Archive | July, 2013

Chapter Twenty Two – Found

31 Jul

‘You’ve found it already! Wow, you’re even better than I thought.’ He leant against the door and smiled at us, Rosie smiled back at him and I just stared in his general direction.

‘Found what?’ I muttered, before looking down at the bottle of ink which was cradled in my right arm. He just nodded.

I handed it over to him and said ‘What do you want with this stuff anyway? There’s lots of it about, in fact, it seems to be spreading.’

‘Ah, I’ve been asked to recover a sample for someone. I can’t say who, but thanks for helping me out.’ He waved at me and started walking away.

I followed him – even though I was covered in cola and ink, I deserved more than this. ‘Hey! Come back! You’ve got to get me out of this world.’

He said something which I didn’t hear before he turned off into a side street. By the time I’d ran over to it, he’d already disappeared. I just stared down the empty road and tried to work out where he could have hidden, but there were just too many places to check.

When I got back to Rosie, she just smiled at me and said: ‘So, it looks like we’ll be collecting more of that stuff.’ I just nodded and went inside to find a funnel, another bottle and some old clothes. In a way, I was glad that the case was over, but I just couldn’t shake the nagging worry that whoever hired me wanted that ink for reasons I probably wouldn’t like. Still, after emptying the pockets, putting my jacket and clothes into the washing machine and giving Rosie some of my old clothes, we decided to head back to the cathedral.

Getting a sample of the ink was surprisingly easy this time round and we were able to fill three bottles with the stuff in less than five minutes. To my surpsrise, no-one even bothered to look at us while we were doing all of this. I guess that, in a town like this, a couple of people messing about with funnels in the middle of the street was probably one of the more ordinary everyday occurrences.

The washing machine was still churning and rumbling when we got back. Rosie slumped on the sofa and turned the TV, taking care to avoid the channel with the pyramid patterns on it. I went straight for the fridge and rifled through it until I found one of Rachel’s old petri dishes. It was filled with a green and blue microcosm of what I could only assume was a whole world of bacteria and mould. Still, it was probably the most useful thing in the whole house at the moment.

I walked over to the bathroom and ran the hot tap until vast clouds of steam started to pour out of the sink. Then cracking open the petri dish, I filled it with lavender liquid soap before dropping it into the sink and flinching. Scalding hot water sprayed everywhere, a few drops of it stung the back of my neck. But, after a minute or two. I closed my eyes waded through the dense steam cloud and, somehow managed to turn the tap off without burning myself.

As I emerged from the bathroom with the petri dish, Rosie looked over at me and just said: ‘Why didn’t you just put it into the dishwasher?’

I glared at her before filling the dish with a thick film of ink and snapping the cover back on it before taping the edges shut. Leaving it on the table to settle, I sat next to Rosie and watched the last ten minutes of documentary about luminous deep sea fish in silence. When the credits rolled, I turned to her and said: ‘So, what do you think of the mystery man who hired me? I think he’s up to no good.’

Rosie thought about it for a second ‘I think he looks… Well, ordinary really.’

‘Suspiciously ordinary?’

‘Suspiciously ordinary would probably be something like those wooden things that were in the cathedral. No, he looked just rough enough around the edges to be genuine. But, the person who hired him seems like a bit of a mystery. We’re going to find out who that person is, aren’t we?’ Rosie sighed and slumped further back on the sofa.

‘It’s ok, you’ve helped me find what I’ve been looking for. I’ll check the rest out on my own if you like?’

Rosie sighed again and just said: ‘No. Now I’m curious too.’

Chapter Twenty One – Wrong

30 Jul

With what could have been a smile on her face, Rosie turned the handle. A dark pool of ink started spreading across the pavement in front of the doors. She stopped pushing the door and stepped back before beckoning to me and saying: ‘come here’.

‘What the hell are you doing?’ I almost shouted.

‘Just come here! Quickly! Before it spreads!’

