A glimpse of the darkside.

The trains run on time but there’s no people on them, sounding familiar? Queues everywhere, little mini Nazi’s exerting their authority directing you? This is not an anti lockdown post. This is an observation on what it feels like in Bristol at the moment. It seems like the invisible disease has allowed every jobsworth proto fascist to have Christmas early….and then of course there’s the sweet old dear with the lovely smile getting off a train. Agh, Coronavirus what has it done? As I attempted the deeply ingrained determined boarding of the train before it departs I nearly barged straight into an old lady with a wheelchair. What she was doing out in the current climate I don’t know but I imagine it was something essential. Probably it was something a lot more essential than my attempts to collect a product from the only DIY outlet of Screwfix that stocked it in the city. As I looked at her and clamped my mouth shut in an effort to not spread bacteria I really understood how little I want to be responsible for some sweet old dear’s death. But now Britain looks like some horrible trial run for a dictatorship. It’s enough to give you goosebumps, all that’s missing is a curfew. I hope they come up with a vaccine soon.

Kilmo

The City that Stole

(Apprx. 6 min read)

by Kilmo

The man with the short black hair and ragged Nike t shirt tensed his legs. There it was again. Feng followed the line zig zagging through the bushes. He hunted for days sometimes, sometimes for pleasure, sometimes for sport but most often to feed his family and always following the tracks that spread through the forest like the lines of a map only he could read. But it was getting harder to find prey these days. The wiser denizens of the woods hid further in and only the foolhardy went foraging where hunters could get the drop on them.
Feng crouched and held his breath and there was a squeak as the Civet cat died and its still beating heart sprayed into the branches. Feng never noticed the tag in his catch’s ear as the cat’s reek flooded his nose. He began to gut his catch and stopped as something snagged his knife. At first he thought it was just a bone, but as he cut and sliced, working his blade back and forth like a saw he realised what the problem was. What was stopping his work was a collar like they wore in the farms where rank upon rank of his prey squatted one atop another in the cages they made in the city.
Feng looked up, startled as the hairs on the back of his neck rose. He wasn’t alone anymore. In the clearing’s centre a sickly moon had risen from the carcass that lay splayed at his feet. Feng watched the pale sphere bob gently for a moment, no, not a moon, more like an egg and one that was coming closer.
Inside the sphere Feng saw something move and a powerful wave of nausea passed through him as the tiny worm whiplashed and struggled. The hunter’s chest contracted so hard it left Feng gasping and he tried to open his jaws again even if only to take a gulp of air.
So Feng dodged through the trees hoping to outrun whatever the vision was and the welts that were appearing on his skin at its approach. He ran so fast that in his mad dash he barely avoided the branches that plunged past closer than a whisker.
Feng was still running when he felt the ground give way beneath his feet and a second later there was a crack as iron bit deep into his leg. He howled deep and low and at first he hopped round in circles trying to drag the limb free, but even with his leg snapped at an angle like a tree brought down by a storm he couldn’t do it. Feng was just about to get to the business of chewing when a man appeared.
‘There you are.’
He was dressed in a black suit and jet-black shades and he had a mobile phone clamped to one ear but that didn’t stop him bringing a rifle from the briefcase he carried. The butt crashed into the back of Feng’s head and he snarled once before the world went dark. The last thing he heard was the man say, ‘For that sort of price whatever they want.’
He never saw what happened next, never saw himself being dragged through the snow with one torn and mangled stump where his leg had been. Because the man had had his knife sawing away as soon as Feng’s eyes had closed.

