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9. interruption

EVELYN DIEDZ

Light — intense and painful  — flashes in front of my eyes.  The color changes with each flash, like a strobe: red, then white, then green and then black.  The same colors are repeating again and again in different sequences.  It’s the colors of those — whatever-the-fucks. The WTFs: shorthand for the things that were taking to Daniel about me.  They know I’m here. And it sounded like they know why I’m here. And it sounded like they want to stop me. Which, you know, pretty much makes them the unambiguous bad guys, barring a misunderstanding that is – at this point – unlikely.

And now I’m realizing that, in between the flashes — in a kind of photographic negative space — I can see the priest’s bedroom.  It’s like I’m out there in the living world and in Father Salat’s dream, all at the same time – which would, you know, be a new thing to happen to me. And so, I decide that I really don’t like this new thing, any more than I think I like the WTFs.

So, yeah  — I want out of here, right now. I’ll realize that I’ll be vulnerable doing it like this, but something tells me I’ll be even more vulnerable in here. So I reach out to grab at the tether — to pull myself up, and out of there.

And that’s when I realize — there’s nothing there for me to grab. The link to Daniel Salat is broken. My tether is broken.

The WTFs must have broken my tether – also a new thing.

And I feel the ground beneath my feet lurching, pulling away from me, and I’m waving my arms and legs, trying to see through the flashing light, kicking out to find the footing I had that’s — just gone.

And then, just like that, I’m falling – fast; I’m falling into tunnels of grey nothingness. Flecks of muddy ether strike me like rain as I fall, as I reach out my left hand to try to make a new tether.

Nothing happens. And, I’m falling faster now.

I look down — or, I look at what’s ‘down’ to me from where I am — to see where I’m going – and what’s coming. And, I realize that I’m falling through another one of Daniel’s yawning, open-mouthed caverns., It seems to stretch out forever when I look right at it.

And, the flashing lights – still happening, by the way — aren’t helping.

I look askance at its edge, and from that vantage I can see there are edges to the cavern — approaching me quickly.

As I fall past the lip of the cave, I reach out my left hand again,. “Come on!” I’m yelling.  “Come on come on come on!”

But — again – nothing happens. No new tether. And I’m still falling — faster and faster.

Though — the lightshow gets fainter and fainter the farther into this new cavern I fall.

It keeps up like that, until the flashing lights fall out of sight and I’m mostly in darkness. I say ‘mostly,’ because I can still make out my surroundings in the dull ether-light. I hold on to that, because I know ethereal light. I understand that. I need things I can understand right now. I realize that it’s coming from the walls; the walls of the cave around me here are giving off a sickly yellowish glow. I reach up with both hands, and I can even sort of see my hands in front of my face when I wave them.

But, hell — being able to see anything after the blinding lightshow makes feel just a little bit better. I think to myself how at least I’ll see the ground coming — if I ever reach it.  If there is any ground. A part of me hopes — if there’s a ground to hit — that I land feet-first.

I mean — I’ve already died landing face-first on the ground.

Maybe the other way hurts less?

I imagine myself crunching into a little square as I land — then, coming back up and bobbing around making noises like a cartoon accordion. I laugh out loud at the picture in my head — I can’t help it.  My eyes close and I let myself laugh.  My legs and arms go still. For a moment, it feels I’m falling a little slower. I open my eyes to get my bearings, trying to see what’s different here — some clue, any clue.

But then I pick up speed again — falling for what feels like a really long time. I try not to panic. I want to cry. Yeah, it’s not like the movies. I’m in crisis. But, you try it before you judge me. I’m trying not to start crying, and I’ve died once already. In fact, this fall keeps bringing back memories of that; it feels like the big fall that got me the last time – except, there are no bricks coming up to meet me, rushing toward my eye. There aren’t yet, anyway; there’re only more wet tunnels lit by sickly yellow ether-light, courtesy of Daniel Salat.

Can I even die again? I don’t know. No one does. But this is not where I want to die again, if it’s even possible — not here, smashed to pieces on these gross cave walls. Not here, inside the landscape of a goddamned priest.

