Umbra Ac Cinis (Part One)
Posted By: Arthur Wellesley<email@example.com>
Date: 22 September 2006, 3:50 am
It shouldn't have been this cold, whatever the condition of the building which, indeed, seemed to rot and fall away before his very eyes. The cold permeated the walls, seeming to pulse from their scarred surfaces almost organically as if the chill was generated from within. The loose floorboards shuddered perceptibly with each step, the quivering seeming to reverberate to the very foundations.
This abandoned warehouse was proving itself to be the least substantial building Sergeant Travis Haverfield had ever been in. In his profession he had come across many such lonely, dilapidated structures, built in such haste in times of prosperity and happiness and deserted just as quickly when fortunes reverse. Left to rot and decay, they soon became the reluctant dwellings for the unwanted of society. Yet denying reality is so much easier than seeing the problem, and so such buildings are ignored by those lucky enough not to live within their flimsy walls.
It was these sorts of places which occupied so much of his time on the job, never more so than recently. The gift of life held renewed meaning to the people of Somnis now, one which left no room for the elaborate trappings of civilization. The bustle of the daily grind seemed pointless with no end to work towards, and so people simply stopped the mundanity of their work. They left the towns and the cities and they did what they wanted to do and they went where they wanted to go. Every day was treated as a gift from God.
For the Covenant had come, and the Covenant had gone, and they yet remained.
There were others, though, who seized upon this blessing in a very different way. These particular people seemed to be drawn to places very much like this one, filling the dark and empty places of an absent civilization as water rushes to fill a sudden fissure in the earth. In these lifeless spots they would indulge in all the vices that the law, as it had been, would enforce yet no longer could. Rotting one's brain away in the black loneliness of these abandoned buildings could be expected to produce all manner of horrific changes in a person, but he could never have guessed the extent to which it happened among some. He had seen things in these recent months that seemed to question his very perception of reality. It was as if sanity and humanity were now to be left behind along with the products of all their labor.
The call that had brought him here would likely require him to deal with just such a person. An anonymous caller—wasn't it always—had reported a scream coming from this warehouse. Haverfield had thought it looked the sort of building that would contain a screaming person. Certainly, he had thought it looked the sort of building he would not want to enter alone, and he had cursed at the surety of having to do just that. So few police remained that he often found himself in such dangerous situations with only the dubious promise of backup from the far off precinct as company.
Did the floor have to creak and crack so! Its uneven surface had accumulated so much glass and debris that even the lightest step produced a sound which could be heard along the entire length of the broad corridor down which he walked, which in turn produced an unpleasant shiver down his spine. The light of the city shining brightly outside was dulled by the filthy windows through which it ran, creating distorted shadows from the piles of discarded boxes and machinery which lined the walls. The floating dust disturbed by his presence seemed amplified many times in the eerie light, and he was sure he could see movement in the distant blackness towards which he struggled to go. His outstretched hand shook more with each step until the barrel of his pistol pointed at nothing in particular.
Approaching the end of the corridor, Haverfield was slowly coming upon the second floor ramparts which encircled the open warehouse from above. In the vastness of this empty space he could begin discern the sound of activity, the nature of which seemed immediately sinister. Rasping breathing could be heard from somewhere along the catwalk, each inhalation like the desperate intake of air from a man nearly drowned. This was interspersed by faint rending and guzzling—the sound of something being devoured.
Estimating the direction of these noises, Haverfield switched on his flashlight and swept it over the general area. The light was reflected back at him with such brilliance that he was momentarily blinded. It was reflected with such intensity by a man who stood on the opposite end of the rampart; from his skin, pale as marble and concealed only by a few tattered rags; from the unnatural sheen of his obsidian eyes; and from the ruby red blood which dripped from his open mouth.
For a moment, Haverfield was stunned to inaction by the sight of this man—if still he could be called so. He was so very near in appearance to a skeleton that he wondered for a moment if perhaps he was: the man's ribs protruded from his belly to such a degree that he was sure the skin would tear. His skin was pulled so tightly over his skull that his eye sockets were partially exposed and his mouth unable to fully close. Clumps of hair were all that remained atop his head, and a few crooked teeth were all that was left in his gaping mouth. He looked
At last Haverfield brought himself to action. He held his weapon as steadily as his hand would allow and pointed it at the man. "Stay where you are!" he commanded, his words echoing back to him.