_

Feng’s captor stopped and looked back at the bloody path behind him idly itching at the back of one hand where some welts had appeared like he’d been stung by a nettle, only this one had drawn blood. There was a pale sickly light back there that seemed to be following him but when he stared it vanished. He shrugged and turned back to the task in hand. He hadn’t been kind with the hunter’s dead weight, nobody cared if the animal arrived a bit battered and knocked about, and he began to whistle as he dragged Feng’s body down the track. They’d left the real jungle far behind when he reached the market the man called home.
The first wives rushed over cooing and laughing as they ran their hands over what was left of Feng ignoring the strange rash covering his skin. Soon they’d gotten down to the real business with a catch as fine as him and the blades in their fists were skinning his flesh back like an orange until the meat had separated from the bone and been divided into packets. When they got to the collar wound through Feng’s mouth they removed it carefully and put it to one side so their menfolk could use it on the next animal they brought down. The tastes of the cities wealthy had gone from extreme to voracious and everyone knew that with the right catch you could earn much more than the right price. Then they fought with each other over the bits they were going to feed their kids.
When the women got to the last of Feng they produced pestle and mortar splintering every bone he had left. The result they added to the cement they were mixing for houses. The wives were getting anxious with their men away all the time and they were tired of sitting in huts that filled with smoke with nothing to do but stitch and gossip.
The hunter’s kids had grown up and their kids had too before the first settlers arrived in jeeps with the black suited men in tow behind. By then the camp had grown to the size of a metropolis and the huts had long gone. Glass and steel was everywhere you looked and the trade in wild animals had drained the jungle for miles around. But it was only when the settlers arrived that the place really took off. Pretty soon houses had balconies and porches and if you listened close you could hear bones crunch like gravel as those inside worked their way through all the species the jungle had contained. Though someone had forgotten to tell the settlers that the roads they were building into the forest and the houses they fed were a two-way street. Not everything that lived in the trees died when it lost its home.
Maybe things would have been different if the settlers had stayed away. But the city kept growing and soon it was spreading further through the woods, felling trees by the hundred as it chewed more space from what had been the animal’s home. When the new arrivals looked over the stumps that were left no one had ever seen as many carcasses as those that littered the edges of the jungle. The bleached bones and tattered skin made the settlers drop their jaws in awe like they’d witnessed the work of the half remembered gods from their homelands. Then they got back to work, there were trees to be uprooted and eating to be done.
The city chewed up so much of the forest’s inhabitants that even the wind died in the branches until you could barely hear a thing. Not a bird, not an insect, not so much as a worm stirred in the killing fields the hunters had made of the jungle. No one thought to wonder how that was possible or if the pale light they could see in the suburbs at night flickering through the buildings had something to do with it. It looked like one creature had survived their guns and knives.
It wasn’t long after that that the first sickened and died.
In the beginning fugitives deserted in ones and twos, then in dribs and drabs. But after a while the trickle became a flood and when the city began to realise how keen its slaves were to get out of the new buildings their owners called home they began to employ them in armies. They gave them uniforms with yellow jackets and shiny shovels and axes. Then they sent them to go forth and conquer. The city’s industries were always hungry and its mouths were ravenous. There were new jungles to find and parcel up, new woods to fell, and species to exploit. Except when there wasn’t and eventually the armies met the shores of the sea and looked out over nothing but waves and miles of salt water.
What no one back home expected was what the armada did when they returned. Even for a city that was normally jumping late into the night by the time the streets were dark they’d filled with soldiers. The army weren’t stupid. They knew what no more resources meant and they knew what the rash spreading over everyone’s skin meant too. A few had even begun to suspect the pale glow that had spread from the jungle to emerge from the cities alley ways after dark. At the end of their employment there would be no happy heaven waiting for them with its gates ajar. There was likely to be no end to their service at all with most of them dying in bondage, chewed up by the city’s rulers like the forest they felled. They’d end up out there with the rest of the garbage a happy breeding ground for what had crawled out of the trees and begun knocking at their door.
Eventually everyone was whispering of ghouls and demons and other viler things that made you sick without you seeing a thing. It was a shame they were right about the latter. Although the virus that had crept inside where it couldn’t be seen deserved all of those names and many others too.
When it was over and the streets were quiet again after death had stalked between the houses, and taken a lot more than every first-born son, what was left of the wood’s inhabitants began to visit the city just to see the empty houses where the masters had lived. The problem was the houses weren’t as empty as they thought. Death never stops being hungry and its lips skinned back from teeth more numerous than a zoo as soon as the first set hoof inside the city’s graveyard borders…and that made the virus twitch.

END

What?

I don’t understand. I do not understand why I don’t understand either. When I phone them up why is my local GP surgery only now just getting busy? I thought it was filled with Coronavirus patients desperately breathing their last with underpaid and overworked NHS staff vainly trying to save them. Why am I not getting this? Or maybe I am getting it.

Only Johnson and his firmly clenched fists can save us. So long as he’s at the helm we’ll be safe in our beds. Yep, thank God for Boris. Hurrah!

