This thing has been stuck in my head for two months
October 8, 2011 § Leave a comment
The groaning metal and rustling, heaving sound of wet cardboard shifting as one of the towers of compressed garbage collapsed was certainly not pleasant. Nor was the prospect of being buried under trash, if he had to put a tail on it. He rolled to the side and into one of the descending bursts of sunlight lighting up dust and bits of debris in the air from the concrete vault far above their heads.
“What the fuck is that thing?” The shrill voice of the twitching, mange-ridden rat that stood like a man cut through even the murk of his disbelief. Beneath Westminster Avenue, the rat men teemed, but even he hadn’t expected to discover ones that could speak. Squeezing his eyes shut and forcing them open, he fought back the dull roar of approaching unconsciousness, feeling nausea recede. In front of man and rat swelled a tower of fluid that was solid. Seething translucent filth that burbled and sang.
“It’s very, very bad.” It filled almost the entire southern half of the chamber. When the rat king had made the bargain, he’d expected to find a feral were-thing, perhaps a sewer alligator or other impossible cryptid, something that could be killed with sufficient force. Not this. “You need to run back to your people and prepare them to head out into the junkyard.”
“It’s the middle of the day! If the junkers don’t pick us off coming out, the cops will…”
“I don’t know of anything that can kill it.” He hissed, his voice cold. The tower of what almost looked like a greasy film over water somehow holding a wave’s shape twitched, and dozens of eyes simply grew out of it, sweeping the chamber. As several of the eyes developed pupils and slits and focused down on them, gaping holes parted the faintly glowing mass and whistled.
Over a thousand yards away, down a mucky leaf litter clogged tunnel worked out of the earth over 200 years earlier, the Court of the Muroids waited for their king and the great murderer to return. Pacing the length and breadth of that brick vaulted room, the king’s daughter Miranda wore human skin as he had demanded, as did many of the younger pups.
Mirry knew why. The rat that walked on four legs was hated and feared, and the two legged kin were abhorrent to most everything that lived outside the court. Even those that were wolves or bears or swine underneath a man’s guise would kill the rat. Even the blood drinkers, or other horrors, would think nothing of it. Even men hated them. The great murderer had killed them by the score, and had expressed surprise that they could speak, could put on the man seeming. She knew why her father wanted her to hide. Even so, she hated her pallid, almost moon white skin and lank yellow hair, her large amber eyes, hated not having whiskers, and oh how she missed her tail.
Why anyone would want to live without a tail was beyond her.
Her brothers and sisters all looked equally discomfited. Their parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts and other elders were chittering with a mixture of fear and pride. Their kind had been divorced from the man form for so long, the sight of their offspring in it now flooded them with hope for the future. Mirry found it obscene but could not bring herself to snap at them swarming elders. Some were almost human shaped themselves, with rat fur growing over features that could easily pass, while others were just large rats, and still others were bastardized pastiches of the two separate selves. The old king himself could not do more than to take the form of a man sized rat, and so encouraged his daughter to shift every chance she got.
She hated it, of course, but she did it. They all did.
“How do we know that he hasn’t killed the king already?” Aldy spoke up from his perch on an upended trash can, his skin mottled with the effort of forcing it to be hairless. Aldy couldn’t quite get rid of his muzzle, but he mostly passed for an ugly man skin. “How long are we going to wait?”
Mirry didn’t bother to respond, as the elders began chattering away at Aldy. She scowled to realize she’d moved her ears so far towards human that she couldn’t understand them. Everywhere around them, wet bricks glistened with light coming in from grates above their heads, drains and channels. Without those, she’d be blind now. She hated it. She couldn’t even smell anything, it felt like being cut off from the world. No wonder they’re all insane if they can’t hear or smell danger coming.
A distant whistling sound caught her attention. Ironically, even though they could all hear better, the elders were too busy reprimanding Aldy to pick it out at first. It grew steadily, changing in cadence and tone, almost like wind. She creased her brows together in concentration while trying to relax herself around the ears, letting go of their man shape.
A battering ram of glowing slime smashed into the brick directly above his head. He barely managed to duck, while the rat with him did much better.
“We had a deal, killer man.” King Sad House of the Court of the Muroids actually ran up the wall to avoid shards of brick that came clattering down the tunnel. Amazingly, despite its oozing body, it could only ram itself down the tunnel so fast and didn’t seem willing to compress itself entirely.
“I’d sooner fight all of your people than that thing. For that matter, I’d have a better chance of winning.” He grimaced, smashing his right arm into a caved in section of wall and tearing the skin off of the back of his fist. “Get running to your people. I’ll buy you what time I can.”
