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Nine days ago, every human on earth disappeared. The silence was deafening. Entire cities hushed as factories stopped, cars lay motionless in the street and static filled the airwaves. Suddenly devoid of human life the world took a breath and paused as a minute’s silence rang out through the empty streets. A gentle breeze flowed over the dead cities playing a haunting ‘last post’ as it rushed over and around the now quiet buildings, not a sound dared to exist as the earth gave a final prayer for the human race. From clear blue sky’s fell rain, the world wept for its children torn from her loving embrace. Minutes and hours passed, eventually unable to morn any longer, the sun returned to its place shining new upon the quiet world. Then the animals reacted. First a lone cricket chirped, echoing amongst the ruins, soon its brethren followed filling the void, and then the birds began to sing. As each second passed more and more animals started to cry out to the world. This was the reveille of nature. The earth awoke once again.
Memories of that day move through my scattered mind like shrapnel fragments in the side of a war veteran. A sharp, stabbing, flash of pain and blood occasionally work their way up to my consciousness, pulling me back, making me remember. The first clear memory I have is waking up in the middle of an empty street; skyscrapers stand like a dark industrialised forest blocking the fading light, their shadows casting an early night. Slowly my eyes opened and were met with the cold, wet bitumen; the distinct smell of oil and fresh rain filled my nostrils comforting me in some strange yet familiar way. A quiet roar started to fill my ears from the inside, like an army was rushing to get out through my eardrums. This was a precursor to my next clear memory, pain. It rushed through my left side, piercing under my ribs and pushing up into my beating heart. I screamed. I gave into the agony and just screamed. All the gods living, dead and fictional heard me as I cursed every one of them, I made sure that they knew my pain and would remember it.
The blackness that filled my vision slowly dissolved to dark red as I crawled back to consciousness. Blacking out hadn’t pulled the spear from my side, although it was close to becoming bearable. The roaring in my ears had begun to lessen and I started to feel the cold that had risen from the wet road and covered my body. My eyes started to look around, while I lay there gathering strength for that inevitable time when I would have to move. The sun had long since disappeared below the edge of office buildings and skyscrapers, replaced by a hollow glow from the streetlights. By this point I had already figured out that I was probably alone; I don’t know anywhere an injured man can lay on a city street, bleeding to death (in the pale light it was just a sticky black mess covering my hands but I assumed it was blood) for the better part of the day without someone at least moving him along. I resigned to the fact that I needed to get moving and find somewhere to patch myself up; not an easy task in my state.
Every movement was shear and utter agony as I manoeuvred myself into a kneeling position. I hugged my arms around me trying to keep pressure on the wound to slow the bleeding and to hopefully lessen the pain as I attempted to rise. Surprisingly my legs were strong enough to lift my dead weight into the air and into a hunched over stance. Hair falls around my face like a white curtain as I let my heavy head sag and stare at the road. Breathing slowly helps control the pain even though each deep breath is met with an equally deep pang. Eventually I am able to stumble through the waiting night, looking for somewhere to die comfortably, preferably with a well stocked mini bar.
To be continued...
|Once More With Feeling|
An uneventful twenty minutes pass after hanging up the phone and I resume my vigil over the theatre. Why cops hate stakeouts I’ll never know, it’s just you, the target and a thousand hours alone to sit and think. I suppose it helps that I have no family to go home to, no friends to worry about or to have worry about me. My world may be a lonely place but eventually you begin to own the loneliness, you start to view the world differently. I have no responsibilities to anyone I am my own agent, meaning I can indulge in delicacies, take risks that no one else would and enjoy my own company without wondering whether I’m ‘boring’ or ‘entertaining’ enough. Of course this voluntary solitude does have its drawbacks, long antisocial days followed by even longer cold nights. To say it doesn’t get to me sometimes would be a blatant lie; on those days I feel him holding me and whispering in my ear, his sweet scent surrounding me bringing back memories I had long forgotten… Then, a flash of deep crimson and overwhelming sadness cuts in dancing me back to the now. Detached isolation does have it’s advantages.