Kilmo

Inside Lula

By Kilmo

Lula shivered, even through the tight plastic slicked over her skin she could feel the wind’s bite as it slid through her mane of white blonde hair. Thync was designed to take the taint from the environment not keep the flesh cupped in it’s grip warm. It didn’t help that the suit had been designed by men. She wrapped her wings tight around her hoping the stiches would hold. They were new grafts, barely a few weeks old, and she was one of the lucky ones.
‘Believe it or not I’m made of flesh and blood,’ she muttered as the Thync strained with every move she made. Lula felt more exposed than if she’d been walking around naked, even her boot heels clicking off the tarmac sounded taught.
‘You there?’ She called to the empty buildings. ‘I want to talk. I could have stayed with the last lot you know even if there’s such a thing as a living death. Some of the youngest might have listened if they hadn’t had their wits scared from them by their elders.’
The Zone still had a few communities that managed to keep the company from their doors. But that left the demons they bred within; the ones nobody liked to talk about. They were just as dangerous and twice as hard to spot. Lula kicked a can hard enough to make it spang off rock. What was left of the buildings didn’t care and if the voice that had spoken to her in her dreams was out there it wasn’t answering.
‘I’ve walked through enough villages already. They won’t believe it’s true even after I show them.’
Her wings fluttered.
‘You better not be lying to me. I want sanctuary not more of the same.’
Lula’s shiver wasn’t entirely from the cold laced though the wind this time. She doubted she’d ever be able to quiet the memories of what had been done to the other captives.
‘Where are you?’ I want to see you. To know what you are.’
Lula fought to keep the petulance from her tone, but it had been a long hard road. She was entering the city proper now, a frozen dead zone the life had been stolen from and her boot heels tapped off the walls. She knew what she was doing, everything would be fine, ever since she’d heard the first whispers, she’d known that. The voice had to know something about the blast otherwise why had it sought her out?
There were too many things she and the other survivors had witnessed but she was the only one who’d seen it all. She still remembered the night she’d woken with the unburied bodies of her victims lying around her.
‘Those citizens deserved it. I told them not to lay a hand on me,’ said Lula.
Lula’s heels tapped louder; the streets were narrowing now. If she listened close she could hear a message in her boots white metal spikes. She was getting closer.
‘You can’t be far now.’
Lula’s perfect teeth ground together in frustration.
‘I’ve done my part,’ said the blonde girl with her hair whipping about her face. ‘You still haven’t done yours.’
Her eyes searched the shadows.
‘What’s out there?’
Lula watched litter dance as she struggled to catch a glimpse of what lay in the ruined cities depths. The thing was she wasn’t sure what to do. She was just doing what she’d always done – what instinct demanded. Lula arched her back and felt the Thync slip across her spine as she flexed her fingers. A landslide in the rubble brought her back to earth. She’d never felt so on edge, every platinum hair she possessed crawled with energy as the sound was echoed from a dozen spots down the street.
‘Answer me.’
But there was no reply. The voice she’d first heard that night in her cell listening to the screams of her companions had gone. She’d been left to deal with the lurkers behind the towering slabs of brick and concrete alone.
‘You said if I did what you said…’
She stopped; she was being childish. She was free after all. That much the voice had been right about. It had been her decision to follow it.
Lula made sure the rest of her anger was kept low. There was too much at stake to let her guard down. When a shower of stones began she stumbled. She’d felt alone before, she was used to it, but this was a different matter. Lula liked to see what stalked her. The last of the light leaking from the sky granted her wish a moment later and Lula wished it hadn’t. Just as the sun finally slipped behind the vacant buildings she saw what was following.
‘There’s so many of them.’
Her nose wrinkled as another ten joined the pack. She’d only backed up a few yards before that had doubled. Pretty soon she didn’t bother looking for new arrivals. She didn’t want to see what was gathering behind her, not if it meant looking into the pack’s eyes. Her heart crawled up her throat in it’s attempts to free itself.
‘Tk tk tk tk tk tk.’
Grit drummed off the taught Thync on her shoulders and when Lula looked up through the rain, she couldn’t stop a shiver. The walkways overhead were full of the new arrivals too. Each metal branch holding a dozen tumorous fruit waiting to fall. She’d found what they’d done with the failures then.
‘Leave me alone.’
Her feet were having trouble finding purchase. She slid, and righted herself, but only just.
‘God…please.’
Nearby fire ladders shook. They were coming. Pale half-moon slivers blinked back at her as the first hands reached forwards. The strangers were fast, even faster than the cockroaches that were the only living things that survived here. Her suit had been designed to deal with them at least, but it couldn’t stave off this sort of contamination long. She keyed in a jolt of adrenaline and felt the surge as her body responded. But she wondered how long the Thync could keep her from them; even it had its limits and you only had to look at these new comers to see what happened if you didn’t have tek on your side.
‘What do they want?’
‘You already know Lula,’ said the nearest licking its lips. ‘But we’re going to teach you so you don’t forget.’
‘Call them off,’ this time she begged her comms unit transmitting the cry on all frequencies and this time it responded.
‘I will but first you have something they need,’ said the voice.
Lula’s head craned back over one shoulder as she fled up the street and she caught a glimpse of the pursuit from beneath her lashes.
‘Please no, there’s too many of them. ’
‘They’re only friends, what’s left of them,’ said the voice as her pursuit began to run up the street.
