Blood and Souls

Peter Morrison

If this is insanity, it's insanity gone mad!

The black maze walls gleam, shine, she should be able to see her reflection in their surface, she thinks. But there is something wrong about the whole material, something particularly unnatural. Hate thinks of black holes and the way that they absorb light, the way they suck in everything that gets close. She takes another step forward. The walls tower overhead. As far as she can see - black, overwhelming walls. She traces a hand along the glassine surface, a habit she can't help, that need to touch things, even if for a moment. Now, she hesitates. It is hard, with no sense of give. More than any other surface she has touched in her time in the city, the endless surfaces she has caressed in attempts to verify her continued existence, she has the least doubt that this surface is real. She pulls her hand away, losing heat to that evil wall, losing a little skin as well, she suspects, her fingers stinging a little where they touched the surface. Or is that her imagination?

If you squinted you could almost imagine that those three triangles lined up in a row might represent something like a crown, as depicted by a child perhaps.
Hate had been adopted as a baby, had known no other life, and her parents had not been forthcoming with any information that gave her a clue as to where she had come from. As far as she knew it was her parents that had picked the name Hatred, though she had never been able to fathom why they had picked that name of all names. It was certainly a name that had haunted her, who would let their children play with a girl called Hate? Other children had been cruel to her, her response being twofold - to withdraw and have as little as possible to do with anyone else and to get angry and lash out at anyone who pushed forcibly against the walls that she built around her. Her parents hadn't helped, had given her little support, and she was often left wondering why they had adopted a child at all. In her teens she retreated further, into books, into fiction, into fantasy novels, she devoured them by the dozen - borrowed them from the local library, or bought them second-hand with the little money she could scrape together here or there.

Logically there were two generic explanations - she was a screaming lunatic in a mental hospital somewhere back home or she had somehow found one of those famous, fictional gateways between one dimension and another. With the first being the more plausible explanation she had spent every day here waiting for the reveal, the lucid moment in a hospital, where it all made an appalling sense. But here she was, years gone by, surrounded by animal spirits and demons, monsters in the night, and a world which otherwise seemed not that much different from her own - people had jobs, read books, listened to music, caught the bus as it went round the city and all sorts of other nice normal, sane activities. She didn't feel mad, she didn't feel crazed, in fact, and she was loath to admit this to herself at any point, if anything she actually felt as though she had finally come home. Things had been great, life had been interesting, for all the peculiarities of this place, until a few nights ago.

When she turned 21 she had had enough, she was leaving it all behind, she was disappearing from life as part of family Philips. She planned, had built up a reserve of cash, from Saturday jobs and paper rounds over the years, before she had gotten on that bus to leave Glasgow behind. She had planned to go to London. She had told no one of her intentions, after all, who was there to tell; so she had no real sense of making a cut when she got on that bus and left it all behind. She was disappointed by that sense of a lack of closure, that failure to have a tangible sense of having given someone the finger. She presumed that someone would notice she was gone, sooner or later; perhaps even make some token attempt to find out that she had taken a bus to London, though she couldn't be sure anyone would make any effort at all. Regardless of whether anyone ever did work out that she had intended to go to London, tracked that ticket she bought, she had fallen asleep on the bus, and instead of London she had arrived in this strange other city, a sprawling place which was reputed to go on forever, the city of Ascension. The creation myths she had picked up along the way suggested that the city was everything; that outside the city there was nothing; further, that no one had actually ever reached the end of the city. Which would seem, of course, to contradict the stories of the sea that she also heard.

Returning to her front door with a foxy girl she'd picked up on a night out, she had discovered a sword, leaning innocently on the doorpost, for no reason that she could determine. She had been out clubbing, trying to distract herself from the more complex aspects of her life, when she'd run into a group of pack girls, she had picked up this one, and brought her home for the night, not expecting to find this plain-looking thing in a battered sheath here waiting for her. It was almost more of a machete than a sophisticated weapon like she thought a sword should be, plain as plain could be, save for the three triangles on the hilt which matched those which had been carved into the surface of her door, presumably by whoever had left the weapon, and in a manner that was no doubt intended to be deeply significant, if only she had the slightest idea what it might mean. If you squinted you could almost imagine that those three triangles lined up in a row might represent something like a crown, as depicted by a child perhaps. She had brought the weapon into her flat, thrown it into one of the armchairs and gone back to the business of taking the giggling young stray to her bed.

Woken in the night by the sound, chilled by the sick red light of that hideous moon, Hate had pushed the armchair against the front door, the sword still sitting there. Then the pair of them had clung together in bed, terrified, while they heard the screams and hideous sounds of death come shuffling. Everyone else in the building had been slaughtered. In the morning, the two of them were the only survivors.

All signs that she could find suggested that whatever had happened, the persons responsible for Salsa's disappearance were the same as those responsible for the darkening of certain areas of the city. Rumour being that someone lived in the heart of corruption, that there was a castle grown from the ground, in which evil had taken residence.

So here she is, following the trail of Salsa's disappearance into the darkening streets of the city, into the heart of whatever evil had come to power here; this creeping expansion that seems to consume another street each day. She clutches the handle of that sword, the sheath strapped to her belt the sense of those three triangles against the flesh of her hand somehow reassuring.