Out of the corner of my eye I see it, the unmistakable shadow of someone trying very hard to sneak out of a theatre (hang around one long enough and you will know what I mean). Most people wouldn’t be able to see a man from this distance, let alone know what (cheep) cologne he was wearing, especially through the wind and rain, but who ever said I was most people? Being the only one on the street wearing a trench coat and sunglasses it wasn’t hard to make him in this weather (if you are going to hide, hide in plain sight, no one looks at the obvious these days). Quickly stand up and give a very unladylike crack of my neck and knuckles, I turn to Gregory and say “I hope he limbered up before leaving, I feel like a run.” With that I produce a throwing knife from my belt and send it hurling towards the back exit. A flash of sliver and a solid ‘thunk’ by his foot is all my man needs to get him going, if only you could do that in the DMV. I casually remove my heavy leather coat, revealing the underlying black cotton singlet top; I let it drop to the ground in a wet heap. All removable items on my person follow, phone, knives, gun, my belt and solid black leather boots follow. Time for some fun!
Taking a few casual steps backward I crouch down in the starters position, my right knee almost touching my chin allowing my left leg to stretch out behind me. Hands arched on the floor, my eyes close as my head goes down. I focus on the same warmth from before that is now slowly creeping up from my feet. I give in to it completely and feel the heat flow up over my legs and all along my spine finally down through my arms. I snap my eyes wide open, reflected back at me in a pool of water are two perfectly yellow cats eyes, complete with fat elliptical pupils. New senses open up all around me; as I look up, the dark foreboding night becomes as bright as the new day, the dull streetlights shine like miniature suns covering the entire city. Smells flow all around me crossing over, mingling, painting a picture of everyone who lives there. It takes a few seconds to isolate the distinct smell of my target, but when I do his is the only scent on the air as all others fall silently away. I am ready now, the blood of the hunt runs through me filling my veins with lava pumping my heart harder and harder I tense and release running towards the disappearing edge of the roof. In a leap worthy of Peter Parker I glide the huge gap across the street to the roof of the theatre, landing in a tuck and roll. Without stopping I leap to my feet and into a sprint, following the street leaping from building edge to building edge. Effortlessly I bound up the sides of taller buildings, my now formed claws extend what is left of my hands gripping onto each and every foothold only making a quiet almost serene click as nail meets brick for an instant.
In no time at all I find myself running parallel to the target, albeit ten stories above him, and I slow to match his pace. It’s nowhere near my top speed but I will give it to him, for someone laden down with, I sniff the air, a Glock .09mm (get shot by a few of those and you would soon remember their smell too) and full holster he sets a hell of a pace. Let’s see how long it takes for him to give up, most are only good for a few blocks before fatigue sets in, hardly a warm-up for me. As the seconds roll by my body continues its change. Bones snap and pop as they break and reset, my legs give way briefly as my hips reline, pushing my body forward giving a feline grace to my run. My long black hair falls out in wet clumps as a short glossy coat pushes its way painlessly to the surface (I decided not to shave this morning for this exact reason). Finally the transformation finishes as layers of muscle and sinew build upon my frame tearing my remaining clothes to shreds, giving the appearance that I spend far too long in the gym and not enough money on waxes. Not much is left of the 5’6” size 10 that befriended a gargoyle not five minutes ago, all that is left is a slight resemblance of my face and the tattered remains of my clothes. This beast may run on four legs now, but she still fights upright.
Taking leap I land with a soft thud on the hard concrete below, the street is silent and empty, bar the fluttering of his trench coat and the crunch of his footsteps. Eyes dart behind to see if his enemy had given up chase only to be confronted with this preternatural creature of nightmares. I love that face. The one where the eyes register what is there but the mind flatly refuses to, then the moment of pure panic and fear oozes out every pore. It makes my heart skip when I get to see that, simple pleasures and all. He takes his chance and darts down an alley on his left, don’t these people watch horror movies? How many survive down the damp dark alley? Idiot. I start off towards his soon to be tomb in a graceful half jog, taking my time, enjoying the moment. As I turn the corner I see the bane of thief’s and scared young starlets, a high chain link fence, shaking my head as I rise up on my hind legs. In frustration and anger he turns from the fence and faces me down. His eyes narrow as he reaches out and pulls out the .09mm, a fighter. This won’t last long sadly; it will however, hurt like you would never believe, for both him and me.