‘Ok’ I sighed as I stepped towards it, leaning back slightly. Rosie just pointed at the pool – it was spreading a couple of centimetres every few seconds. She kept pointing. When I looked into it, I realised why she had been pointing. The reflections were wrong.

Not “wrong” as in rippling water, but “wrong” as in there was something else in the reflection. Or rather, there wasn’t. For starters, the cathedral was missing. There was a Firestone’s Books shop in it’s place. Rosie just stared at it, the ink pooling around her shoes. I smiled and said: ‘Ha! It’s showing the real world! Maybe it’s a way back?’

I was practically dancing in the street. This was the best thing I’d seen in the past couple of days. I looked around me until I spotted a corner shop a short way down the street. I’d already started running for it before Rosie even noticed. She shouted after me: ‘Where are you going?’

‘ I’ll be back in a second.’ I fumbled through my jacket pockets for some coins as I opened the door. Thankfully, it looked fairly normal. I grabbed a two litre bottle of cola from the fridge in the back of the shop and dropped it on the counter, along with a few coins. It was only then that I noticed that the man behind the counter had two heads. Well, actually, he had one head and another one growing out of his chest. They both had curly ginger moustaches and rectangular glasses.

I didn’t have time to be surprised. I just picked up the cola, muttered ‘keep the change’ and ran back towards the cathedral. Rosie was standing in the middle of the ink pool by now and she just stared at me with blank incomprehension. I twisted the cap off of the bottle, it fizzed and sprayed everywhere. Grimacing, I poured the rest of it into a nearby drain and rushed over to the ink pool.

With a lot of effort, I used the lid to scoop as much ink into the bottle as possible. My jacket was soaked with cola and it looked like I’d just been fingerprinted a hundred times but, in a few minutes, the bottle was half full. I flashed a grin at Rosie and said: ‘Come on!’

‘These shoes are ruined.’ She sighed.

‘Oh shit, I’m sorry – I’ll buy you another pair. They weren’t designer were they?’ I facepalmed, what an idiot I’d been.

‘No, I mean, they’re old shoes. They aren’t waterproof. My feet are soaked!’ She muttered as she splashed her way through the ink pool. ‘Why did you take some of the ink anyway? We can’t really test it in a lab or anything. Unless you were a chemistry student?’

I shook my head and said: ‘If we saw a reflection of the real world in the ink. Then maybe we can use it to see other parts of the real world too? Maybe it’s even possible to send a message there?’

‘Why would you want to? This place is a lot more interesting than… there.’

‘Well, I want to get back. I mean, if the universe is bleeding out – maybe if we dropped a message into the ink, it might come out the other side?’

Rosie roared with laughter, it caught me totally by surprise. I nearly dropped the bottle. It sloshed around heavily and I almost dropped it again. Yes, dropping messages into the ink sounded absurd, but it was worth trying anything. Eventually, Rosie turned to me and said: ‘Ok, you’re serious? Where are we going to do this, we can’t go back into The Caffe Noire covered in ink again.’

‘Ok, my place then. It’s only a couple of minutes away.’ I said as Rosie took off her shoes again, although she still left an ink trail behind her.

When I saw my house, there was someone standing outside the door. It was the man who had hired me.

Chapter Twenty – Shopping

29 Jul

The bright orange sign on the shop window said something like ‘Holiday? Don’t stress! Summer dresses 40% off!” but that was the only thing we could see through the window. It stood out against a spattered backdrop of blotchy dried ink. If I squinted slightly, one of the ink spatters actually looked a bit like a pyramid. In fact, three of them did. Then five. Then ten. Dammit, I hate synchronistic viruses!

Rosie tried the door handle and nodded to me before pushing the door slightly. It creaked and crackled as it opened to reveal nothing but darkness. Luckily, I’d left my torch in my jacket pocket and although the light was still fairly weak, I could just make out the outlines of clothes racks and people standing in between them. For a second, I was puzzled – most people would have fled the store at the first sight of all that ink.

