Hi Everybody! Ash and Dust Part 12
September 21, 2011 § Leave a comment
Why hello again. Long time no see. Have some story! Oh, and for the record? These are the Men with No Names:
Now go watch Fistful of Dollars and Yojimbo. Do it!
Chapter 12: Ashes to Ashes
The door was still broken from where I had made my mad rush to freedom. The black greasy patch where the nurse had fried to death was still there. Any remains were long gone, either picked over by the crows or simply burned even beyond ash. I yanked on Depression’s chain. Did they even need to eat here? Maybe they were all just mimicking eating and drinking to make me feel more at home. Wisdom certainly did, but what the hell did I know about the dietary habits of walking turtles? Only that he probably got the munchies more than most members of his species.
I peered through hole in the fat. It seemed empty on the other side, the ruined lobby quiet. There were a few stains on the inside where the nurses and doctors had died, but not even a corpse. They must have all been devoured by the remaining nurses. I shuddered as I remembered their tongues and the needles from the doctors. Now that I was closer to the inside, and now that Compromise had driven off, I was a little less sure of myself.
So I screwed my face into a scowl and drew my gun. Tough-guy persona, phallic weapon: check. It’s go time.
I shoved Depression through the remains of the door. He managed to get out a muffled grunt before he shattered the rest of the glass and fat. It wasn’t that loud, and Depression couldn’t complain with all that chain in his mouth, but I still jumped when I heard it. I mentally chastised myself. The Man With No Name didn’t jump at sounds, I thought. Of course, then I remembered the Man With No Name was played by either Clint Eastwood or Toshiro Mifune, men with tough-guy credentials longer than my arm. I was just a cop. A tired, scared, and sad cop who thought he was badder than he was.
It would have to do.
I stepped through and wrinkled my nose at the smell. Despite the abandoned look of the place, it reeked of wet garbage and burnt toast. Thin light filled the room but only up to the tip of the garbage ramp. The corners stayed dark and threatening. My eyes scanned the room, but it remained empty. Nothing ran at me from the ramp of garbage, nor did anything come out of the stairwell. So far, so good.
Jerking Depression to his feet, I led the way. He dragged his feet as he walked, making an ungodly racket. Oh come on, I thought. I’ve raised toddlers. I know this. My heart throbbed for a second when that thought brought back memories. I vomited up the pain and vented it on Depression.
“Quit acting like a damn baby.” I growled, surprised at how low my voice suddenly was.
He mumbled something in response, but it was muffled by the chains.
“What?” I asked, suspicious. I drew my coat tighter around me. No, it’s not armour, but when you’re in a creepy hospital filled with murderous, cannibalistic monsters, everything between you and them counts. He mumbled again before I figured it out. “If I free your mouth, you have to stay quiet. Well, you don’t have to, but I’ve got no reason to bring you back to Despair before you eat a few bullets, understand?”
He nodded furiously. I unwound the chains a little, freeing up where his mouth and an eye should be. I didn’t see how Compromise had attached it, but the chains did what I wanted to pretty much the moment I thought about it. Depression started gasping, breathing deeply in the close air. I knew he might scream, but I almost wanted him to. I had the bullets and he had been getting on my nerves for a long time.
Instead, he quieted down. Glumly, I turned around and faced the ramp.
“So, where’s the boss? Upstairs or down?”
Depression shook his head. Chains rattled. “There’s no up or down when we’re talking about Despair. There is only deeper and deeper, and his lair is very deep indeed.”
I looked up the ramp. It was a crude thing, half-falling apart and mostly made of discarded hospital beds, but it led into a darkened pit. It wasn’t like the rest of the hospital, and seemed to be cut out of rock instead of built. It felt bad just to look at it. The light got sucked in there, and you could just tell that would happen to you. Walk on in and never come back out.
“That is the heart of his power,” Depression continued, awe in his voice, “even I am weakened there.”
“That’s where I’m going then.” I muttered, and took a step forward. Depression giggled and I turned my scowl back on him. Damn. I needed a cowboy hat if I was going to keep this up. “What?”
“I was going to take you here myself if you were not strong enough to resist. A pleasant coincidence, isn’t it?”
“Yeah bub, just remember who’s holding which end of the chain.” I gave it a little yank to illustrate what I meant.
“Oh, I know.” Depression said. “Do you?”
I dragged him up the ramp of beds. “Come on, Socrates. I don’t have all day.”
The footing looked unsure, but countless feet had pummelled the garbage flat. I winced as it squished beneath my feet and had to remind myself that technically, nothing here was actually physical. I mean, Nunc had said I wasn’t in that world anymore, so why would I be bothered by astral goo?
Because when you kick over a sheet and there’s a half-eaten head underneath it, it still hits you in the gut. It looked like a doctor didn’t make it back up the ramp in time, and all that was left was half a skull and a pile of grey goo. It smelt like garbage in the summer and I nearly retched.
Picking around it, I got to the top and more solid ground. The floor here was tiled and somewhat regular, like a wall had been knocked out and left empty. But only a few feet ahead it suddenly changed into hard-packed dirt and stone. I squinted and looked further down the hall, but the light, bad even on first floor, couldn’t pierce the blackness.
I fumbled in my pocket and pulled out my lighter. With a whoosh, it lit. The sight of the flame was immediately comforting. It looked small and far away and only lit a few feet at a time, but I felt better with it in my hand. Depression started chuckling and I said, “Shit.”
I couldn’t hold the lighter ahead of me, the gun ready, and the chain all at once. I would have to either put away my gun and risk being attacked, or put out the fire and be blind. I decided I’d rather see my death coming if it came to that, and holstered my gun.