There had been no apparent explanation as to why they hadn't been devoured like everyone else. The police who found them there the next morning were amazed, having waded through so many floors of carnage. Pushing each door open carefully with their spears to reveal the horror within. Surprised to find resistance here, to find a traumatised Hate easing the door open in response to their calls. Hate had looked at those triangles again, the one on the right traced out in red, blood having run down the grain from that contact - they had come that far and paused- why? Was it something to do with those triangles, while everyone else counted her blessings, she wondered what other forces were at work. Particularly when it was around the same time that Salsa had gone missing, her best friend, the true object, the unobtainable object, of her affections - the one she would much rather have taken to her bed than some club girl strayed from her pack. Gone.

She takes another step forward. Round a corner she comes to a square. It would probably have been quite a nice place at some time in the past. Blackened cafes, blackened chairs, blackened fountain and blackened statues. The statues are of great lions, their aspect is fearsome, and Hate would almost swear that their attention is focused entirely upon her and her progress. She takes another step forward. The lions, to her relief, show no reaction. Though there is a sound behind her somewhere, something is back there, or a number of things, moving fast, and making a lot of noise about it. Something that seems to be headed in her direction. Hate can only be certain that this is bad news. She starts to run, a careful trot, consciously pacing her energy as she crosses the square, leaving it behind as she enters another black corridor, leading round black corners, to more black corridors - buildings that were once houses and businesses absorbed into the monolith. She would like to feel as though she was heading somewhere, as though she wasn't about to turn a corner and find a fatal dead end, but she has no such assurance and can only conclude that by keeping in motion she keeps the possibilities open.

The sounds behind her keep getting closer and she fights against the spike in her pulse, the natural sense of fear which threatens to overwhelm her. She can hear scraping, and dragging sounds. The first thing that comes to mind is that she is being pursued by zombies, those monstrosities responsible for the attack on her building, the undead creatures who formed nests in the city's abandoned buildings. At this point she is probably the only thing resembling fresh meat for some distance, most people having the sense to avoid the expanding dark zones. If they catch her they will certainly tear her apart. She draws her sword and starts to run faster, hoping that running and carrying swords are compatible activities. Adrenalin starts to churn, Hate actually smiles, the rush, the energy - she runs every day, pounding the streets, exploring the world, ensuring that it remains a constant, getting miles in before the start of her shift at the record shop, but that is not like this. The street she is in splits, a wide dead end in one direction, a narrowing alley that looks as if it might go further.

She makes a choice, and she crouches in the narrow corridor. Gripping her sword. Telling herself she is ready for first contact. Though, given that until she found this weapon she had never actually even held a sword, she can't help but feel a little absurd. A figure staggers into sight. A second and third are just visible behind. The first figure stops. As Hate presumed, they are zombies. Not too bright. It takes them a moment to work out where she has gone. Sniffing her brains, fragments of nostrils held up, inhaling noisily. The pus-filled orbs that take the place of eyes attempt to focus in her direction. Once this figure was a man, a big one, now he is a broken thing. He would still tear her head open, rip her brains out and slap them around his face as though they were some fine delicacy. Of course, Hate has no intention of letting that outcome arise. More zombies come behind the first three, a couple shoving at each other pointlessly as they try and get further ahead, one crawling, legless thing snakes its way past the log jam the other two create. Arms outstretched, in a manner that Hate thinks is distinctly clichéd, the lead zombie lumbers towards her. He groans, rank breath carrying fragments of what might once have been words in Hate's direction. She holds her crouch steady. The blade in her hand feels right. The burn of adrenalin is still buzzing through her. The zombie swings an arm at her. She stands, stepping forward, driving the blade straight through his chest in an upward sweep, slicing up and out through his neck. Sludge spurts and falters. The zombie keeps moving, delayed reactions and momentum know no mercy. But another couple of slashes and the bastard goes down, though as he does the crawling zombie, grinning obscenely through a lipless mouth, climbs up the tumbling carcass. Its blackened nails claw at the body to gain purchase. Coiling, the thing prepares to leap at her like some ghastly frog. One slash and the head goes flying, the thing unbalancing in the process. The stream of the dead keeps on coming. Hate's sword seems to pulse with an energy as she swings recklessly, hacking body parts left and right.

"Blood and souls! Blood and souls for Arioch," Hate suddenly shouts, the phrase from one of Moorcock's novels popping into her head, grinning like a psychotic. While her weapon might not be leaching energy from her enemies, the way that Elric's evil weapon Stormbringer did in those novels, it does make hacking up zombie bits seem easy. She can't help but feel she has become like a character in one of those books that she read when she was a teenager, of how she finds herself living in one of those books now, how she is the heroine in an impossible situation. Hatred Philips, twenty-three years old, and fighting for her life. At least until enough carcasses have mounted up in that alley that it has become difficult for the zombies to get any nearer, which she takes as her cue, to turn, and to run. Salsa is in here somewhere, what kind of hero would she be if she fell at the hands of the zombie horde and failed to save the woman she loves?

Copyright © Peter Morrison 2010 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 19:03 Sat 18 Sep 2010
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