As soon as I saw one of the people move their left arm in a single, precise motion, I knew that they weren’t people. Rosie must have worked this out too because she gasped and I could hear her stepping back suddenly. It moved it’s right arm in exactly the same way. I slammed the door.

‘Should we call the police?’ I asked, reaching for my phone.

‘No, trust me. You don’t want to deal with the police here.’ Rosie shook her head.

‘How do you mean? They can’t be that different to the ones in the real world… I mean, in the other town.’

‘No, the police here spend more time filling out forms and smashing things up than actually solving anything. This one time, one of my friends lost his wallet at the train station and decided to give them a call. Within two minutes, they’d broken out the riot gear and called in four firearms squads, just in case. When they finally found his wallet – it turned out that he’d left it under a bench – they covered it with a crime scene tent before destroying it using a controlled explosion.’

‘Wow, that’s a bit disproportionate.’

‘That isn’t even the worst part.’ Rosie sighed ‘After all of that, they declared a half-mile exclusion zone around the station for a week. The whole town was pretty much a ghost town. And, when all that was over, they wouldn’t reply to anyone’s calls for two months because they had to dedicate every officer to filling out all the forms for dealing with a lost wallet. Seriously, don’t call the cops.’

‘So, what do we do instead? I mean, we can’t just leave the shop like this. Can we?’

‘It’s probably for the best, we’ve got more important things to do.’ Rosie was already looking at the cathedral. There was a gargoyle missing from the roof and our inky footprints were still on the ground outside the door. Strangely, they still looked wet too.

‘You’re not seriously suggesting that we go back in there again? You almost got lost the last time. Plus, my torch is dying too.’ I looked at it again, the bulb was glowing faint orange and I was starting to wish that I’d just bought a proper LED torch before I ended up here.

Rosie just shook her head again before walking up to the cathedral and pointing at the door. I crossed the street and looked closely at it. Although it was firmly closed, large droplets of ink ran along the edge of the doorframe and dripped onto the edge of the pavement. I stepped back, but Rosie just stood there and stared at it. Finally, she turned to me and said: ‘This isn’t right. It’s completely full.’

‘I guess that they just don’t build doors like they used to.’ I put on a slightly old-fashioned voice and grinned at her.

‘No, I mean, the shop wasn’t filled with ink. Why is it only affecting the cathedral?’

‘Well, we can’t exactly open the door and find out, can we?’ I sighed.

Rosie just nodded and reached out for the door handle.

Chapter Nineteen – Bleeding Out

28 Jul

Rosie was already sitting at her table when I creaked open the door of The Caffe Noire. There was a short stack of papers next to the two empty tea cups near the edge of the table. I ordered a coffee and sat opposite her, she smiled at me and pushed the papers in my direction. For a while, I just couldn’t make sense of them. They were nothing but more random words. It was only when Rosie reached underneath them and pulled out a sheet of cardboard with several rectangular holes cut into it that it all started to make sense.

Laying the papers out on the table, I placed the cardboard over the first one. Through the gaps, the words “The world is ending. None will live” stood out. I rolled my eyes and moved on to the next page – “A wide hole in the universe, it bleeds”. The page after that read “slowly to death. Find the missing”. I turned to the next page “part and you can plug the hole”.

I read the rest in silence, feeling a mounting sense of dread as it described, in all the gory details about how the universe had been mysteriously eviscerated and was spilling it’s guts throughout the fabric of space and time. Since no-one has ever seen a dead universe, whoever wrote the document couldn’t say how long it would take. But, I was guessing that it would be centuries. Universes do everything, even dying, on a much bigger time scale. Oh, great. -it looked like I’d have to save the universe.

Finally, I turned to Rosie and said: ‘Where the hell did you find all of this?’

She ordered yet another cup of tea and smiled at me: ‘Next to the cathedral, someone dropped it in the gutter. I mean, it could mean nothing.’

‘Like the pyramid?’

