Hungry and furious it waits, hoarding the voice of the Earth to it like treasure. It has learned much. Of the fragile life force, so sparse when first it erupted onto this plane, and now rich, having spread like bacteria upon the face of the Earth.
It has learnt that some of these bacteria have obtained the power to traverse the membranes to other realities. To bring their realities into this thin, static plane. Such individuals, so unaware of what they have, these could be used. It aches to exploit them.
It knows that soon, it will have the chance. The Earth speaks with many voices of many things and it listens to them all. But louder than all other voices has been the clarion call from a tight knot of dark and devious minds.
It croons to them. Wills them to bring it forth from silence. To unleash it.
There are such wonders to consume.
Faces parade out of the shadows like speeding cars. Visages bright and all consuming of the eyes as the glare of headlights. They begin as pale spectres, no less human than her own face but as they gain speed, grow ever brighter, they malform to grotesquery. Until each face is suffered rather than seen.
She’d close her eyes, but they’d merely speed at her from within the dark shelter of her lids. Turn away, but they’d follow her still, as if anchored to her pupils. This isn’t a physical attack, just an endless stream of faces growing ever more hideous, ever more terrifying.
But they plague her until her body is a clenched fist of tension; until she’d tear out her very mind to make it stop. It’s only the distant warmth of Rolf, the echo of his suffering within her own, which makes it bearable.
Cocooned in their shared vision Margo stares into the eyes of the multitude of faces as they race at her, damned to see them until darkness and the relief of sleep swallow her whole.
A pale, fumbling hand knocks the alarm flying as it splinters sleep to shards. It skitters across the floor to land in a multi-colour octopus of unwashed nylon. From there it continues in a high-pitched whine of trilling sound, a jackhammer concerto.
Margo bolts upright, hair foaming over her face, eyes at red-curdled half-mast. She tears her pillow from behind her and lobs it. ‘Shut up, you fucker,’ she slurs, and collapses back, shrieking as her crown connects with the iron bedstead.
Naked and reeling she gyrates out of bed, stumbling and lurching across the floor in a dance of pain, her hands clutched to her skull. Mr Rat watches from the doorway, cool and assessing.
After a moment she glares at him. ‘Get me a bag of peas you fat, lazy, cat whore.’
Mr Rat lifts his paw, considers it for a moment, then tugs at a claw, making a flat, decisive click of noise. Margo sniffs, on her dignity. ‘Fine, I’ll just suffer then.’
She drags on clean panties and shuffles to the kitchen, nipples puckering in the chill of morning. Slaps on the coffee machine with a growl and shoves food into Rat’s bowl whilst fumbling for something cold in the freezer. Nothing.
‘Bugger it to fuck I need to buy some food, or I’ll end up roasting you, Ratty Rat the cat, roast Ratty Cat, Rat au Van, Catatouille, Rat in the hole.’ Margo slams the freezer door. ‘What else is cold?’ She feels everything on the counter, dismissing it all with sharp snorts of disgust. When she reaches the toaster she crows victory, unplugs it and places it on the back of her skull, sighing with relief. ‘Mmmm, nice cold metal.’
The sharp rap of knuckles on the door filters to the kitchen. Margo wanders out to the hallway and yanks the door open without checking the peephole. It’s not like the postman, her neighbours, the teenage boy from 7B and Mrs Ripowitz, her landlady, haven’t seen her tits before.
Moe raises a brow. ‘I’m not going to ask about the toaster,’ he says.
‘I hurt my head.’
‘Which doesn’t explain the nipples.’
Margo looks at her nipples, bewildered. ‘There’s nothing wrong with my nipples,’ she says, ‘I’ve got fucking marvellous nipples.’
‘That explains why they’re on display,’ Moe says, pushing past her into the hall. ‘Don’t mind if I do.’ He sniffs appreciatively at the air. ‘Making me coffee too. Thoughtful.’
Margo slams the door. ‘Listen you nascent pillow biter, I’m making my bastard self coffee but if you beg prettily I might allow you a cup too.’
Moe grins. ‘If I were Rolf, I’d poke your nipple and you’d just make me a coffee.’
‘If you were Rolf, I’d be making you a coffee anyway.’
‘You two are such sisters,’ he says, wandering off to the kitchen and throwing over his shoulder, ‘but he’s got better tits.’
Margo follows him, brow furrowed, he looks fine, acts fine, but there’s something simmering under the skin, she can’t put her finger on it. She strolls in to the kitchen, plonks the toaster down on the counter; the metallic clunk makes her wince. ‘I could be concussed and there you are insulting my tits. You aren’t overly attached to your testicles… are you?’
Moe sniggers, fails to look contrite, but doesn’t reply. Instead he collects two cups from the cupboard and makes coffee that he sips slowly, leaning his whole weight against the counter as though his feet have given up supporting him.
For a moment they drink in silence but Margo feels it building, that simmer rising to the boil, and then he speaks, just jumps in out of nowhere, his voice marred by a funny little half-broken crack like a teenagers’. ‘I’m going to go ahead and just throw this out there, because there’s really no other way…’
Margo’s left brow does a swift impression of a harrier jet taking off. ‘Rolf cornholed you?’
Moe sips, stares, runs his tongue under his lip and she restrains what she might have said next because she sees how very fucking serious this is. He speaks again, more quietly, considered, as if feeling every word for the correct weight. ‘Not yet. I was going to talk about my dreams actually. I’ve been having waking dreams. And I’ve been hearing things.’
Placing her cup on the counter, Margo gains the sort of look on her face Moe wouldn’t expect to see there. Too sombre. Too old. It’s as if she’s been stolen and replaced with an anti-Margo and now he knows what it was Rolf was gabbling on about the other day at lunch when she went for a piss. Moe makes a mental note to apologise for ignoring him.
