The Fallowing – The Second, Part I
by Steppen Sawicki
Novel: Occult adventure
“This is it.” Sam stopped by an intricate archway full of metal flowers and curlicues. I imagined cobblestones lying under the snow, leading to the building beyond it, which rose brick and glass and not too modern. The entranceway’s doors were gone now, so we walked right in.
“Just because he may not be here,” he added, “don’t think that means you can let your guard down.”
“Speak for yourself.” I shouldered the pack off my shoulders and spun my arms to work out the kinks. Sam did the same, minus the arm spinning, though I’m sure he felt it too. We had been on the march for over a week since the last town. I looked around me at the lobby. It was half-filled with snow, but it was huge and lined with fancy tiles and marble pillars. For all the wasted storefronts, car shells, and the occasional beggar outside, this was still clearly the extravagant part of town – the buildings everyone moves into until they find that the rooms are too big to heat, causing them to swiftly move out again.
Even the stairway was large and ornate and curved luxuriously. Lining it were stained-glass windows, most of them with only frames remaining, outlines of roses and lilies that you could look through and see the snow falling outside. It was the sort of place where you feel opera should be echoing through the halls.
“What floor are we heading to?” I asked.
“Penthouse,” Sam said.
“Race you,” I whispered in his ear as I swept past him up the stairs. I wasn’t going to waste any time finding out whether the thing was here.
Sam grumbled something but I was already too far away to hear it. Still, he ran after me.
“This the place?” I asked when he reached me at the top of the stairs. There were a few doors on this floor, but only one fancy enough to lead to something more than a maintenance closet.
“Take this seriously,” he hissed, grumpy that he had lost the race. “And be quiet.”
I took that as a yes. I crept to the door and tried it. It was locked.
I shrugged at Sam. “Should I knock?”
He waved me aside. He looked around behind us as if we might have been followed, and then took the dagger from his coat. He held the point of it to the keyhole, as if he would shove it in. He turned it ninety degrees and there was a click.
He pushed at the door and it inched open.
“Can it do that to any door?” I breathed.
“Only if it aids in my job.” He pocketed the dagger.
“Why are you putting it away? We need it.”
He only shushed me as he pushed the door open the rest of the way.
The smell hit me immediately – mold and decay and something of sickness. It was dark inside, and I tried to sweep the area with my flashlight to determine if anyone was there, but the sheer amount of stuff proved this pointless. Any hulking cabinet or sculpture or mirror could have been a person. I almost shot a statue that my light came across before I realized just how much junk was lying before us.
Sam still stood in the doorway, watching or listening for movement inside. I cautiously picked my way through the foyer and turned a corner to enter the living area. Floor to ceiling windows took up the far wall, but more things cluttered them and kept out just enough light to make the place murky. Their silhouettes against the daylight were crooked and altogether wrong, though I couldn’t place why and at the time wasn’t able to study. There was a monster to find.
As I walked I stepped over and on books, pillows, candlesticks, figurines, piled rugs, stools, electronics, stereos. The space was large but mystifyingly claustrophobic with so many things surrounding me. Every step I took rustled paper or clinked metal against plastic. Every few steps I had to push a table or chair out of my path.
“He’s not here,” Sam said from behind me, finally entering the room.
“You can’t be certain of that,” I moved to scope out the rest of the apartment.
“He would at least have lit some candles were he here.”
The other rooms were every bit as cluttered as the main but no one was in them. By the time I came back into the main space, Sam was starting a fire in what I assumed was the fireplace; it was so crowded with stuff all around, it was hard to tell. It was also surrounded with enough logs to heat the entire building for weeks.
As I left the hallway my fingers trailed over a small desk. I cursed too loudly as I felt a sting in a finger and jerked my hand away. Shining my flashlight on my hand revealed a splinter so large I had no trouble prying it out. I turned the light to the desk itself and found the wood there cracked and broken and sitting at odd angles, as if it had been smashed in several places with a blunted axe. The stuff lying on top of it was leaning this way and that, but they weren’t any better off than the desk. A lamp hung on its stalk as if wilting, a paintbrush curved oddly before ending in a tangle of hairs, a mask showed a hideously twisted face, a glass figure of a dancer was contorted into a grotesque and painful posture. There was an opened compact, filled with a sickly color of makeup, like the color of a dead man’s skin. I picked it up. The mirror was cracked, but I could still see into it, though what I saw left me dizzy and nauseous. I tried to close the thing but the latch wouldn’t work, so I set it mirror side down on the desk and moved on.
Past the desk lay a sewing machine, though it was only that on first glance. It was mangled and the needle was too long and stabbing outward at a dangerous angle. Next to this was a phonograph, and again the needle was too long, the horn oversized. The inside of the horn spiraled inward, giving me vertigo, as if I were falling into it. There were cylinders next to it, and I picked one up. Turning it, I traced the spiral with my eyes and felt I could hear the sounds it might make.
Disgusted, I threw it down and desperately searched out something else to study. There were books everywhere, filled with uneven pages. I picked one up and the cover was labeled with some alphabet I had never seen before but that felt familiar, as if it were some curse sealed over a tomb in ancient days. I didn’t open the book.
“What is all this?” I said to the room, my voice cracking slightly. I again tried to find something I could look at, tossing the beam of my light back and forth over the debris. A television, with angle all wrong and the screen stretching out as if something inside were trying to escape. A milk can, twisted and stinking of milk long gone sour. A wig, black and matted, trailing down off a table and along the floor as if creeping towards me.
“His souvenirs,” answered Sam. His voice startled me, reminding me he was there. “Gathered from his, ah, ‘victims’ you could say.”
I passed a plant, resting in a pile of dirt lying directly on the floor. Looking around, I could see other plants, some in pots, some growing out of the general debris, some coming from nowhere and everywhere, twining over the walls and ceiling. I think that was the worst of it, looking up and seeing it crawl overhead, like I was surrounded. I realized that was the main source of the smell encountered when we first opened the door. They stank of flowers rotten and poisoned. Some even had flowers still, if they could be called that – putrid blooms colored like flesh and blood and bone. They seemed to pulse like the beating of a worn heart.
“But why are they like this?”
“They change when he takes them.” His fire was crackling now, throwing shadows everywhere. They writhed as if the light from the fire were hurting them. Where they touched me I felt them crawling over my skin.
“Why would you build that fire? It’s making me sick.”
“I want him to know we were here. That we hung around and poked through his things.” He was looking around himself now, and the color was draining from his face. “It is though…” he whispered, and in that space it might as well have been a shout.
“Sickening,” he finished, as if surprised. He was standing beside what in another life might have been a cello, but the curves were sharp turns and the neck stretched and twisted like a snake. He idly strummed a string and the resulting sound was hideous. It grated over my nerves and made my ears ring. Sam clapped his hands over his ears until it died away with a final moan.
I glared and opened my mouth to berate him, but at that moment the fire popped and hissed and let off a cloud of smoke that billowed in those neverending spirals. The firelight shifted to gray and the shadows danced even more feverishly. A bad log.
“That’s it,” I said. “I’m out of here.”
Sam didn’t protest.