I pulled the trigger and the entire building erupted into flame and rubble. My blood-soaked hands lost their grip on the gun as I was hurled into the air, flailing like a rag doll. Hot fingers tore at my clothes and Lucifer cast a breath across my face. Then I slammed down on the roof of my car. Glass burst in glistening showers around me, the car alarm filled my ears with its cacophony, and through it all somebody screamed. It may have been me. Then the whole world blurred and faded to black.
One hour earlier.
“He should have called the cops, Amy. This is a waste of my fucking time,” I growled as I pulled in at the kerb. “I could have been heading up protection for Beyonce at Wembley tonight; an evening spent walking behind a mighty fine arse. Instead I have to put Steve on it so I can come and look at a fucking disused factory in a seriously shitty neighbourhood. This is not my idea of fun!”
My car stereo let out a short burst of static, indicating that my assistant was laughing and covering her microphone so I wouldn’t know. “Cool it, Mike. You know Mr Black only trusts you to do his bidding. Besides, he pays better than Beyonce.”
I took my seatbelt off. “I bet his arse is less fun to watch, though,” I mumbled.
“Never mind. Listen, Amy, this place looks like it’s not been used since the blitz, so sod knows why Mr Black’s so bothered about it. The suspicious activity is probably just squatters or local drug dealers. All stuff for the cops to handle. I don’t think this will take long.”
“Gotcha, boss. Be careful, anyway. Mr Black gives me the creeps.”
I smiled. “You watch too many Buffy re-runs, A. Everything gives you the creeps.”
Another burst of static. “Boss, if I found Buffy scary I’d run a mile from you in the mornings. See you in a bit.”
The line cut off before I could think up a witty retort, so with a sigh I grabbed my phone from its Bluetooth dock, got out of my car and headed round to the boot. Be careful, she’d said. If I was honest, the mysterious Mr Black gave me the creeps as well as Amy. He contacted us only by phone, and used a voice altering device to disguise his tones. What made him pick Mike’s Celebrity Security to be his lapdogs was anyone’s guess, as most of his work involved checking seemingly random properties for signs of break-in. The guy definitely had a mafia boss complex. It was a good thing he paid as well as he did.
“Fucking pretentious wanker,” I said, strapping a pistol from the car boot into my shoulder holster. “You’ve got to stop talking to yourself, Mike, or you’ll be in the loony bin before forty finds you.”
I locked up the car and headed towards the disused building that loomed in front of me like the grim reaper. “Minus the scythe,” I added vocally. I was in one of those weird quiet parts of inner city London that just seem like dead pockets; places of Victorian industry now long abandoned, seen only in passing from the trains that swooped back and forth on the raised rails above. A chain fence blocked my path, capped with twin coils of S-wire and a plethora of notices warning me that cameras, alarms, and guard dogs would all be my undoing should I dare to enter unauthorised. The factory beyond was all dirty bricks, decaying wood-frame windows, and a cracked courtyard with weeds invading through every orifice. Not the type of place to beckon burglars.
I dragged a loose corner of fence to one side with ease and slipped through into the factory grounds. I stamped a couple of times loudly, warning notices in mind, and looked around. Silence.
“All bark, no bite,” I murmured as I headed for the nearest window.
No signs of movement betrayed intruders as I approached, but the small, square panes of glass were so dirty and distorting that trolls could be having a party in there for all I knew. “A fucking quiet troll party, mind you.”
A subtle sense of unease was creeping over me. I hoped it was just the nasty damp-infested walls and filth that were causing the tense, tight feeling in my gut, but hope’s like water in a paper cup when all your instincts are shouting doom and gloom. I reached the window; still no movement, so I pinched my jacket cuff in one hand and used it to wipe a clean space to look through.
“Fuck. My. Arse.”
The freshly cleaned glass went opaque again as my breathing accelerated, but I knew what I’d seen. I backed away from the window, dragging my phone from my pocket, and pressed the speed-dial preset for Amy.
“Mike’s Celebrity Security, how may I-”
“It’s me, A. I need you to call the cops and send them over here, now. The bomb guys. S.O… whichever S.O. they are.” I could feel the phone shaking against my ear. I hadn’t seen that much fertiliser in one place since the early eighties, back when I was a cop and the IRA were busy. Bags of the stuff filled the space inside, stacked floor to ceiling and, in front of that wall of death, a small table with some electronics and what I thought was a stick of Composition 4 plastic explosive, which would make an effective detonator.
“Bomb guys? Boss, what’s going on there?”
I started heading for the fence. “What’s going on is I’m getting the fuck away from this place. This is either prep for the opening of London’s biggest ever organic fruit and veg emporium, or someone’s planning to piss on one whole hell of a lot of parades.”
Amy’s voice sounded shaky when she replied, “Okay, Mike. I’ll call them now. You get out of there.”
