July 20th, 2017
He got the call to the good fight.
Right there in his rear pockets, the rumbling phone that glowed with the bold letters.
‘4564 Malibu Dr.’
He looked out the window. It’s time.
To his side, the ceremonial dagger. On his other side, a table loaded to the brim with papers and stacks. And on the bed, with a weight so obscenely high that the very mattress shifted inwards; his sword.
It was chipped. Uneven. Blunt. The fights had done it, the explosions of Arcane magic had done it. Age. Wear.
His sword looked like it was dying.
The edge, jagged. It looked like a set of uneven toddler’s teeth. It’d do. He grabbed it from its handle and sheathed it within his coat, all ten feet of steel disappearing like the rabbit in a hat. From the other side of his coat, he took out his mask.
Hopefully, we’ll catch him today.
He opened the window and climbed up to the edges. His heart raced. He tried swallowing his spit, but his throat was dry and clogged.
I don’t think we will, though.
He galloped along the buildings, his neck bent downwards onto the street signs. And he noticed as he approached the address, how worse and worse the city got. The writing on signs become less and less legible. The buildings, growing more and more in disrepair. They say old men have one foot in the grave. Well, the town had both in, and they were here. On Malibu Drive.
He arrived. He knew he was there, the cop car was nearby, and there was unsettling quietness. The type of unnatural quiet you get only when you’re trying to be silent. There was not a creak from rusted pipe, nor a scurry from rats. Nothing.
He jumped over the fence and made his way to the front of the building. He looked up, a sign read,
‘New Haven Press’
If this was the New Haven, he didn’t want to see the old Haven.
He brought up his phone. “Where are you?”
“I’m almost on the third floor,” Dion said.
“Wait there,” Apollo said.
Inside, immediately to his rear were the clay pots. Most of them broken or housing dead trees. Some of them were turned over, the dirt disseminated and blended with the floor. There were small flowers, purple with large pedals. These grew out from the patches of soil. The main stairway was blocked off, the cement stairs collapsed inwards as to blockade them. He went the opposite end, towards a rear stairway and along the way had a good look at the machinery. Levers and dials and small spots underneath the machines, just big enough to fit a kid. He remembered reading about that, child laborers. And he remembered reading how often they lost their fingers and small little limbs.
I don’t think much has changed. Kids still get hurt. I should know.
He came up behind Dion who had his back against the wall.
“What have you found?” Apollo said.
“Jesus Christ!” Dion turned, gun pointed to Apollo. Apollo ducked. “Oh, no. Forgive me father for using your name in vain.” He made a cross in front of his face.
“Don’t sneak up on me,” Dion said. “And… – And be quiet!”
He put a finger in front of his lips, and both turned around the corner. In front of them was a sprawl of offices and small alleys and doors. And around them, nothing but the wind and the sound of rusted doors shutting and crying from their hinges. It was a high pitched sound. Apollo went forward, hand in his pocket. Nothing.
They went through the small offices, printing presses laid corroded on collapsed desks. There was raunchy graffiti, beer cans, and bottles on the walls. A condom, Apollo stepped on it, and the mystery liquid it pooled in. It looked like a tapeworm growing out of the floor.
A bottle popped and broke.
Dion put his guns forward.
“F***,” Apollo said. “It was me.”
He knocked the bottle away. It went out the window into seeming obscurity.
There was silence, they lowered their arms. They stopped bobbing their heads and wobbling and eased their tensed shoulders.
Then static struck them. Then, a loud, long-winded high pitched noise. It sounded like a megaphone, and it came from the corners of the room.
“The Vicars are here.” The voice said.
Their eyes illuminated red.
“They know we’re here,” Dion asked.
“Really? You think so?” Apollo said.
“Don’t be sarcastic-“
“Where are you, where are you?” They heard barking in the background. It bled into the cackle of a voice and static of the megaphone.
“What was that?” Dion asked.
“It doesn’t matter. It’s all trouble,” Apollo looked at the foggy windows and put his ear to the wall, he was looking for sounds. “We just need to know when it’s coming.”