I take my time walking down the alley, giving him plenty of time to line me up, not that it’s going to do anything.
“Stop! Don’t move! I’ll shoot! I will!” Words spat out between his ragged breathing. I keep walking, slow and steady. The gun goes off. It feels like a strong hot wind slamming into my body pushing my slightly hunched shoulder back violently. They are fine from a distance, clean straight through no organs hit, as I get closer to the shooter the pain increases. Just as the wound from the first bullet starts to heal he fires again, no warning this time. Another body hit, again I don’t stop (the pain is worse as they heal, and heaven forbid one gets lodged in me, you’ll hear my screams for miles when I dig it out!). I can feel myself loosing control, it’s subtle but quick my thoughts scatter and I begin to loose my focus, all I see before me is human meat. My pace quickens as I yearn for the taste of blood. He can see it too, he knows he’s about to die, about to be food for this hulking beast rushing at him. The gun goes off. Round after round I take, several bullets lodge in my arms and chest but I don’t care, I’m way beyond caring. I pounce forward suddenly as the Glock clicks empty and it’s barrel locks back, as a massive black mass I fall from the air pinning my food underneath. The gun skids across the dirty wet floor not that it will help much now. Using what little power I have remaining I look at the man for the first time; his dark brown eyes appear a light shade of grey to my feline senses. I take my slightly turned up nose and run it from his prominent chin and over his small thin lips, letting my tongue run lightly along his cheek, the small hooks picking up the slight five o’clock shadow. He wasn’t handsome yet not quite ugly, a fine looking mortal that tastes like sweat and gunpowder.
A deep husky growl escapes my throat carrying with it the half mangled words,
“Say hi to Shakespeare for me.” A scream and the moment flashes red as I black out, like always. Later I wake back to normal, huddled next to the mutilated body of my prey. “Say hi to Shakespeare for me…” I think as pull myself up. Of all the things to say, why on earth would that corny line pop out? As I begin to walk out of the alley the heavy rain returns, washing the ruby red stains from my face and arms. With only the remanent tatters covering my body I emerge onto the dimly lit street, I fold my arms to cover my semi-exposed breasts and shake my head, ‘may the gods help anyone who wolf whistles at me tonight.’
|Every Time I Die|
Out of nowhere the harsh cry of a crow suddenly sounds, breaking through my almost meditative state like a brick through a window. Silence returns for a few moments until the crow caws again, this time slightly louder. It takes me a few seconds to realise what this meant, the vibrating from my pants pocket give me a gentle reminder. A small groan of annoyance escapes my mouth as I straighten up releasing my fist from the rather large dent it has made in the brickwork. Reaching into my pocket I produce the small matt black phone, still vibrating and cawing like a hungry crow. The calling number display shows in dark red letters ‘PAYPHONE’ as I flip it open to answer.
Silence. I never answer my phone, even when I know who it is, it just leads to people wanting to talk to you. Muffled sounds of someone breathing filled the receiver, I can faintly make out the sound of cars splashing through a wet street. Whomever it is they are close by. “Violet?” a mans voice whispers, “Violet are you there? Answer me damn it” he sounds stressed and nervous. “Violet, please! Look, I’m sorry I called you, even though it’s against your policy, it’s just, I…I need to talk. Please…” he pleads, his voice soft and sorry.
“I am here.” I say softly, moving back towards the edge of the rooftop, near my gargoyle friend.
“Oh thank you Violet, I’m so sorry…”
“What is it that you require?” I have little patience for time wasters, even more so when I’m in the middle of a job.