Rubble slid underfoot as she stumbled once again. This time they’d gotten close enough she could smell their breath. She didn’t want to think about the voice anymore, nothing could be worth meeting what it kept as companions.
‘Stay back.’
The words only just made it past her lips as the first hands crept over her and she only had the suit’s skin tight contours to thank for their lack of purchase. She was faster than them still, but only by a small margin. Already the outriders were close to bringing her down.
‘Why are there so many?’ said Lula in between short staccato gasps like a deer at bay.
‘Because the lesson has to be taught well,’ said the voice.
‘And after this you’ll tell me? Tell me how to stop the killing? I don’t want to hurt anyone else.’
‘I’ll show you Lula. It’s better that way.’
After that she held her tongue. She needed every ounce of breath in her chest if she was to escape. But there was something underneath the adrenaline she hadn’t noticed before. It took her a moment to recognize it for what it was. She was curious. There was something in the look she could see in the packs empty eyes. She was still trying to work out what it meant when a stiletto caught fast in the streets splintered concrete. There wasn’t even time to look down as the sound of a spiked heel snapping took the breath from her lips.
‘No,’ said Lula.
They were all over her before she could save herself and every struggle and shout from her just seemed to make the attackers multiply. Soon the world disappeared beneath their limbs as they crawled across each other to get to her.
‘Fight them, if you can. If you want to,’ said the voice.
‘Get them off…. please…call them off.’
‘Why don’t you ask them?’
She struggled as sparks flashed across her eyes. The weight was so much she could only just suck air into her tortured lungs. There were so many she could barely think, let alone fight. A hand cupped a breast, another, her buttocks, slipping across the plastic of her thigh boots until it had found it way up high, squeezing, and kneading with busy fingers. She tried to scream again, but the fingers were at her mouth parting her full lips and calmly investigating the treasures within.
‘Ah….guh….please’
Lula could feel others joining them now, so many she lost count. The private spot between her legs was alive with them, and more had dragged her feet apart. Filth encrusted digits wrapped around her fragile ankles, so tight there was no possibility of escape. Something was headed toward her. She opened her mouth to scream once more and felt the space between her lips fill. There had to be someone who could help, some way to escape.
‘Mmmmph.’
Her cheeks bulged as she tried to spit the intruder back out, but the meat wouldn’t move, not at first as she explored it with her tongue. Soon there was so much pressed into her mouth she was choking on the scabby thing. She tried to see what it was but her eyes crossed with the effort. Besides with its owner pressed hard against her face and their hands wrapped in her hair it was impossible. Only the meat and its contours had any meaning even if she was desperate to get it out. She tried to spit it free again terrified that she would damage it and enrage its owner further but they’d become busy; moving in and out of her like an engine gathering speed.
‘Mmmphh,’ Lula tried to scream again but it was impossible with so much inside her, and that wasn’t all. The Thync suit’s zippers were opening. For a moment Lula thought the attackers might relent if she went still. Perhaps they’d be bored if she didn’t give them any trouble. But all that happened was the press of so many bodies lessened slightly until she could see what was being done to her.
‘Mmmmmphhh.’
She wanted to howl with rage, but there was no way to do it past what was plunging in and out of her. She wanted to tell hem to leave her alone, to beg them, but they’d nailed her so far open she felt like a spit pig. There was movement at her back as the next creature shuffled into position. Her suit might have protected her once, but the rents where her attackers had found their way to her flesh had damaged it too far for that now.
The hammer between her lips left for a second and she gasped for air, spittle pattering down her chin and spreading across her heaving breasts.
‘Please.’
That was all she had time for before it was back, and it wasn’t the only thing entering her. The space between her legs was filling too and she couldn’t stop the tears coming to her eyes. Now the intruder in her mouth had been joined by a different one forcing her jaw so wide she thought it would break, but she was more capable than she’d realized. It seemed it could only open wider as her assailants swapped places to explore the warmth hidden inside her.
Lula had to do something, but there were so many of them and so much lubrication spreading over her it was hard to find purchase on anything. The slick had spread down her suit now, smearing into a thin sheen that glistened on it’s straining plastic. For a moment her mouth was empty.
‘Ahhhhh. No…ple…ahhhh.’
She thrashed and jerked but struggling was useless and her wings battered limply against the floor. There was too many of them shunting in and out of her. She couldn’t move besides being slammed back and forth. But that wasn’t the realisation that was creeping over her, slowly her muffled screams were becoming something else, something she didn’t know she could produce.
At first, she tried to ignore it, but as a protrusion so large it felt like a fist slid between her legs her brain shorted out. She was moving faster than ever now as she bounced between them. Except she was plunging to meet them, not writhing to escape. There was a reason why she was here, but she couldn’t think of it anymore. She couldn’t think around the meat inside her, and there it was, the one thought that had skipped around the edges of her fear. She couldn’t help wondering if there was room for more. She did want to say something then. Something she’d wanted to say for a long time. For a moment as the bodies shifted she got the chance. The word coming from her full dripping lips without her realizing it.
‘Please.’
The bodies shifted again and a different rod entered her. She’d lost count how many had been in her now even if she could have gotten beyond two without her brain fusing.

