Sharp and clear he sees it.
Burning with his own sick confidence he steps forward, hand outstretched, a grin of agony upon his face. Expectation etched upon his brow. At long last the prize is within reach! Closer he steps, fingertips hovering mere inches away crackling with an electrical sensation. They shimmer in and out of view, seemingly unnoticed by this man, this… thing.
He reaches to grasp, sure of his triumph in this moment, an exuberant cry upon his lips. The scene darkens, he grasps only air. Confusion, uncertainty, dismay, and, in the end, DESPAIR claims his mind. Everything goes black.
In the distance, through the dense foliage, through the lush canopy of trees I search. The colorful boughs and blooms, vines as thick as my biceps whip past my face. Drenched I shiver, the days when I had a warm bed and an office in New York are long gone.
The days when there was a New York are long gone.
A cry erupts from the thick brush on my left. Something ancient, something primordial, something I would have scoffed at had I been informed of just a few short years ago. In my world creatures that made sounds such as this either didn’t exist or were gone, long before man had left his cradle.
I ready myself, the sweet smell of the Gladionas filling my nostrils, and await the beast. If I’m to meet my death, I’ll stand ready.
I see a bit of movement from the brush. The leaves explode outwards in an impressive wave there it is! I leap to the side just as…
“Tyler! Hey Tyler, wait up!”
I turn and see my old friend David hustling to catch up with me, briefcase tucked under one arm, a Styrofoam cup in each hand. I can’t help but smile. Sometimes it seems some of my best memories start with Dave playing a game of catch-up.
I pause before the elevators, let one group go before me, co-workers, some I know, some just faces in a crowd. All of them rushing about their day delivering important documents or the next big stories. The glamorous life of a high-profile tabloid publication.
Dave finally catches up and holds out a cup.
“Hey, your favorite, coffee, black and cheap. Living large, just like we always knew we would.” He smiles.
Tyler gives a nod of thanks and takes the offered cup. He pretty much hates coffee but needs the energy so he doesn’t turn it down.
“Thanks Dave, you know me so well.” he says.
The elevator doors open and the two step inside. A minor miracle occurs and, for the moment, just the two of them share the car down as they depart the 23rd floor.
“So, does Bosman still have you writing up the Five Killer?” Tyler asks.
“Nope, you didn’t hear? They found him. Ended up being an EMT that worked over at Jacobi. Sick guy. He tried out some of his handiwork on a fella who was a little livelier than his other victims. The instead of his usual easy prey the guy fought back, overpowered him, and was able to hold him down until rounds came through.” Dave shook his head, “Real Shame. A few more bodies and I would’ve had the cover.”
Tyler gave him a reproachful look and shook his head.
“Hey, I’m joking, I’m joking! Relax, I’m glad they caught the guy. Still, I could’ve used the bonus.” Dave shrugged.
The elevator stopped to let a couple of people on then continued its steady progress.
“How about you? Anything good coming up in The Quarter lately?”
The Quarter. This was the nickname employees had given to a small section on page three near bottom right. It didn’t quite take up a quarter, but “Quarter” had a better ring to it than “Two-Fifths”.
In The Quarter you could never be sure what you would find. News about a “Miracle Cure” for whatever had you down. Arthritis, Alzheimer’s, Erectile Dysfunction. Hell, the Quarter had solved those years ago, multiple times. Sometimes you’d get a story about a heinous murder, complete with a one inch grainy black and white photograph. Every so often you would get a history lesson on some schoolyard tale that just wouldn’t die. Cannibals that called the city home. There were murders, rapes, arsons, burglaries; the only requirement for The Quarter is they couldn’t be easily proven cases, or they had to be especially heinous. The more odd, shocking, and bizarre, the better. The Quarter focused on the fatal and fantastic, the grand and grim. With The Quarters one never knew quite what to expect but Tyson liked it.
“I’m actually on my way out to the next big story now,” Ty said “apparently, some asshole crashed his car, pulled a gun on someone, then caused a miniature earthquake in an alleyway.”
“Perfect man,” Dave laughed, “been a while since you’ve run a crackpot piece.”
The elevator reached the lobby, the few remaining passengers departed but Tyler held Dave back.
“This should be a little different. Multiple witnesses, in broad daylight, and the spot where the earthquake happened is still there.” Tyler tilted his head back and finished the last of his coffee. “I can’t wait to find the magician that pulled this one off.”
Screams reverberated down the dimly lit halls. Male, female, young, old, Tarvin couldn’t tell. Too many twists and turns, the walls themselves, crooked with age, unnatural in their origin, didn’t help matters. He kept low, pausing by each door, listening, careful not to make a noise. The lighting is the dirty yellow of an aging, near dead, fluorescent bulb that seems to seep from the walls themselves. It isn’t steady, but seems rather on the verge of extinction, dimming and brightening with an irregular pulse. Tarvin, though tired, is alert. The Gunstelings do not know mercy.
It’s been twelve days and nights since he’s entered the manor. So far, it’s been one never-ending corridor after another. The one door he had dared open contained but a single table, with a telephone on it. When he approached it began to ring, each clash of bells louder than the last. Try though he might he couldn’t reach the receiver, it seemed further away no matter how much he moved towards it. This was a place of enchantment and illusion. He knew what he needed was in here, he had the clues, but so far, the answers had evaded him. His supplies were low and soon he’d have to resort to guessing.
If it came to that blind chance was all that remained.
Another door, silence.
A dozen more.
Crossing corridors. Again, he held out his Stok, and let it choose the way. Straight this time.
After an hour he sees a door that is somewhat different from the others. The first of its kind, unique in hue and shape. Cautiously he approaches, pulling his pack from his shoulder. He listens and hears a quiet scraping sound from inside. The sound reminds him of tree branches scraping metal. He steels himself, grabs the knob and eases the door open.