‘That what?’ She raised an eyebrow and sipped her tea.

‘It appeared on the TV and there was a strange website about it.’ I showed her all the printouts and the footage on my phone. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought that she was more fascinated by my phone itself than what was on the screen.

‘Oh, that’ Rosie laughed and carried on drinking her tea ‘My theory is that it’s some kind of virus, since it can appear everywhere if you focus on it too much. It’s a synchronistic virus. I’ve known a couple of people who have got overwhelmed by it. Don’t worry, it isn’t fatal or anything like that. It’s just annoying.’

As she raised her tea cup again, I saw the pyramid in a reflection on the table. Ignoring it, I started drinking my tepid coffee and asked Rosie if there was a cure for it. She just shook her head, dislodging a strand of hair which hung next to her head in a vaguely pyramid-like shape.

Finally, I said: ‘Ok, where do we go now? My guess is that we find the place where the universe is bleeding out and see if we can work out what to stop it with.

‘I don’t know – it’s either near the cathedral or maybe this whole world is part of the dying universe? I mean, at least that’s what I first thought when I arrived here.’

‘ Do you think that the ink has anything to do with it?’

‘I don’t know, I mean – in the right light, it certainly looks like blood. But, I don’t know, why would the universe be bleeding ink of all things unless… Wow! That’s deep!’ Rosie’s eyes widened for a second ‘Think about it. The universe is nothing more than a story, it’s made out of stories – everything has a story behind it. The whole thing about bleeding ink could be a metaphor? Wow! That is deep!’

‘Or it could just be ink?’ I sighed. The dying universe and synchronistic virus were bad enough, but the last thing I needed right now was philosophy. Rosie seemed to be fascinated by it though.

She finished her tea and started waving her hands energetically: ‘Maybe we’re supposed to let the universe die? I mean, I once read that the universe is constantly expanding due to the big bang. Eventually, it’ll slow down and start contracting. The whole thing will happen over and over again. It has happened over and over again. If the universe dies, then it’ll come back again and again. It’s like reincarnation…’

When she’d finished delivering a lecture about the metaphysical parallels between life and the universe as well as a few musings about the eternal nature of the cosmos, I just rolled my eyes and said: ‘Ok, let’s check out some of the shops near the cathedral. If the universe is bleeding out, then we might find something there.’

Chapter Eighteen – Dfghjgygrfxdigultdjktdyjtdyf\sefgegr

27 Jul

Well, actually, I didn’t find it. It found me. What actually happened was that I typed a whole bunch of things into Google and, as I expected, nothing came up. I rolled my eyes and muttered a few things before realising that I’d been leaning against the keyboard. There was a whole stream of random text in the search bar – something like ‘dfghjgygrfxdigultdjktdyjtdyf\sefgegr’, I think.

With nothing better to do, I hit enter. The strange pyramid appeared in the middle of my screen with a wall of bright green text underneath it. It took me a couple of seconds to realise that it was in mirror writing. Still, once I’d found a small enough mirror, it actually made some kind of sense. Well, as much sense as anything here could possibly make.

“The mark has appeared for a third time this week. Although, in four of it’s possible shapes, it bears some similarities with the sigil of the portentious portal – it is something else entirely. Records of past appearances have been unclear, but it is very likely that it serves as a beacon of some kind or another. As a way of drawing people’s curiosity for reasons which are, as of yet, unknown. It is no coincidence that previous sightings, typically characterised by an almost catatonic state of wonder, have only been by those who were deemed to be outcasts or heretics. This may account for the unreliable records.”

“Whilst I have yet to understand the meaning of this symbol – the evocation of curiosity which accompanies it must serve some purpose or other. After all, everything in this grand machine of a cosmos is but a cog. Even though we cannot see the intricate engine which drives it or even always divine it’s design, it is there. This curious mark has a meaning – or perhaps the curiosity is the meaning. As I postulated earlier, it is most likely a beacon, serving to draw attention to something of genuine curiosity. As to what this is, I cannot speculate. But, as well as writing it in my records, I have sent this message out into the aether in the hope that one day it may be studied by future generations – Gustavus Freidrich Drosselmeyer III, 12th December 1870.”