When Lula woke there was no sign of her assailants, but they’d left their mark. Her fingers traced the sticky secretions plastered over every inch of her. She tried to wipe them off as she dragged herself to her feet with her hands crawling falteringly up the wall but it was no use. There was too much. When eventually she managed to stand without falling over what was left dripped slowly into a pool between her feet. Lula teetered on her one remaining heel and tried to ignore the soreness between her legs.
‘What happened?’
She remembered holding on as her body was passed around but after that it was a blank. She staggered to one side of the alley where they’d left her and pressed her spattered face against the brick. When she pulled away snapping the sticky strands that had adhered to the wall, she knew she had to find the voice. They’d answers she’d choke out of them if she could.
She didn’t have far to go until the buildings ended. This was city’s epicentre and nothing still stood inside it but foundations…and…something else. Shadows were moving in the ruins and atop a pile of twisted metal and broken rubble they were gathering into the shape of a man.
‘Welcome, I hope my friends didn’t hurt you,’ said the voice, but this time it was coming from lips she could see.
‘I don’t know, maybe. It’s hard to remember.’
Lula’s hand went to her head. It wasn’t that she was hurt so much that there was a gaping hole in her that ached to be filled again
‘Was that what you brought me here for?’ said Lula.
‘Some of it yes.’
‘Why?’
‘You give them something they needed, it’s what you were built for.’
Storm clouds were gathering over the man and in the flashes of lightning as they broke and rain began to wash the mess off Lula.
‘And you? What do you want from me?
The man took a step forward and by another flash of lighting Lula could see his smile.

END

Whose House?