I look at the walls, watching them change in texture and shape.  But no matter what, they all have some similar qualities:  they look wet and sticky, and they glow with that same sickly yellow color. But it’s as I consider the cave walls that I realize something important: I’m not really falling straight ‘down.’ I’m falling at some twisting angle.  And it keeps changing.  I can tell now, as I pass into this narrower cavern — it’s better lit; there’s more of that soft piss-yellow glow.  I can also tell I’m equidistant from the walls, and my descent keeps me at the center of the cave, no matter which way I tumble. So, yeah, I’m not dying again, just yet.  And nothing of mine is dashed against anything of Salat’s landscape. Which is, you know, a fucking relief — but relief doesn’t get me any closer to getting back onto my feet. Or out of the priest’s landscape, away from the WTFs.

I become aware that I’m also spinning — turning end over end and rolling this way and that. It’s hard to tell, because it’s still kind of dark and I’m feeling dizzy and all the cave walls look pretty much the same.  But it’s happening.  It reminds me of the carnival funhouse — the thing where you’re supposed to walk straight ahead but the walls spin and you get disoriented.  And usually puke. I’m very glad I can’t puke, because it goes on like that for a while. Except, I’m not walking — I’m still ‘falling.’ It’s like falling in all directions at once. And, after a while, I sort of get used to it. Then, I realize I made a mistake I need to correct.  It’d be way more accurate to say:  I’m very glad I haven’t puked since July 23, 1901. Who knows what the future holds? Other than, you know, apparently falling forever. And, being embarrassed with myself because I realize I’m wishing a particular little Londoner shit that I know — or, hell, even his fur-lined brat squad — were here to give me a line on what to do.  Doubt this would give him a minute’s trouble.  But thinking about how pissed he was last time I saw him makes me smile a little, at least.  I close my eyes for a moment.  He wouldn’t give a shit.  He’d just let go and-

And I slow down again. I open my eyes, mouth agape as I fall faster than ever. And then I hear the word in my head again — agape.

Agape.

Yes.

Fucking priests.

But I think I have the answer.

I realize that every time I slowed down — I was closing my eyes.  So I close them.  But it wasn’t just that.  It was that I not only closed my eyes, but I abandoned myself to the fall.  Both times I slowed down.  I resigned myself.  Even for a moment, I gave in to it.

So I try that now. I relax my muscles and let myself descend. I try to think of nothing except a feeling of trust. As if I trust the fall to take me where I want to go. And my movements become more level.

And I go slower. And. from my perspective, the sickening spinning of the walls seems to be abating; I’m going slower and slower.

I don’t open my eyes.  I feel a flash of anticipation come to me, and my speed increases. I bury the anticipation. I replace it with that feeling of trust – in myself. And, eventually, I come to a stop.

I open my eyes, and realize I’ve come into alignment with the ground.

And then I’m touching the ground. And then, I’m on my feet; I’m standing up, ankle-deep in muddy sand, brushing myself off.

I take off my hat and squeeze it between my hands until it’s small.  I stick it into my coat pocket.  I shake out my hair.  I step backward and see where the sand from my hair is now floating, as if suspended in water. It’s all too weird.  Scary weird.  And just like that, I’m scared again.

And then, I feel myself lifted a little.

No!

Damn it.

Trust.

My feet come back down.  This time, I feel that solid, mud-flecked wind let go of me. And, just like that, I’m carrying my own weight again.

I’d punch a wall and scream, except I don’t want to touch the walls and —

The WTFs.  Oh, yeah. That’s exactly who I want to punch.

I take a few tentative steps down what is now no longer a hole in the ground but a forward-leading tunnel. I want to lie down on the sand and sleep.

But I can’t.

So I walk.  And I consider my options.

With my tether, I could just climb back to the real world.  But the tether isn’t working.  I’m guessing that’s why I was spinning around like that.  It’s the only thing I can think of that makes sense, even if I can’t prove it.

Without the tether, I’m obviously beholden to the rules here.  Rules Daniel Salat — like most people — doesn’t even realize he’s made.

But that doesn’t help me.

The bridge of my nose itches like I’m sweating.  Except, I don’t sweat.  Not really, anyway.