The rat lord took exactly two seconds to stare in disbelief at the human, the great murderer who had killed dozens of his kind. There was no pretense of kindness or fellow feeling in it. If the blood on the manling’s hands wasn’t real enough, the complete absence of any sort of appeal to their common peril convinced Sad House to move. The murderer, who killed anything he came across, didn’t think he could kill whatever that oozing rainbow was. Already predisposed to discretion, the king of the rats left.
It had formed a twenty foot ball of black sludge out of itself, filling the tunnel entirely. It popped and whistled as it came. It made a sound like an oboe hooked up to an air compressor, a noise that distracted him, caused pain to flare up along the side of his head where the rat king’s feral kin had slashed him. He focused on that pain, on the blood flowing out of his head and his arm where he’d torn himself open. Blood was one of the humors.
It grew closer, the smell of burning oil and steam as it pressed against the walls and he knew he was panicked. Just knowing the thing was real was making the skin on his neck and back clammy, his palms slick with sweat as was his chest. It was almost on top of him and he couldn’t imagine what could possibly stop it, what he could evoke in time. Even knowing that the fear he felt was the reason, he couldn’t think and it blasted that loud, piercing shrillness into the air from dozens of temporary mouths.
He looked down at his gashed forearm as it tore open the air again, shrieking at him, and realized he was going to die, crushed and dragged screaming inside the monstrous…
It was a monster. Possibly the most terrifying monster, because he simply couldn’t accept it was even real. It was a monster from a book, one he’d read as a child. A book written by the same man who had led him to essential salts, and an urn on a table, and the end of everything. It was monstrous, a symbol of things out of order. It could not, should not be. What could kill a monster?
He could kill a monster. The shrill, tortured scream of the thing had reminded him of something even worse. If this thing could be real, why couldn’t something else? Why not?
Finally, his mind called forth a solution. It was almost on top of him, but that didn’t matter. He could let it roll right over him. He just needed one thing.
“Tekeli-li Tekeli-li” roared out of the black wall of ooze as it rushed over him, pulling him into itself. He closed his eyes and his mouth and even as it crashed over his body he forced his thoughts along the only path he could allow them to go.
Blood is a humor the gold of the sun the sun’s fire trapped in a cage by man released by man abhorred the sun’s fire twisted, stolen, walking
Sad House burst into the chamber on a run, panting, his muzzle streaked with blood speckled froth. He slid to a stop against the mound of trash he used as a throne, and twisted to gain his feet even as his daughter’s hands hauled him upright.
“What is it?” She chittered, her face having gone rat in the stress of the moment.
“The lost ones were mad. Tried to kill us, bury us alive. Couldn’t reason.” He drew huge gulps of air. “As the murderer said, no minds. Found out why. Thing, big, horrible, I don’t know what it is. Never saw one before. We have to run. Go upside…”
The courts of the rat exploded into noise at that idea. Sad House shrieked back at them, but before anything like consensus could be reached, the noise reached them. Sound that built and wailed and throbbed, shook the bricks around them, caused the stagnant puddles to leap as on the surface of a griddle, shook bones inside their bodies. A keen, a roar, a wail, an ululation that became a series of vibrations pounding on them.
The tunnel exploded, showering them in fragments of chipped brick and crushed, pulverized earth. The blob of shimmering red and gold and blue and green was split open, knitting itself back together even as it seethed and crashed against every surface. The court scattered as instinct would have them do, climbing the walls of the chamber to get away from it.
Struggling in its grip, the great murderer shrieked and the sound flooded the room. Clinging from every possible handhold and pipe the court gaped in terror as the slithering darkness pathed in iridescence. It swirled in the center of the room, growing into a tower that almost resembled oil gushing from a pipe. Only its refusal to obey gravity and the sweep of thousands of tiny eyes into and out of existence revealed what it was.
It formed a mass the size of a tree trunk and slammed it forward, where the half-naked human form still fought against its lower bulk. A burst of light along his back took the form of huge triangles of blue-gold fire, like stegosaur spines, and he opened his mouth and screamed again.
The scream was not sound.
A blue pillar of fire erupted from his open mouth, and against that fire not even the black hammer of filth could survive. The immortal, unkillable, impossible thing burned in fire that could not exist. Bricks rained down from the roof of the vaulted chamber as it contracted and expanded in agony, possibly the first pain it could have ever felt.
Meanwhile, the killer was changing. Growing. He had doubled in size, and all around him green light played, surrounding him, containing him. He floated at the center of it, and it towered, a flat draconic head made out of searingly bright light at the top of a bulky, ruggedly scaled form. The spines along its back were jagged, and flashes of terrifying brightness leapt between them. A tail of fire mashed the chamber floor as he advanced.
“Climb!” Sad House screamed at his court and they immediately obeyed. The killer man was too blunt an instrument to have attempted to harness him.