“Yes, yes, sorry. I…I umm, just needed to talk with you. Just wanted to make sure everything is going ok, no troubles?”
“Everything is fine. The target is in the playhouse, he is unaware of my presence.” They never are.
“Good. Good. So everything is on schedule? You’re on top of everything? What if he slips out the back? Or decides to leave in a group? Or…” I cut him off.
“I have planned for every eventuality, this is not necessary. I have been in this line of work a few days now, I believe I am getting quite good at it.”
“…What? James said you had been doing this for years and…oh. Oh, you were making a joke. Heh, James warned me you had an excentric sense of humour.” I sigh. Sarcasm is lost on most of my employers; surprisingly most of my ‘work’ gets it though. Often I have wondered if I stay in this job only for the witty banter with my prey, but then I remember the real reason. “James says a lot of things, unfortunately most of what escapes past his teeth is the truth.”
“Something in your voice tells me there’s a long story between you two, Violet.”
“There is.” I close my eyes briefly. ”You won’t be hearing it though.” I open them again and push rising thoughts back down too where they should be. Absently I rub the small of my back. “Is there anything else you wish to discuss, or can I get back to being a human sponge?” Another joke.
“Well, something has been bothering me ever since I met you. It’s a bit personal, do you have time?” I look at my watch; there is still another hour to go until intermission.
“Why not, Gregory here isn’t much of a conversationalist.”
“Gregory? Who’s Gregory? Did you bring someone else in on this?” His paranoia has kicked in; I can hear the veins pumping in his neck, even over the phone.
“Gregory is a gargoyle, he’s cute but I don’t think he’d be much help in a fight. Unless of course I throw him at someone.” I gently pat the stone frieze, and lean down planting a soft kiss on the smooth cold rock.
“A gargoyle? Well, that’s ok I suppose, but I think the rain may have got to you Violet, naming a gargoyle?” Stick to writing cheques bub.
“Ask your question,” I say, standing back up keeping my eye on the playhouse.
“Why did you take this job? I mean, you don’t look like your average…”
“Killer?” I offered.
“Yeah, killer. I don’t mean to sound chauvinistic, but you are a very gorgeous woman and from what I’ve seen you don’t seem to want for money. I asked James, but he’s even more secretive than you, saying something about ‘a deep dark need’ and ‘a beast’. I’m not sure if he was trying to say you were just, and excuse the forwardness of this, a ‘nut job’ but I didn’t get that from him; it was more like he had pity for you.”
I stood there for a moment, deciding what to say. What could I say really? That James was right. I do have a ‘deep dark need’ that comes from my ‘beast’ as he put it, and on some days it feels as if my mind has long since left me for dead, a wandering husk with only basic intuition to lead me. I give myself a reminder to ‘talk’ to James when this job is finished, a long, overdue ‘talk’. I must have been thinking about my reply for a moment too long, as a soft apologetic tone filled my ear.
“Look, don’t worry about it. It was rude of me to ask anyway. You are doing my family a favour and someone in my position shouldn’t question the motives behind it. Just forget I even asked.”
I don’t know why those words came out of my mouth next, how they managed to escape from my soul and translate through my tongue is still a mystery, but they did.
“Sitting high above the city one looks down on the throng of people as they rush around mindlessly going about their days. Shopping, eating, sleeping, talking, living in worlds created by man, escaping them in moments to idol thoughts and distractive entertainment. To separate yourself from this race and move high in to the heavens they begin to look like sheep, food for those more powerful, witless slaves to ideologies never seen.”
“When one chooses to leave the mass, to rise above it and control that which has controlled them they become kings, queens, gods. But what do you call one who has had no choice, one who has had their ignorance, their ability to be a mindless sheep, taken from them in a violent act; an unwitting god, able to see the world for what it is and now is forced to feed on the mortal flesh below…” I stare blankly at the playhouse doors, still trying to comprehend what it was that had spewed out from the recesses of my mind. My reply is met with a contemplative silence from my client, if he didn’t think I was worthy the asylum before, surely he would agree now.