As I walk, I feel conflicted.  There’s a serious double-whammy of jubilation and worry going on inside of me.  It’s jubilation, because I’m finally disconnected from the priest.  He’s — I don’t know — it’s so sticky.  This?  All this?  Yeah – he was wet and sticky and gritty.  Gross.  Yeah.  So, there’s that. And worry, because I’m still here — in this landscape of grey tunnels piling up on each other.  Making endless, rocky terrain covered with piles of sand.

Daniel Salat built this.  It makes me sad.  Now, here’s the thing — it’s not like I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out in landscapes built by priests.  I don’t really have much to compare it to.  I avoid the clergy when I can.  Linking up with Salat was a matter of necessity.

But here we are, and this place — I can’t imagine spending a lot of time here.

Much less living in it.

As I continue down the tunnel, I realize that it’s not entirely dissimilar to when I get trapped.  Except — it’s not like that dull, flat grey I find when I’m trapped.  It’s more like it’s an entire world of greys.  Different kinds of grey on top of other kinds of grey.  Different everywhere you look.  With echoes.  Yeah.  You can sort of tell there use to be other colors.  I’m not even sure how I know that.  You just do, when you see it.  But the color’s gone now.  Well, except for seemingly-sourceless yellow glow.  But the other colors — it’s like they’ve left behind an echo.  Or something.  But — that’s the best way I can think of to describe it.

I decide then and there just what I want to call Daniel’s landscape — a new volume in my book that I can feel appear on its pages:

DANIEL WORT SALAT
FALLING DOWN A CAVERN OF YELLOW LIGHT

The title suits the priest, as far as I’m concerned. “Noise, Piss and Distance” had been another possibility.  But, nah.  Pettiness can be draining … and I’ve got way too much on my plate to be drained right now, in this unfamiliar territory.

Which is why, the sooner I figure out what’s wrong with my tether and get back out of here, the better I’ll like it. Because, see, I don’t feel safe like this, in this unknown condition. Emmett and I — sure, we move pretty fast.  But so does Cameron.

Emmett — poor kid.  I wonder how he’s doing

But I know the only way to find out is to get back into the land of the living and out of this landscape. So, I keep walking, no matter how tired I am. I have to do it — for me, and for Emmett.

And now, I’m finding there’s more joy to be had in God King Danny’s funhouse: I’m lost in it.  Remember what I wrote yesterday, about how that happens to me more often than I’d like?  Yeah, well, I didn’t just mean that in terms of time.  I don’t have the best sense of direction.  And this is kind of a maze.

So, here we are. And — honest, I wasn’t planning on giving all of you this particular example.

I try to keep my senses active.  Notice any differences as I take each step.  Sand on the floor of — whatever this is supposed to be. I can hear my own breathing.

And, there’s something about the walls; they keep drawing my eyes back to them.

I get closer to the wall to my right.  Kneeling down, I inspect the wall.

It’s porous.

No, that’s not right.  It’s like skin.

Almost like pores on stone skin.

And — there’s something else. I look closer.

Scratches.

There are scratch-marks on the walls.

They’re faint, but they’re there.  Long streaks in the porous stone skin.  Damage in a narrow lines.

I count the lines.

Five.

Human.

Like someone clenching clawed human fingers and scratching them up and down as they walked along this corridor.

And I am not happy about this.

The scratch marks don’t look like Emmett’s claws.  The shape is wrong.  And they just don’t fit how I think he’d do it.  I saw Emmett scratch the message into the tree for Penny.  This doesn’t look like that.

And the shape wouldn’t make sense for Cameron, either.

And besides all that — what would either of them be doing in here?

Emmett wouldn’t — couldn’t? — get into this place.

And I think I’d know if Cameron were here; I can’t decide if he’s making strange choices or if he doesn’t know what he’s doing. I go back and forth on that. But I know he’s noisy — and not exactly subtle. Plus, I can’t even imagine why Cameron would go to so much work to get out of somebody and then drag his party bus right back into someone else.

So, what we’re dealing with here — whatever made those scratches — is something unknown. So, that creeps me out.

My exhaustion is growing.  The link with Salat didn’t really give me much rest.  I feel almost as drained now as I did when I linked up with him.