“Careful, Ryan. Who knows what’s down there?”
I walked behind him and gave him a kick. “You do, so you’re leading. Greitai, subingalvis.”
He walked off, humming quietly, and passed into the thicker darkness. It felt like a thick gel that I needed to push through, coating my hands and hair and eyes. The light suddenly dimmed and the air got cold. There was no sound. My breathing went silent and my heart seemed to stop. It was cold, silent, and dark.
I took a step and the ceiling moved. I whipped my lighter up just in time to see black shapes, legs and arms, skitter out of the light. I fought back a whimper and kept walking. They followed.
We just walked for awhile, our steps painfully loud in the silence and the lighter painfully dim in the darkness. The things on the ceiling kept pace with us, silently crawling across the smooth stone. Well, even with the lighter it was too dark to see the ceiling, but I extrapolated based on the evidence of the walls and floor. It’s what cops do.
Depression walked just ahead of me, following the path as it twisted and branched. We had left the lobby behind us a long time ago, and I’d lost track of the turns we’d taken to get here. I got really nervous. If Depression did something or ran off, I’d never find him and I’d get lost in a heartbeat.
Then, either the things on the ceiling would drop down and do something or I’d get lost here and never come out.
But what if they were waiting on something else and didn’t care that Depression was here? What if he was leading me into a trap?
What if this was the trap, and Compromise was in on it? That bitch. I never should have trusted her. She was tricking me the whole time, with her boobs and her whole frigging getup. I should have shot her the moment I saw it wasn’t Spes. Damn it, that would have been better.
But wasn’t it Spes that had been leading me along this entire time? He didn’t even say anything! He said he would show me the way. Well, Mr. Spes, I’m a little fucking lost now, aren’t I? Where are you? Show the damn way! Or are you too busy with your damn turtle?
Wisdom! That’s who’s fault it is! He knows. I don’t know what he knows, but he didn’t tell me half of it. He probably wanted me down here the moment he saw me. He probably worked with Compromise and Spes from the damn beginning! That whole beach shit, about waking up? That must have been just to get me moving back here!
Hell, Despair was the only one that wasn’t yanking me around like a dog on a leash! God…Depression was right. He was trying to warn me, and I treated him like crap. I didn’t trust him, even though he’s not once lied to me.
Suddenly I saw shapes in the darkness around me. Giant shadows that looked like Spes and Wisdom loomed out at me, hands raised and grasping. They were hungry, hungry for what I had in me. They wanted to get me. I dropped the chain and the lighter and drew my gun, screaming and shooting.
Sound exploded off the stone and almost rang my bell but I kept firing. Light flashed from the gun, blinding me after so long in the darkness but I shot and shot. Terror and rage shot out of me, and I think I came, it felt so strong. I was so far gone that I stood there for a minute in the darkness, panting and high on endorphins, uselessly pulling the trigger on my empty gun.
Then I realized that it was dark.
And it was cold.
And I suddenly realized I didn’t have my lighter and Depression was long gone.
I dropped to the floor, frantically patting the ground for my lighter. Nothing. I started hyper-ventilating a little as I panicked.
“Come on, come on you little fucker, where the hell are you?” I needed my lighter, but that doesn’t say exactly what it felt like. I’ve needed to sleep before, and I’ve needed to be laid in the past. But I needed this lighter like I needed air. The palpable need filled me up and obliterated thought. Millions of years of human evolution were ignored and reduced to one primal urge: find the damn lighter.
My chest started to hurt and sweat ran down my head but I didn’t stop. Couldn’t. I didn’t have the lighter yet. I moved forward and had to brush a vine out of the way as I kept looking for the damn lighter. I must have rounded a corner in my struggle, because suddenly there were vines all over the place. Furry, warm little vines, and more and more of them kept appearing in front of me, like reeds in the water.
I froze, my heart hammering in my chest at a thousand rpm. Those weren’t vines.
There was a soft hissing above me and the vines started looping themselves around my limbs and neck.
The tough guy was gone. I screamed like a little girl and ran full tilt into the darkness. I couldn’t see or hear, and I couldn’t tell if they were two feet behind me or two hundred. By some miracle of police training I held on to my gun but didn’t think of much else as I pelted forward.
I almost died from running straight into a wall but death was the last thing on my mind. Those “vines” and the things they were attached to were behind me and that was all I cared about. Tears ran down my face, hot, panicked tears that told me I was losing it.
It was too much. Too damn much for me to take anymore. Where the hell was I anyways, a fucking cave in Wonderland? This wasn’t real, none of it was, and the only things waiting for me on the other side, if I could ever get back there, were two goddamned coffins. It was over. Done. Ryan Kazlauskas might as well be dead, come to think of it. I had been in an accident and now I was in a coma. And I. Had killed. My children.
I stopped and cried, my eyes shut tight against the world. The pain was suddenly so fast and so powerful that I could do nothing else. It was like a punch to my whole being. The tears, which had been pouring out from fear before, now ran from a well of grief. There wasn’t anything left in me but that grief, I was now just a faucet, a conduit for everything that I had done. It didn’t matter if I got out of that cave, it didn’t matter if I saw the light again. I just had to get that grief out of me.
After a long, long time, I regained a little control. I had been sobbing, and hiccuped a few times as I regained my breath, but I was myself again. Well, partly. I was in control again. “Ryan” and everything that had meant might well be gone, but “I” was back. I got the snot and tears from my eyes and was just about to open them when I heard his voice.
“Hello, Ryan. I finally get a chance to meet you.”
The room was cold, and it was quiet. But it wasn’t dark.
And Despair was right in front of me.