As I waited for the inevitable disconnecting ‘click’ on the other end of the line, I absentmindedly stroked Gregory. People always ask for a reason behind things, always after the ‘truth’ the ‘motivation’ but when they find it one of two things happens: either they can’t comprehend it, or they don’t believe it. As an old Buddhist monk I knew once told me “We all seek the final answer, but it is only the journey that matters;” that was back when I had lost my path and the question no longer mattered. A muffled cough echoed in my ear, well at least he hadn’t run away, brave or stupid, only time would tell. Clearing his throat with another quick cough he started.
“You say you are a god and the people you look over are your sheep, your unwitting food. I can see how someone like you could think like that. Attachment to anyone could compromise your position, your way of life, but do you really believe that you are above everyone, just because of what you do? Whether your decision to be a killer was voluntary or forced upon you, it doesn’t give you the right to condemn them all to death. What you said reminds me of how an animal would view the world, I see now why James would say you harbour a dark beast, but I would say the beast harbours you.”
How close to the mark your arrow hit may you never know my friend.
“Then again, what kind of beast does that make me? I hired you to end a man’s life, to right a wrong, to bring vengeance and peace for my family. His life is no more than a sum of money to me, something to be bought and to do with what I will. I do know one thing though, what I will feel after it is done will be tainted by my own self hatred, something that will haunt me for the remainder years of my life…will it you Violet?” He placed the receiver upon the hook, and with it that final ‘click’. As I listened to the hollow beeping tones that followed, my mind was stuck on one thought, “hunger.” I turned the phone off before closing it. Gently putting it in my pocket, no more distractions tonight the end was near and soon there would be blood on the wind.
From high above, I watch people run along the street as the falling rain and chill wind forces them to find shelter under the storefront awnings. The fleet of speeding cars create a wake behind them, drenching unwary pedestrians, adding to their already miserable state. From what began as a slightly overcast autumn afternoon, the evening descended into a stage of darkness and melancholy; so subtly that most were caught off guard and left wondering when exactly the joy of the day had passed them by. For some like me this gloom and shadowy realm is always around even in the midst of a sweet midsummer’s morn, the cold hard rain perpetually falls and the darkness forever present in the mindscape; for the criminal, the dying man, the clinically depressed, the huntress and the hunted, there is no sun, no warmth, no hope of escaping, this, is their home.
Below some old money exits from a long black limousine, arm crooked to receive the young slender arm of his guest. Two middle-aged doormen hold perfectly black umbrellas above their path preventing the water from ruining ‘madams’ outfit. My vision blurs slightly as water streams down my face and follows the curve of my neck, sending chills down my front, (it was either the cold shock of the water or the woman’s’ bright orange dress that did it). I share an empathetic glance with the gargoyle next to me, his features frozen forever in a contorted snarl warding off passing sprits; a hunter stalking his prey for all conceivable time unable to action his thoughts and emotions. For a moment I reflect in this stone mirror, this beast trapped on a roof waiting until the time is right to break free his bonds and seek the night air. Coal black demon eyes scan me penetrating my darkened soul, do they judge and condemn or do they sympathise and love this creature before them? I place a warm hand on his head and let it run over the stone like the flowing rain, stroking this immobile statue in a manner befitting a neighbourly cat. I get the distinct impression of reciprocation from my cold and silent companion, which warms me more than it should. By now the limousine is but a ripple in the distance of the flooded streets and I turn my attention back to the job at hand.
The playhouse has shut its doors to the cold and rain, tonight’s VIP having finally arrived. There is nothing more for me to do than sit and wait while the actors play out their lines and the captivated audience follows them to the realms of disbelief. The one I hunt is sitting comfortably in the dark ruby red seats of the old theatre, his eyes follow the characters on stage, his mind escaping the worries of the outside world, if only for a few hours. I have always envied the abilities of playwrights and actors; their talent for making the world disappear, throwing away all rules and conventions for that brief time it takes for the story to be told. Rules, history, origins all created and believed as if it were true, some even going against cold hard fact that presses and screams in our minds constantly. To make people leave their world and live entirely in the mind of another, that is a gift. One that has passed me over but has left room for others, some of which are just as extraordinary and don’t hold a candle to the fragile pen.