by Kilmo

‘Jesus.’
The car’s windshield turns white as lightning washes the figures approaching it from view. When Taylor can see again the field’s gone, drowned in the downpour turning the windscreen into a river. He rubs his eyes and wonders if he’d imagined them. But the weather’s too foul to get out and check. He tries to squeeze his six-foot two frame into a more comfortable position as the phone comes to life.
‘What do you want?’ says Taylor and there’s a pause before his handler answers.
‘Taylor…I’m glad I caught you. There’s something you need to know.’
‘Now? I’m on the job already…’
Taylor turns the wipers on; but it doesn’t make any difference to the flood.
He winces as the house lights up.
‘She’s got plenty of company,’ he says trying to peer past his fingertips.
There’s no mistaking the group of figures sliding through the rain this time. Taylor can’t see the faces hidden in their hoods until the generator humming in the background catches once again. In the storm their eyes look like animals caught in headlights.
‘It’s worse than we anticipated,’ says his handler, as much to himself as Taylor. Taylor’s never heard one of his employers sound so worried. ‘We thought they were just another cult, but we were wrong.’ There’s another pause before it comes out in a rush, ‘Ciel’s in a lot more trouble than anticipated.
We’ve been short sighted. We should have seen them for what they are. They’re trying to call it here, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.’
‘You’re not making any sense,’ says Taylor, ‘call what?’ He lowers his voice as another late arrival appears. They probably couldn’t hear him, but who wanted to take chances?’
‘That’s why we’ve sent you to deal with this. If what they’re talking to answers we’re all going to be in the shit.’
The insult sounds unfamiliar like the man rarely uses it.
‘Is that right?’ answers Taylor. He’s got a maintenance payment due at the end of the month and they repossessed his car last week. What he’s driving now is a rental. He runs his hand over his scalp. All he had to do was make it through this alive. Half the time his employers got worked up over nothing. The last two jobs had been like that; spooked grannies complaining about noises in the night.
‘Anything else you need to tell me?’ say’s Taylor. ‘You’re not sitting here freezing to death with a bunch of loonies on the other side of the road.’
The rain hammering on the car’s roof can’t drown his employers sigh ‘They believe we lack a certain vision in the material world, Taylor. A necessary perspective if you like.’
‘Sounds like half the idiots on the planet.’
‘Yes, except these one’s think they can solve it with the correct sacrifice. They’re rather unpleasant and they have a tendency for violence that rivals any I’ve seen.’
Taylor looks at the rear-view mirror. The bags under his eyes are so deep they’re like trenches.
‘I’ll deal with it.’
‘I’m sure you will. They tell me you put the last cultist you met in traction. But that’s not all these fellows are about. We need your special skills for this one. They’re trying to tap into our subconscious and use something we first evolved when we were chucking spears. If they succeed, they’ll give it physical form.’ There’s a snap as the generator cuts out, and the car plunges into darkness.
‘It’s not a request Taylor. We want them wiped out, eradicated.’
The handler stops talking as he waits for a reply and Taylor listens to the rain drum on the roof. There’s still half a tank of petrol in the car.
‘Not part of the deal. I told you already; I’ve retired from that side of things. You can keep your bonus. I’ve shown you where she is. I’m leaving; you employed me for a straight forward retrieval, not a hatchet job.’
The sound of the storm is his only answer for a moment. Then there’s a click as a recording kicks in and screaming erupts from his mobile. When it’s over Taylor sits back and watches ripples in the torrent flooding over the glass. Sometimes he thinks his luck’s never going to change.
‘What was that?’ says Taylor quietly. ‘I just told you I’d finished with the door work.’
There’d been a name threading through the man’s agony. But every time Taylor tries to think of it his mind sheers away like its touched toothache.
‘One of the higher ups was looking through the keyhole so to speak. It’s not where those cultists think they’re going that worries us Taylor; it’s what they’ll let in when they do.’
‘What was he saying?’
‘Nobody knows; he’s receiving medical care right now, and the Doctors tell us he speaks in tongues when he can speak at all. We think he caught a glimpse of it.’
‘I thought the girl was supposed to deal with those sort of problems.’
‘That’s why they’ve taken her Taylor; they’ll use her to find the weak spots, draw it to them. But anything that shines like that won’t last long. It pains me to admit it, but we didn’t see that coming either. They used a shaman.’
‘A shaman?’
‘A layman’s term to denote a program that pulls feelings from us and gives them form. Their victim’s upgrades don’t help. We had enough security installed to turn the house into a fortress, but we never thought they’d use the daughter. Her father only just survived. Stupid of us, all they had to do was wait. They were bound to have an argument sooner or later.’
Taylor nods, a broken man in a darkened hospital room had shown him a photograph of her once. The real one, although Ciel is real enough, anything with more RAM in it than a city block strikes him as pretty real these days. Taylor hadn’t been quick enough then. But he’d still been quicker than the police. The lodge liked to look after its own.

‘And that…what did you call it “shaman?” How long does it last?’
‘Not long, we killed the last living witch doctor centuries ago for precisely this reason. He was far too dangerous.’
Taylor thought for a moment.
‘I want hazard pay.’
‘Taylor, you’re already on enough, what we’re paying you could cripple China.’