I killed the call as I reached the fence, but then a sound floated to me from the direction of the factory and my blood turned to icy pins in my veins. It was a baby’s cry, frightened and thin, and in that moment my head turned to mush. I couldn’t let a bomb go off in the middle of London, and I certainly couldn’t let it vaporise a child.
“Bloody instincts!” I hissed, and jogged towards the warehouse door. When I reached it, the sense of unease from earlier turned into outright fear. The door looked ancient, hewn from a single hunk of solid oak, but had no visible lock or handle. From a distance it had looked normal, but as I stood close to the timber, it seemed deeply unnatural. It emanated malevolence like a throbbing wound sends waves of pain and nausea through the body. I kicked it, and felt a little better, but it gave no sign of opening.
Looking to the side, I saw something even more bizarre. A section of wall next to the strange door was shimmering, as though viewed through waves of heat. “What the?”
I moved over to it, gingerly running a hand along the grime-caked bricks. When my fingers reached the shimmer, everything felt soft. My digits sunk to the first knuckle in a section of wall that felt like soft cheese, and I flinched backward. A bead of sweat dribbled down the centre of my forehead and tickled my nose.
“Fuck this shit, Mike. Back off and wait for the cops.”
I started to do as my voice advised, but then it came again; that wailing, eerie call of a child in danger. “Ah, sod it! No guts, no grisly and meaningless death,” I said, and walked straight into the wobbling wall.
As I had hoped, there was little resistance, although the sensation of squeezing my face through rubbery dough almost made me puke. I took two tough steps, fighting as though walking against a gale, and then I stumbled as the pressure vanished and I found myself…
“Where the hell AM I?”
Far from a factory, I was in a dripping, cavernous tunnel. The walls, dark and slick, wheezed and shifted as though breathing and an accompanying breeze wafted me rhythmically. My feet splashed in something that smelled of rotting fish. I turned around and there was the shimmering wall, looking identical to the other side. I pushed my hand back out through it, wanting to be sure I could go back that way.
“This place gets weirder by the minute. What in all that’s stupid am I doing here?” I sighed. “You’re saving a kid, Mike. That’s what you’re doing. Although, what the fuck a baby’s doing in this place is beyond me. Here goes nothing.”
I headed into the tunnel, which seemed to be angling vaguely downward into darkness. I jogged for what seemed like ages, gun in hand. For all I knew, the weapon was completely useless here, but it made me feel manly and stopped me from running back to my car wailing. Occasionally a cry would drift to my ears, egging me on, but I was starting to get anxious. If the bomb guys turned up and tripped the device, I’d be too dead to know about it.
The tunnel narrowed sharply and turned ahead. I snuck towards the blind corner, flinching slightly as the wall swelled and pressed against me like a sweating, damp, amorous sponge. A new noise was audible; a wet clicking that put me in mind of knitting needles soaked in blood. I gently squeezed the safety on my gun into the off position, closing my eyes and searching for some courage to combat the wall of terror in front of me. I was right at the corner now. I’d come this far. “Get on with it, you pussy!” I said beneath my breath, and flicked my head briefly round the corner.
Images burned into my mind’s eye, recorded in horror during my momentary glance. A circular chamber with another tunnel opening on the opposite side, and in the centre of the floor a butcher’s block, dripping gore. A heaving, misshapen beast the colour of blood with claws for fingers and a head made entirely of fangs. Needles threaded with something stretchy and organic, like sinew. A baby’s form, dissected and re-assembled in a grotesque likeness of the creature standing over it. All accompanied by the sound of talons, tapping together as if playing percussion to a tune. My stomach felt like it was trying to burst from my mouth.
Forty nine percent of me was running for the exit with piss running down my legs, but fifty one percent propelled me round that corner, screaming as I went. I shot bullets into the demon-thing until the chamber clicked empty, and continued to press the trigger repeatedly. It flew backwards against a soft wall, black blood spurting from it where my shots landed, and collapsed to its face. Dark ichors continued to ooze from its wounds, but it didn’t move as I stood over it, clicking gun aimed down.
“Stop it, Mike. Stop it, it’s done, it’s dead. You rock.” I almost giggled, and then stopped myself. Before anything else, I loaded a fresh clip into my gun. Then, satisfied the demon (what else was I going to call it?) was dead, I turned to the tiny form on the butcher’s block, and tears flooded my eyes. I’ve seen some sick shit in my life, and I thought nothing could shock me, but the sight of that tiny, vulnerable human form, cut up and re-arranged for some unimaginable purpose, almost unmanned me.
At that point, I had to know why. I might have failed to save the little mite, but I could get to the bottom of this. I headed for the other tunnel. I knew my eyes must be as wide as saucers and, truth be told, I didn’t know if any of this was real. I guess there’s a limit to how many insane things the mind can see before disbelief becomes numb acceptance. “I don’t care what world I’m in, I’m not having this.”