With a good two and a half hours to kill (if you will excuse the pun), some would entertain the thought of retiring to somewhere more comfortable with the intent of returning before the end of the play. They are the reason why I get these jobs. A thousand scenarios run through my head, fore planning each and every eventuality; the play is abysmal and people start to leave, there is a fire and an evacuation is ordered, a family emergency forces the target to leave early, my mind runs on. In most situations the act of over thinking can be signs of stress or paranoia, even a social phobia, but for what has come naturally to me all my life, it has never let me down when I needed it most. Countless times I have fantasized an obscure scenario, only to watch as it unfolds before me, (the most dubious involving a cat-flap and several shotgun shells), they say preplanning can save your life, and lucky for me my prey does little of that.
I sit back on a protruding slab of cold, damp concrete and stretch my legs out in front of me. Almost instinctively my back arches as my shoulders rise up and form a powerful stretch, the sharp pains from my tired muscles shoot along my back, slowly I begin to find pleasure in the pain and my body sinks slowly back into its previous state of semi alertness. My head leans back as I roll my neck, loud cracks sound from the vertebrae as my skull rocks from one side to the other. Taking advantage of this brief lapse in my sentry duty, my body takes it’s chance and pushes for a final stretch of my arms and lets escape a long stifled yawn. Finished with this routine I prepare myself for the long wait ahead, the rain falling only lightly now, giving me some relief, not that it matters much.
The distinctive smell of leather and rainwater coming from my long black overcoat fill my senses. It brings back memories of times spent on farms watching cattle in the dead of night. Laying in the fields, trying to control my body every muscle and every sensation, focusing all my energy on not losing the silent battle raging in my mind. A sudden flash of lightning lights up the land and my memory goes blank. My eyes open again as the low rumble of thunder fills my ears the metallic tang of blood fills my mouth, the inside of my cheek stings and I realise what I have done. A familiar shudder runs down my spine, bringing a warm comforting feeling with it, blood does that too me. It takes all my strength to push it away, to leave the welcoming embrace for the cold wetness that surrounds me. My mind has a foggy haze around it as the world slowly comes back into focus. I need to get up and walk around, bring my focus back to the job, hold out for just a while longer.
Slowly I get on my feet, stretching my body to the heavens, putting my head back and breathing deeply. As if on cue the dark clouds high above my head open up and release a deluge directly over me, purifying my body and my thoughts. I open my arms to this welcomed torrent, stifling a scream that starts from deep within me, an ancient noise fighting to be free upon this realm once again. Control. I must focus! Gods be damned, when will this forsaken play end? Without a moments thought I throw my body forward, curling my left arm into me and striking out with my right. The sudden and forceful stop is herald by a powerful crack as my knuckles dig into the solid brick of the rooftop entrance. Frozen in the moment, I take the burning pain from my fist and use it to centre myself and calm my madly beating heart. Gradually, the almost painful throbbing and noise of my rushing pulse begins to wane in my ears, being replaced by the ragged sharp breaths coming from my mouth. As my breathing slows I can feel the muscles in my body relax, my stomach unclenches and my left arm hangs limply from its socket. How long I waited like that I do not know, all I knew was that I had stopped myself, just in time. Part of me hated that fact but it also knew it would eventually win, I couldn’t hold out forever no matter how much I tried. The distinctive sound of fat raindrops hitting my coat let me know that all was well; I had bought myself a little while longer.
y entry in ABC Classic FM's competition
. I won't win, but it's a laugh.
Each note pounded against her skull, no longer that quiet hum in the back of her head. Now the symphony roared between her ears, urging to be set free on to the world. As her hand rushed across the page, the music flowed from her mind and onto the paper.
|Agalloch - Ashes Against the Grain|