The sand looks comfortable here. I want to lie down. I want to sleep. I want —

And that’s when another realization hits me.

I’m the one telling the story again.

But —

This isn’t my midnight hour. What the hell? How am I doing it? I can usually only do this from just after midnight until one o’clock in the morning. But right now? It isn’t just after midnight.  It’s the middle of the day, if the priest’s clock was to be believed. I saw the clock on Daniel’s end table right before I got dragged back down into his landscape.  It’s the opposite of my hour.

It doesn’t make sense.

Correction:  it doesn’t make sense to me.  With what little I know, even after all this time.

So I try an experiment.

“Evelyn Diedz,” I say out loud.

And there — I did it.  I said my name.  I feel myself starting to shiver all over. And what’s more?  I feel the blood writing my name on the pages of my book — just like happens when it’s my hour. I’m crying a little. And, I get down on my knees in the sand and lean against the wall.  I don’t care how sticky it is. I hug my knees. I cry a little more. But I feel good – really good.  I need this. I’m crying, but I also feel real. I feel like me. My words.  My thoughts.  My feelings

And then reality crashes down. I remind myself that — for all those good feelings — I’m in deep; stuck, in Salat’s grey nightmare. And I shouldn’t be stuck. But I am — with the link breaking like that. I felt it break. It’s not like when I get stuck, though. Not like what happened earlier with Emma Albrecht.  This isn’t that.

So we’ve got unknown WTFs.  My tether’s not working.  The link is broken.  I’m stuck in a creepy priest’s landscape.  I’m about to fall over from being so tired.  And, everything around me is gross.

But would I really be happy if I were offered an uncomplicated life? Yes, is the honest answer …

… for a while, anyway.

And so, here I am — trying to think of what I can do next.

I stand back up and look around. No giant EXIT sign here. So, I start walking again. I take a left turn and head in a direction I decide to call “West” from where I was, for the sake of crafting a mental map: west to my left, east to my right, north ahead and south behind me. You remember what I said about directions, right? Besides all that, though — Daniel’s landscape in here hasn’t really been built-up enough to have meaningful, navigable landmarks. At least, that’s what it looks like, from what I’ve experienced so far. I don’t know where I’m going, really.  The fall sort of wrecked my sense of the space.  And when I was running from Danny-Boy, earlier?  Okay, so I got scared, then, too.  I don’t know what he could do if he caught me.  But I don’t want to find out, after what happened last time.  But, yeah — scared.  Me. I’m not ashamed to admit it.

I try to think of the last time I felt ashamed.  The funeral?  Maybe.

The walk gets tougher; the sand gets higher.  And what’s all this sand about, anyway?   I wonder if he likes the beach or something.  He didn’t think of sand once while I was linked to him, that I recall.

More weird priest stuff, probably.

I take note that, in some places, the sand is very dry.  In other’s, it’s sopping wet..  And the wetter the sand gets, the harder it is to push through the passageways; the air’s wet there, too.  Sometimes, it almost feels like swimming — against the current.  So, yeah – that’s fun.

I resume walking again, following the tunnel. It branches.  I look to the walls for a hint.

Great.

One path — the left one — has scratch-marks.  The other is smooth. But I have no idea if that means anything with the geography of this place.

I opt for the smooth tunnel.  The scratches are the only information I have to work off of, and I don’t want to meet anything that can scratch stone, for now. I mean, what else can I do?  Who’d do different, if they were in my condition? But — condition aside — I’m feeling renewed confidence.  And it’s not like I’m completely out of my element.

I mean, this is all unfamiliar territory, sure — but some things have proved pretty much consistent when I’ve been inside people’s landscapes.  So, yeah, I’m bound to the physics in here, no matter how funky the rules are.  But I also know there are usually exits. They’re holes — people like Danny leave them behind when they punch in or out … like Priest Man Dan just did. Of course, if the link with Priest Man Dan — shitty as it was — were still active, I could just pull on it and figure out exactly where he left when he woke up.  I’d be back out to the old man’s bedroom.

I’ve got a pretty good handle how our time works versus theirs, like I said; the guy’s probably in the exact same position he was in when the link broke, just waking up.

