. It was the necklace the wraith had been wearing. She looked about in the pitch black gloom but could not see a door or window. She began to slowly feel her way around the edge of the room. As she did so the movement made her aware of every bruised and knotted muscle in her body. She wondered what time it was but when she checked her watch she found the crystal to be cracked and the hands missing. She could have been out for a couple of hours or a couple of days.

Despite herself she let out a single high pitched scream when she encountered a severed arm in the darkness. But considering the circumstances she didn't think that even Olly would have given her any shit about it. A few inches away she found the stump that she presumed the limb had been separated from. She found several other bits and pieces of what had once been people strewn about the floor.

In the darkness her she was becoming hyper aware of sounds. There was a steady dripping that she hoped was a source of clean water, an irregular ticking noise she could not identify, an occasional grunt from somewhere close by and the sound of a rat gnawing on something. She would have almost welcomed the sight of the rat. It was at least something familiar and normal. Despite living her entire life with their ever present threat, the wraiths were still mysterious and alien. You would ever look at one and feel that they belonged anywhere but a nightmare or a Bosch painting. She always thought old Hieronymus must have been a deeply disturbed individual.

She quickly found that the room was less than eight feet across and five feet deep with a door in the one of the long walls at one end. There was a spigot set in one of the wall at the end of the room away from the door with a basin set in the floor. The drip of water was coming from that spigot but not from the inside of the pipe but condensation on outside of the cool metal pipe. The water was foul tasting, but if she was here long enough she supposed she would get desperate enough.

She tried the door and was surprised to find it unlocked. The heavy door was hinged to swing out into the hallway rather than into the room. The hallway on the other side was lit in a faint green glow from an unseen source. Rather than provide any actual illumination it merely seemed to emphasize the darkness, but it was still somewhat brighter than the filthy utility closet she was in. There was a doorway directly across from her. The door was off its hinges leaving a gaping black hole. Despite her eyes being unable to penetrate the gloom she felt that the room was occupied. A shadow rose up from one side of the door and moved directly in front of her. The wraiths massive body fully blocked the door. It was was so absolutely dark that she could not make out any features. Just a vague silhouette. Two malicious glittering spots gave the only clue that it was indeed facing her.

It did not advance on her or make any threatening moves at all. It just stood there. Aside from the one that she had collided with in the alley she had never been this close to one before. And with the one in the alley there had been no time to think. But this was completely different. Mr. Parsons had been fond of telling stories about his encounters with the wraiths and her father had even reluctantly shared his experiences with her too. One common thread that all the close encounter stories she had ever heard was the feeling of dread and fear that these could generate. It was almost supernatural. She had always assumed that it was just a tall tale or exaggeration. Now she knew first hand that it was no made up fairy tale to scare the children. She could feel her will evaporate away like film of water on hot cast iron skillet. Her knees buckled and she let the door fall closed. With a small grunt the wraith laid down at the foot of the door. She could hear its leathery hide rasping against the smooth metal of the door. She knew as sure as if the door had been walled up with brick and mortar that any possible escape route would not lie in that direction. She collapsed sobbing at the closed door.

She slapped herself hard across the face with her left hand. It stung but was not enough. She repeated it several times till she knew her cheek would be red and puffy. She was angry now, furious at herself in fact. She punched the door a few times, but the fear had been driven under at least for now. She took a few deep breath to calm herself down and began to think.

* * *
Dee put down the binoculars and shook her head. James Oliver was still out and was unable to verify, but her gut told her that Allison was down there. It would be suicide to go in there now without a plan. And then there was Olly to worry about. If something happened to her then he would be helpless. She headed back out Calumet as fast as she could, not slowing down till she had passed Olly's abandoned Honda.

It would never run again. The oil injector that had been added when it had been converted to propane had clogged up at some point during his escape. The engine was completely seized up. Olly was strapped in back. She was headed back to Dotty's. She would leave him at the lighthouse with her before heading back to see about retrieving Allison. With as many bug bites as he had it would be a couple days before he was even able to put two coherent words together. It would be a fight to get him to stay if he woke up, but she would tranquilize him if necessary. He would be in no condition to accompany her for a few days anyway.

She refused to give in to the temptation to indulge in self-pity or recriminations for now. She hoped that this was going to turn out to be a rescue mission rather than body recovery.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride

No comments:

Post a Comment