There’s a whump as a few hundred decibels tries to blow holes in his ears, and the car fills with stark, blinding, light. Taylor scrubs his eyes, trying to massage damaged rod cells back to life and brings the photograph from his pocket. He keeps his family in his wallet now, as if storing them under plastic will keep their memory from fading. Lil stares back from the picture they’d taken last year, wrapped in her parent’s arms like she’d never leave. He supposed in a sense she hadn’t. Taylor’s finger strokes her cheek.
‘You’d want me to help; I know you would.’
Taylor gets out of the car and heads toward the derelict and he doesn’t stop till he’s peeling sodden chip board from its slats. When he goes through he does it hard, eyes darting for targets, gun up and ready. He finishes rolling to a halt the same time something squirms in the room’s shadows. There’s a smell like the bottom of a well’s been stirred.
‘Anybody th…’
Taylor’s getting the same feeling he has when he’s in the presence of one of the crimes men like his handler try to bury because they’re too ashamed to admit they exist. Something clammy brushes his skin and Taylor jerks back.
‘What the Hell?’
Pale figures are limping toward him and there’s something wrong about the way they move. It looks like their bones have been broken and stayed that way.
‘Ciel…where is she?’
Taylor backs away until he finds the door. He’s encountered the mutilated before; it’s amazing what people would do to be on the other side. He finds the door latch and light floods in along with the sound of people singing. Taylor almost wishes he hadn’t. Because now he can see the crowd heading toward him clearly and count the missing limbs and what’s been grafted in their place. For a moment the chanting leaking from the building’s depths is loud enough to make his head ache.
Where it’s not a mass of wounds marbled skin reflects the light from the open door. Taylor’s finger tightens on the trigger but he changes his mind. A shot here’s bound to bring people running. He slams the door shut instead and listens to the singing spreading down the corridor. It’s floating on something that tugs in his head like it’s done ever since he was a kid. It’s why they employed him; why he was the best bouncer on the payroll. Taylor knows when trouble’s coming before it even arrives. It’s not down they’ve taken her, but up; where the storm’s pressing against the roof. Taylor heads for the stairs; his intuition hasn’t failed him yet.
‘Always a first time Taylor; you know that.’
At least he’s heading away from the chanting bleeding its way behind his eyes. When he reaches the top spots dance in front of him. He’s sixty-five, and the owner of everything that means, wrinkles, piles, and guts that have seen better days. He shakes so bad when he gets angry now that he can barely stop. The usual price for a life spent not looking after yourself. As far as Taylor’s concerned he deserves it, he hasn’t always been good, far from it. He reaches out a hand to steady himself.
She’s up here; he can feel her. His nose wrinkles at the feral reek of blood and things better left inside a human body. He’s glad of the blindness and pain in his side now. It takes away the bite of what they’ve done to her as the room swims into focus.
‘Ciel?’
The word’s a whisper; Taylor’s seen similar before, but not like this. What’s stretched on the table barely resembles anything living, augmented or otherwise. He’s silent a moment.
‘At least they left your face.’
But the rest of her’s a tangled mess of wires, electrodes, and soft wet meat. He turns away for a moment, bile rising in his throat, and the chanting from below grows loud enough to deafen.
The room feels like it’s been stretched tight as a drum, and the corners are full of gnawing. Ahead of the teeth and spit is something that moves too fast to catch.
‘You shouldn’t be here,’ the voice is a girl’s. ‘It’s arriving soon.’
Taylor’s eyes search the attic’s depths.
‘Where are you?’
‘Right in front of you Taylor.’
‘Then why can’t I see you?’
‘Because I’m all around as well. I keep trying to consolidate but I can’t, not on my own. It’s stolen so much of me already. You came to find me, and you never asked yourself why they let you? It wants what’s left.’
‘I’m sorry Ciel.’
‘How long did you think I was going to last with them in charge? Taylor,’ she’s screaming now. ‘WHY DID YOU TAKE SO LONG? There’s a pause and the next time she speaks her voice is calmer although the words are not. ‘You’re the key Taylor. You’re the one that will let it in…will keep letting it in. Remember your family? What you did?’
Taylor’s can feel the blood vessels in his temples thump fit to burst as the room shakes. ‘No…,’ he doesn’t want to remember…can’t remember.
‘I’ll make it right. Maybe the rest of you’ll come back.’
‘It won’t Taylor, there’s nothing for me to come back too is there?’
‘What will you do then?’
‘Drown it.’
‘It won’t work.’
‘It will Taylor if we use what you’ve got to help me; that’s why you’re here isn’t it? To help?’
‘I don’t have anything.’
‘Yes, you do Taylor.’
‘Show me then,’ but Taylor’s pretty sure he knows what she wants him to do.