In response, the man opened his mouth to what seemed an impossible width and let out an inhuman roar. The hoarse cry filled every crevice of the immense emptiness and reverberated deafeningly within the confines of its rotting walls. Haverfield screamed at him to stop, but he continued unabated, arching his back to such a degree that the Sergeant was sure his fragile bones would crumple under the stress.
Finally, Haverfield found his strength and fired a warning shot into the air, and at the blast the man ceased his howling and fled towards the back. He told the man to stop, but he did not; instead, he ran faster, moving with demonic speed, his pencil-thin legs carrying him faster than any man he had ever seen. Determined this man must be stopped, he fired again, this time directly at his quarry, but he was unable to see whether or not his shot was true. The man leapt out a window and out of sight.
Haverfield gave chase, hoping to see the man dead and broken on the pavement two stories below, but tripped and fell over something in his way. Partially obscured by a mound of debris, he had been so entranced by the sight of the skeletal man that he had not identified what had been occupying his interests before he had been interrupted. Seeing now what it was, and realizing the man's purpose, Haverfield dragged himself as quickly as he could to the edge of the catwalk and watched his vomit fall to the warehouse floor below.
"My God," Dr. Lisa Cooke exclaimed as she approached the mutilated body, realizing as she said it that the volume of her voice seemed inappropriately loud.
"I can't make something like this up, doctor," Sergeant Haverfield assured her feverishly. He rubbed his face vigorously and turned his back on the hideous sight.
He had waited outside for Cooke to arrive, running frantically from the horrible staleness of the building to the fresh air of the crisp autumn evening. Befitting to the scene he had uncovered within, the heavens had opened up to drench the city of Paradiso in its cleansing rain. Haverfield had felt much refreshed beneath the torrent, not bothering to seek shelter despite the chill, and had hoped the doctor would not be able to show up. When she came, he had not greeted her with particular warmth; he never again wanted to step within the cavernous warehouse, knowing what waited for him in its depths.
"I thought cannibalism was reserved for stories on Old Earth," Cooke said slowly as she knelt beside the body. It was a young girl, as far as they could tell, perhaps four or five years old. Her light blonde hair was matted with blood which ran from large tears on the flesh of her face and from the holes which had once held, one could imagine, delicate blue eyes. Her girlish pink dress had been ripped apart and the skin of her stomach had likewise been torn open, exposing bones pointing in the wrong directions and organs resting grotesquely in places they ought not to be.
Haverfield rested his hands upon the railing of the rampart, still refusing to look in the doctor's direction. "Just tell me," he began, his voice faltering. "Was she
"There's not enough blood for these types of wounds to suggest she was still alive when she was
when it happened," she told him, guessing his aim. She carefully removed the remnants of the dress and examined the remainder of the girl's body that was still in tact. Eventually, she shook her head and pursed her lips. "I don't see any obvious cause of death," she admitted. "Not unusual for a body in this condition, though."
Haverfield was not convinced by this; he suspected she wasn't convinced herself. Dr. Lisa Cooke was not, in fact, a pathologist but a physician at Paradiso's Public Hospital who was recruited for the task when the university had shut down following the great exodus. While she had gotten some fast experience with the crime wave that had come since, he doubted her judgment in a matter such as this.
Perhaps sensing his misgivings, Dr. Cooke was quick to say, "I'll take her back to the hospital to verify my preliminary findings."
"And how likely is that to happen?" Haverfield asked her, still facing the anonymous blackness. "On the level."
He could hear Cooke sigh deeply. "Honestly, Sergeant, I can't say. There are almost too few doctors now to cover the twenty-four hour cycle and it seems more and more people are being brought in everyday—poisoned, suffering from overdose
At last Haverfield turned to look at her directly, concentrating with undue intensity on her face, blocking out the child who lay liked a mauled animal on the cold steel of the catwalk. "What do you mean?"
Cooke bit her lip, contemplating whether or not she should go on—or whether or not she wanted to go on. "Recently there have been some pretty horrific injuries coming in to the ER," she said at length. "Not cannibalism, no, but people whose faces have been mutilated beyond recognition. Others who are so emaciated they can barely be called human." She put a hand to her forehead which seemed to suddenly be coated in a clammy sweat. "It is enough to drive one mad."
"The man that did this, he looked emaciated as you described. Too starved, I would have thought, to remain vertical."
"The human body is remarkably resilient. It can survive horrendous hardships."