‘What are you seeing?’ she asks, and the fear in her voice is another unwelcome revelation.
He clears his throat. Sips. Tries to work out how to explain, then just blurts it because, really, there’s no explaining what he doesn’t understand. ‘People that aren’t people. Well, they are… but they aren’t. They’re monsters too. Beasts. Nightmarish shit to be honest,’ he licks his lips, ‘but I’m awake and I’m pretty sure I’m not hallucinating.’
Margo leans toward him. ‘Where?’
Moe swallows. ‘Everywhere.’ He puts his coffee down; he doesn’t much feel like drinking it any more. He feels sick, because Margo isn’t scoffing, isn’t making faces or cracking jokes. He can tell by the look on her face that she’s been expecting this, been worried that it might happen. ‘What the fuck is going on?’ he asks her.
She shakes her head. ‘I don’t know, Moe. I thought it was the Mother. But I’m not so sure, I’m really not. Rolf and I, we’ve been… seeing things too. Not just the beasts in people but… things… faces… at night. You said you were hearing things?’
He breathes in, hard, because this is where it gets really weird, which is saying something. ‘Not a voice,’ he says, ‘although it’s whispering. Voices. I think. But I’ve never heard voices like this before.’ His face spasms, an expression of disgust, of fear, the kind of fear kids have in the depths of night when there’s no warmth, no adult to keep them safe, and the walls are moving with fractured, hungry shadows. ‘It hurts me. In my head, my chest. Like every time it… they… the voices whisper… some of me dries up, crumbles away.’
Margo shivers. Nothing to do with the chill in her apartment. Nor to do with the fact that she’s stood there in but a scrap of red silk. It’s more the vibration in his words, something on the gut-level that speaks to her of a similar experience she’s tried to ignore.
For a moment the vaults of her deepest mind crack open and she hears the sibilance. A rustling of words in many voices, in unknown languages. They sound like dried paper, satin over stone, the warp of sanity.
In their grasp she feels the particles of her being desiccate, scraps of Margo scattering like dust before the whisper of words as if it were wind. She places her hands over her ears, presses hard into her skull until the whispers fade away.
She raises her eyes to Moe’s, the dark chocolate of his irises bled to black with fear, with horror lingering like the smell of rot. ‘We aren’t done, are we?’ she says, realising that it’s true.
Moe gives a minute shake of the head, ‘No, no we aren’t.’
‘Is it too late to stop, do you think?’
‘I think,’ he tells her, ‘that it was too late to stop before we even started. I feel like I’ve been sucked into this on purpose. Like we all have. It’s how it all happened, how we all came together. We were tricked. We thought it was a game, and we were right, but I think we’re the ones being played.’
‘So whose game is it?’ she says, more to herself than him, but he answers anyway.
‘Fucked if I know. All I know is, I don’t want to play anymore.’
Slow, regular chirps of sound disturb the air, clockwork and precise. The varied beats of a dozen assisted hearts. It’s perfect harmony, creates an atmosphere of sobriety and reflection, as if this were a Cathedral, not a ward.
Then, amongst the harmonious symphony, one heart breaks the beat. Stutters. Begins an erratic rumba that sets off the frenzied shrieking of alarms. A half dozen bodies bustle to the cubicle in question. Lying within it, previously insensate and bandaged from head to toe, is a young woman known only as Irina.
As the alarms rant on and doctors race to check her vitals, Irina’s eyelids flutter, flick wide open. The eyes behind them are too bright, too aware. A nurse, seeing them, cries out.
The alarms are silenced. Irina’s doctor, a specialist, pushes to the head of the bed. Flicks a small torch from one pupil to the other and back again, appears surprised. ‘Pupil response good.’ He stows the light in his front pocket, leans down to her ear, asks softly, ‘Irina. Irina can you hear me? Irina?’
Irina rises from the bed, past his eyes. So slow. As if her body floats upward from the mattress, the pillow. Her eyes, still so frighteningly clear, gaze around at the encircling staff.
‘Where are my Sisters?’ Her voice is dry and rough, the damage of smoke inhalation and flames reducing it to hoarse crackles and scratches, an unbearable sound to hear. ‘Where are my Sisters?’
The staff share bemused, concerned glances. They don’t know much about this girl, where she’s from, how she was harmed. All they know is that, if there were sisters, then they are not here, are possibly dead, and that this girl is in no condition to hear it.
‘Lie down dear,’ says one of the older nurses, taking charge, ‘best not to talk. You’ve been out a long time and you’ve a long way to go before you’re ready for exertion.’
Irina’s head moves like it’s mechanised, in staccato increments, until it faces the nurse in question, who immediately steps back, breathes in sharply. Those eyes, she thinks, my god they’re so cold.
Then, like spears, they tear straight into her, through her; leave savage rents in her mind, pulling it apart like so much tissue paper. The nurse shudders and drops to the floor with a heavy thud.
There’s an instant outcry, hands grasping the nurse from the floor, carrying her to an empty bed. They don’t know why she’s collapsed. Didn’t feel those eyes in their own heads, ripping and tearing, nor experience the momentary agony of the loss of self before self was gone and only the void of nothingness left behind.
In the commotion, Irina steps quietly from the bed, methodically pulls needles and tubes from her arms, her nose, disconnects catheters. When she’s done she turns to watch their frantic attempts to revive the nurse. Something flickers in those cold pools of blue, something like amusement, and then she leaves.
And at every bed she passes the monitors fall silent.
© Ren Warom 2012