The other tunnel stayed tight all the way, occasionally caressing my hair as its flexible ceiling bulged close. I walked for a few minutes before a shuffling sound came to me and I slowed my pace, gun at the ready. It sounded like sand paper, that was all I could think of; sand paper being rhythmically rubbed on soft timber. Then I crept upon a scene of stunning chaos.
The chamber was large enough that I could see no other walls or ceiling, lit by flaming torches set out in a regular grid on the floor. I stood in the tunnel mouth, which was raised slightly above the cavern floor. Before me stood a line of the demon creatures, their backs to me, and walking in symmetrical lines before them were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of mutilated people. They shuffled with a zombie-like trudge, perfectly in unison, a repulsive army of the grotesque. Each one had been re-arranged like the baby, internal parts now stapled to the outside, limbs attached in a hideous representation of a demon. They should not have been able to walk, but they managed it.
“Jesus in a whorehouse,” I whispered. Blasphemy felt somehow appropriate right then. I knew I had to get out, and warn people, but what was I going to say? ‘Hello, police? I just stumbled across some demons cutting people up and turning them into deformed, zombie warriors. I think they’re building an army. Yes, I’d like pink highlights in my padded cell, and I take an XXL straight jacket, thank you.’
No, I had to do something about this myself. An idea struck me so hard that I was worried a glowing light bulb might appear above my head. I turned and headed for the surface at a hurried creep. I had to set off that bomb!
When I reached the smaller chamber I made to skirt the butcher’s block; I had no wish to see the mutilated baby again. I stepped over the dead demon in its sticky, tar-like puddle of blood and was almost across to the other side when a tiny whimper sounded and my breath caught in my throat. I turned towards the block to see the baby wriggling. Transfixed, I walked over to it, and promptly doubled over, hurling my lunch onto the floor.
I had thought the little thing dead, but clearly the process had been completed because the poor thing was now awake and moving. It wriggled and cried, turning a head that was a mass of gristle from side to side. Then a maw affixed to one temple, complete with messily inserted teeth and a single eye, fixed on me. An eerie howl pierced the air and an arm with the bone protruding from its stump pointed at me. The faint shuffling from below stopped.
Vomit dribbling from my lips, consciousness shrunk back in madness and disgust, I raised my gun over my head. “For fuck’s sake,” I said. Then I brought the gun butt slamming down on the demon baby’s head, mashing it to a pulp against the butcher’s block. I prayed for the first time in my life; that I had acted quickly enough and avoided raising any alarm.
I turned and fled, fixing my mind on one thought, the only one that I knew mattered; detonate that bomb!
As the breathing tunnel widened I heard a roar of inhuman anger behind me and increased my pace. Right then I would have sworn I could break every running record in the Olympics, I ran so damned fast. As the shimmering wall appeared ahead of me, I threw a glance over my shoulder. A demon was hot on my heels, its teeth and claws glinting at the edge of the gloom behind.
Without hesitation, I hurled myself into the soft wall and burst into London’s early evening grey. I could hear two-tones in the distance. That would be the bomb cops. I almost laughed. How long had I been down there? It didn’t matter. I staggered across the weedy concrete towards the fence, turning to check my position against the window. How much distance did I need? That was probably irrelevant, given the amount of explosive I’d seen. I reached the fence and fell through the loose panel, then pulled myself to my feet and aimed my gun through the window. There it was; the vague shape of that detonator on the table. I knew I was a good enough shot.
Tyres screamed behind me and the wind flapped my jacket. From the shimmering portal next the strange door, I saw a head formed entirely of teeth emerge.
“Drop it!” yelled a voice. “Armed police!”
I smirked. “Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke,” I said, and pulled the trigger.
The next voice I heard was Amy’s, and I woke to see her face framed by a grubby hospital ceiling.
“Mike!” she said, “thank God, you’re awake!”
I groaned. “My head feels like an elephant took a dump in it.” Memories flooded back in an unwelcome rush. I strained my head up towards her. “Am I in much trouble?”
Amy didn’t seem to know whether to grin or frown. “You were, yeah. But then the police arrested some guys for making the bomb that went off. Apparently they’re all in some cult which claims to be a secret order of church knights, working for the Vatican. They’re taking the rap for everything.”
My head slumped back on the pillow. “Fuck a doodle-do,” I sighed.
“What the hell happened, boss?” she asked, but something must have shown in my face because she immediately shook her head. “Never mind, you can tell me later.”
“How long’s it been?”
She smiled. “You’ve been unconscious nearly a week, Mike. We really didn’t know if you’d make it.”
Another face loomed into view; Steve’s concerned countenance. “You’re one tough bastard, boss,” he said. Then he laughed. “Like in that film.”
I grinned. “I’ve only got one thing to say to you, Steve, you lucky git.”
“Next time, I’m taking Beyonce’s arse, and Mr Black can damned well kiss mine!”
A private detective stumbles upon something he really wishes he hadn’t. Story for a RPG Nation game called “The Dark” by Fleedleflump (aka Mike Bell)