Haverfield recalled the way the man had moved and was not satisfied by this flippant generality, though he did not want to press the issue. He was still not sure if he could swear by what he had seen earlier. "Why is this happening?" he asked instead. "Why now?"
"I really can't say," she said with a shrug. "This widespread drug use in what remains of the city might be the ruin of both mind and body. These days, manufacturing and transportation of all products, including illegal narcotics, have come to a near complete halt. People are probably turning to more and more toxic chemicals to reach their high, and it seems frying their brains."
"I've yet to hear of a drug that induces cannibalism."
"Well, it may be the invigoration we felt after being spared has worn off to be replaced with an empty loneliness. Getting cut off from the other colonies, having the population disperse—maybe people are feeling abandoned and alone and are being driven mad by it."
"You sound like you've given it some thought," Haverfield noted.
Cooke raised an eyebrow at him. "Haven't you?"
They enclosed the mangled body of the little girl in a small casket and lifted it onto a gurney, Haverfield with unfocused eyes and bated breath. As they reached the entrance of the warehouse the Sergeant quickened his pace and nearly sprang through the doors, gasping as he exited the building and inhaling deeply the fresh midnight air. The rain had since been reduced to a light mist, and he lifted his face gladly to the dark sky as the water rinsed the grime he felt clinging to his skin.
Cooke pushed the gurney into the back of a white van parked near the curb. "I'll contact you if I can get any results," she told him honestly.
He thanked her and head down the street towards the back where he had left his own car. As he turned the corner, he heard Cooke's radio crackle to life and her cursing which followed. Her pitied her this night.
But not as much as he pitied himself when he came upon his squad car. The tires had been slashed, the windows smashed, the sirens toppled. He looked around, as if the culprit might be waiting in the shadows to see the anticipated reaction to their labors. He wondered if it was that very man who had leapt from the window in a seemingly suicidal bound. He had not, after all, found the body or any further evidence of him
But there was no one. Only darkness and silence.
He shouted profanities at the top of his lungs and kicked the passenger door of the vehicle with all his might. The radio remained untouched within, but with the force in the condition it had been brought to he guessed that by the time a ride arrived he could have already traveled to his house on foot. And so that was what he set out to do.
Down the empty streets he walked, spotting nary a pedestrian or passing vehicle. The streetlights still shone, but every building was dark. It was very late at night, and the city was certainly not what it used to be, but it seemed that with each passing day more people left to make it on their own elsewhere. Haverfield did not understand their motivation or what they expected to find out in the expansive wilderness of Somnis. In his mind, people ought to come together in the face of such an ambiguous gift as they had been given, not drift apart. Perhaps people, free of their perceived obligations to society, are more likely to seek solitude than to make a new one.
The abandoned industrial sector now behind him, Haverfield had arrived in the nearly as empty residential district. It was in this part of the city that most of the lower middle class types had made their home, including many on the police force's payroll. With the desertion of Paradiso, Haverfield and his wife, Maya, had considered simply moving into one of the wealthier houses that had been abandoned, as many others who stayed behind had done. They ultimately chose not to, feeling that the home they had was the one they had worked for and had put so much effort into and should be good enough on those merits alone. In a smaller, but no less meaningful way, making the proposed move would shatter any hope that things would return to the way they were.
Images of the girl in the warehouse kept creeping unbidden into his mind, her mouth, devoid of her tongue, opened in an eternal scream. Her face drifted over that of his own daughter, and he tried to shake the thought away. His daughter had left with the first wave, taken along by her enthusiastic husband. He had begged her to stay, told her in such times one must stay with those you know. She didn't listen, the restlessness and curiosity of youth overpowering her devotion to her family. Now he did not know where she was, or who she
Many things Sergeant Haverfield thought he might have imagined this night, but that whisper was not one of them. He had heard it, sure as if his name had been spoken in his ear. Pulling out his firearm for the second time that night, he quickly scanned his surroundings. He peered down a dark alleyway between two narrow houses, seeming to sense with absolute surety that the sound had come from this spot. The voice had sounded desperate, rasping, almost as if calling for help. He fumbled for his flashlight but was unable to find it. He edged cautiously towards it anyway, but decided by his second step that enough had happened to him this night. Slowly, deliberately, he retracted his foot, returning to the pavement of the sidewalk. Then, very quickly, he turned from the darkness and continued home at a faster clip than before.
So much easier to turn away.