So what’s the plan, Evelyn Diedz?

1) get out
2) recover — maybe join up with Jeff, again, until I get my strength back.

And that’s where my planning stops.

Because, Evelyn? Did you forget? Your tether isn’t working. It’s totally, completely gone.

I reach out for it again, just to try — and, of course, nothing comes back.

I have no frame of reference to handle that.

Being down this deep without my tether.  I never really thought before how much of a security blanket I make it, sometimes.

Wandering around like this, I usually tug on it every so often.  And the fact that it’s not there has me seriously freaking out now that I’m aware of it.  It’s like a punch in the gut and I’m losing my confidence now.  I’m feeling like I’m a tight-rope walker who just looked down, or a dancer whose feet have fallen asleep.  Except — no, damn it.

I’m not a tightrope walker or a dancer.

I’m a detective.  It says so on the damned card.

And I decided what that means — a long time ago.

It means I keep going until the case is done.

To my satisfaction:  not yours, not theirs.

Mine.  And I can say ‘mine,’ at least for now.  And that’s something, right?

And right now?  I need to hold on to something, because of all this endless nothing.

But there’s nothing to hold on to; there’s just grey on grey on grey, all lit from the vague halos of sickly yellow ethereal light coming off the shapes around me.

The sand gets thick again.  My legs don’t always respond.  I don’t feel like I’m swimming here.  I feel like I’m sinking.  I try to pull my left leg up out of a particularly tall pile of sand I’m trying to cross, and I can’t move it. I stumble. I fall, twisting myself sideways to try to stay upright. I’m being pushed back by the current – and pushed into the wall. I resist. I feel the wetness of the wall in my hair, against the back of my neck.  I feel the porous surface give way. But I don’t feel the sensation of it breaking. I feel it ripping; it’s tearing open before I can even pull away. And then, I feel a thick warmth trickle down onto my hair, down the back of my neck.

I lurch up and away from the wall, brushing fiercely at myself.  Pale, yellow slime glows on my fingertips when I pull them back from my neck and hair. It’s all over my clothes. I feel sick.  I actively want to vomit.  Some act of purging myself, at least.

But, as it turns out, being doused with glowing yellow gunk isn’t enough to make me throw up, either

I do unfold my hat from my pocket and use it as a makeshift handkerchief to get the stuff off of me, before wringing out the hat and returning it to my pocket.

The glowing yellow slime I squeezed out of the hat drips onto the sand and is disappears as it’s absorbed.

I look back to the wall, where I struck it.  There’s a sort of a discoloration forming around the rip.

The stone there is turning what I can only think to describe as an angry sort of grey.

I realize: it’s bruising up.

I feel even sicker than I did.

I don’t want to be in this place.  That outweighs my fatigue.  I hurry further down the corridor, desperation to be out of here pushing me onward.

One positive I focus on to keep myself going: at least the slime doesn’t smell like anything.

Ugh. I don’t even want to imagine it.

At this point, I’m walking to get away from what I’ve now dubbed Bruise Wall on my mental map.  I feel what must be my — what, third, fourth? — wind. I let it push me onward.

I’m tingly all over with a serious case of the creepy-crawlies, and it’s distracting me.

So, I almost miss more scratch-marks.

I walk over to get a closer look, and I see that they’re the same kinds claw-marks as the ones before and at the junction.

Except these?

They’re bleeding.

Glowing yellow puss is oozing out of the scratches.

Which I’m guessing means they’re fresh.

I look away from the wall — …

… — and then, I see something moving ahead of me in the tunnel.

Walking slowly away from me.

It’s just a distant shape, at first.

But, the more I look, the more detail I see.  As I focus on it.

Maybe how it works, here: if you want to see something, you have to really look for it.

It, in this case, is tall and skinny. It’s dark — backlit by the glow of the walls.  It’s brighter where it is. It looks human.

Except for its arms.

Its outstretched arms are long — too long to seem right.

They run the length of the tunnel to either side.  They’re outstretched.  Its hands are touching either wall.

And even from here, I can see that its fingers have claws.

Click here to continue reading the story

Published inpart 2

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