They’re in the building’s bowels when Ciel speaks again, ‘Can you feel it? It’ll be here soon.’
‘I thought you’d left,’ says Taylor as he checks the bullets in his gun. The singing’s stopped, and Taylor glances along walls that have been strung with copper. There’s a machine tall enough to scrape the ceiling at the room’s far end and Taylor watches as its fins crawl with lighting.
The residents are present too.
‘You still with me Ciel?’
There’s no answer, but someone can hear him.
‘My daughter’s dead,’ the group’s leader drops his hood and Taylor’s left staring at Ciel’s father’s face. He wonders how her Dad knows he’s got a visitor, because someone’s been busy. Where his eyes were now there’s only ruins. ‘Unless of course, you’re going to try and do something about it.’
There’s so many teeth in his smile that Taylor’s surprised even part of Ciel was left behind.
‘You knew, didn’t you? That I’d come here?’ say’s Taylor.
‘We made sure, she even sounds like your daughter, doesn’t she?’
Taylor reaches for his gun.
‘I wouldn’t Taylor, this room’s as thin as paper. You don’t want to let it out, not until we’ve had a word.’
‘Why’d do you do that to her?’
Taylor hadn’t meant it to leave his lips, but it does anyway, sad, and empty, at the same time because deep down he knows the answer already.
The blind man smiles understandingly and gestures at the wall. ‘What’s on the other side doesn’t take coin Taylor. We had to give it something it would value.’
Taylor wants to tell them what they’re made of but there’s a weight pressing at his temples as the man speaks again.
‘You’re the same us Taylor,’ the room’s begun to shake and a weight’s bending him double, crushing him, bringing him to his knees. ‘You can welcome it now you’re here.’
The stones at the far end are shaking so much he can see mortar raining down. As Taylor watches they tumble into the void that’s opening beyond.
Her father’s empty sockets turn to look at him.
‘Not long now Taylor, and here we were thinking we’d have nothing to offer when we let it out.’
‘Whatever’s coming isn’t going to listen to you. You know that don’t you? What is it you think you’ve found?’
‘The real-world Taylor, the one stripped of all illusion and artifice.’
A wail grates its way into the room, ‘watch.’
Taylor supposes he should have been expecting something like this as the blind man puts his lips together and whistles like he’s calling a dog.
‘Christ, you think you’re its master.’
‘Hold him.’
Around Taylor the throng begins to move. He’d thought they were so strung out on religion they’d forgotten his presence. But as their hoods slip from their faces his breath sucks between his teeth. Now he understands why they haven’t seen him. There isn’t an eye in the place.
‘Make sure he doesn’t run,’ says Ciel’s father.
Something hits the back of Taylor’s legs and he falls to the floor. He’s expecting more but with a crack that feels like his eardrums have split he realises they’re not alone. Ciel’s father’s talking, ‘Thank you Lord, oh thank you for gracing us with your presence…Lord?’
Taylor pulls his head up in time to see the blind man’s shirt bubble and twist like something inside is trying to get out.
Ciel’s voice sounds soft in Taylor’s ear.
‘Get ready.’
‘Ciel?’
It looks like her father’s sweating her. He’s vibrating so hard his skin ripples and the air around him looks like a mirage. Smoke spreads from his pores as she leaves his mouth and spits what’s left of him on the floor like old blood, black, and bitter. The last of the would-be dog keeper deflates like a balloon collapsing and Ciel turns toward the visitor.
‘You stole something of mine.’ She never raises her voice; instead she’s as calm as water after a storm. ‘I want it back.’
A hundred mouths move, and Taylor can see where all those eyes have gone; what’s climbed through the voids stitched with them. The wall tears wider, brick, and rubble falling into space as it grapples to pass the threshold. It’s howling so loud Taylor claps his hands over his ears, but not before Ciel says, ‘your family Taylor…now…use them.’
She begins to sing, and her voice is full of heartache and loss that sounds like it’s travelled through so much space its forgotten what words are. Taylor’s hands dig through his pockets. He wonders where she learnt the trick, maybe in the dark where they’d made her. He falls to his knees, photographs spraying from his hands like a gambler throwing cards in an arc, and the ground rises toward him harder than a fist.

Taylor wakes spread-eagled and alone. The wall is whole once more, and the congregation gone, the noise is too. He sits up. There’d been something he was supposed to do, a reason he’d come here if he could remember what it was.

END

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