“Should we split up? I can climb the side of the wall. I figure there are twenty floors, I can come from the top and rout them down to you.” Dion said.
“No. They don’t sound scared. Though they should be,” Apollo started walking to the stairs. “So either they’re bluffing or…”
“They have something to kill us with.” Dion followed Apollo.
He covered the flank. They went up two fleets of stairs before seeing another blockage. On this floor, they have small cubicles, tall screens once white now darkened with age. Behind these cubicles could have been anything. And maybe there was anything behind them.
Because, on his tip-toes, Apollo could see the horizon. He saw the hooded heads of figures run into the maze-like set of cubicles.
Dion saw them too, he was first to run.
Apollo grabbed his shoulder. “Together.”
Dion nodded. They kept their bodies low as they went through, Dion on one end and Apollo on the other.
He stopped though. Stumped his leg on something (or thought he had), a snag or piece of furniture. He looked down. It was a plastic bag, white and with something bulging out from the sack.
He couldn’t even breath.
He knew what it was, he knew that familiar smell. His mouth dried.
There was dried blood on the bag, wasn’t there? And a toxic yellow-green from decomposed flesh, wasn’t it?
And that sharp thing, the thing he hit. That was bone. Bone. A femur.
“Don’t f*** around, Dion.” Apollo turned his head with tact, with an almost pained expression behind his mask. “These are our guys, Dion. I’m sure of it.”
They had made it to the other end of the room and where the walls narrowed into a thin hall and a thinner set of stairs.
“The Mad Hatter must have designed this s*** hole,” Apollo said. They put their backs against each other. They took a step, something bustled. It felt like the ceiling would fall on them. Or maybe the floor. Because each step onto the concrete seemed to make the cracks larger.
The megaphone turned on again. There was just laughter now, and some old ragtime song. Scott Joplin.
“What the f***,” Apollo said. Through the stairs, up each room, through the intersections of the office building, the music blared. Warped. Echoed.
They made it to floor twelve. That was the second time Apollo saw a hooded figure. He saw him vanish through an editors office and ran after him. The door closed. He put his foot against the wood, it caved in. His foot was stuck, the wood was just too old. So he tackled it instead. Dust covered the area.
Dion, who followed, who was nearby let out a gasp.
“Behind us.” He said.
Apollo turned. He saw a figure pass his peripheral.
“They’re f****** with us.” He said. It was like a dance, with people come in and out of darkness, coming in and out of frame. Behind them. In front of them. Through the doors, out of them. The music blared. Now jazz. With scratches and pops and a tonal quality only describable as cold and sharp.
“They’re just people, don’t worry.” Dion grunted. He put an undisciplined finger on his trigger.
The cultists danced, their steps like a kind of bass-line to the barrage of noisy jazz. Steps, twirls, so loud it almost sounded like heavy rain.
And like rain, there’s a crash of thunder.
“Get over you prick.” Apollo took aim at one of the cultists. He ran after him. Closer. Almost close enough to grab his coat, he missed by a few inches. And the man turned another corner, and Dion came up behind him.
The man was gone. And now they were in an odd spot, in the center of a crossway between four different directions.
The music stopped. The cultists stopped. Or maybe…they all…just vanished.
Replaced by something worse, something approaching like a roaming dark cloud.
Something drew closer. Something with a droning growl. Something pawed and clawed, whose dragging footsteps made a scratching noise against the wood and tile. And this creature, whatever it was, sniffed the air with long-drawn inhalations.
“Dogs?” Dion asked. Apollo couldn’t answer. He took out his blade, it was too large to manage in the closed space, but he thrust out anyways.
And from these four sides, they saw them.
The hot jaws of death that made their way around the corner. Narrow creatures, with bright fangs and claws. Single-eyed, four-legged, sharp-furred beasts.
With a wide maw and breath so terrible that Apollo could feel the noxious fumes. The musk in the air, so thick that it wrapped around him like a lasso or noose.
“Kill ’em all.” Apollo’s voice hurried. “Shoot. Shoot. Shoot!”