The rest of the text wall was just the same message repeated over and over again. Whoever this man was, he was the first person I’d seen since I got here who actually had some answers. It was just a shame that he was long dead by now – never having found the answer to the question he had asked all those years ago. But, everything he said actually made sense in an odd way. I guess I really did know it when I saw it.

It would explain a lot about the wooden models too. I mean, someone might have sent them to look for whatever that pyramid thing was pointing towards. But that didn’t quite add up – I mean, their actions just didn’t fit in with that kind of pattern. If they’d been roaming the streets and tearing open every door, then it would make more sense. But, no, all they did was lurk around coffins, ink and cathedrals. I guess I’d have to work out all the answers to that particular subject myself.

After reading it again, I printed off the web page and all the stills from my camera before crashing out on my bed.

Instead of a dream, I found myself inside the pattern which had been on TV earlier. It whirled and whooshed around me, as transient and insubstantial as sparks from a dying firework. Luminous patches of neon plasma swirled and flashed in the distance. Squinting against all of this, I looked for the pattern. It took me all of a minute to find it, lurking in the background and shifting into a different shape every time I thought about describing it.

Dodging a few sparks, I reached for the pattern. It changed again and moved a few inches away from me. Three yellow-blue glowing patches appeared in front of me, but I could still see the pattern through the gap in between them. Against all of my instincts, I jumped towards the patches. Despite half-expecting third-degree plasma burns or something equally horrific, I just passed through them. Two purple-green sparks whizzed through my legs as if I was a ghost. This was all an illusion, nothing was solid.

Taking a deep breath, I broke into a run and aimed myself at the pattern. It threw up patch after patch, but it didn’t slow me down. As soon as it was within reaching distance, I threw my arms out towards it. For half a second, I touched the edge of it. It had the slushy consistency of an ice lolly which had been left out in the sun and was seconds away from melting completely.

My eyes snapped open. It was bright outside. Slowly, a smile crept over my face – Gustavus Friedrich III had got it all wrong. The pattern wasn’t a beacon, it was a decoy. A decoy meant to distract curious people from something. I guess that when I found that something, I really would know what it was when I saw it.

Picking up my jacket, I looked at the battered old alarm clock by my bed – I still had half an hour before I was supposed to meet Rosie again. I just hoped that she’d found something more interesting.

Chapter Seventeen – Patterns

26 Jul

There still wasn’t anything about the models or the cathedral on the internet or even in the university library. My student card didn’t expire for another couple of weeks and it seemed like a stupid idea not to check the library at least once. I guess that I’d thought that if the rest of the town had changed so much, then the library would reflect this fact. I was partially right.

Most of the books had changed, but most of them made no sense at all. If a thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters had got any of their works published, then they probably ended up in this version of the library. Even the books which made sense were all about completely useless topics like cryptopaleontology, autovampiric death rituals and alectryomancy. But, the most puzzling thing of all was the fact that there were quite a few people in the library actually reading all of these books.

For a while, I thought that it was part of a hallucination, that the jasmine tea had just given me a distorted view of the world and that the people in the library were actually reading perfectly normal books. After all, I had no way of telling.

Well, actually that wasn’t true. When I’d spotted a guy in a red T-shirt who was just finishing a book of random text, I’d walked up to him and asked him about it. He just ran his fingers through his short wiry hair and smiled before saying ‘What are you talking about? This is William Burroughs. You know, cut-up fiction. It’s an experimental type of writing which was popular among a few writers in the sixties. I’m doing my dissertation about it.’

Typical, I’d picked the one person in the library who was actually reading a proper book. After that, I was just too embarrassed to talk to anyone else. So, I got the bus back into town and ended up in my room again. I still had no idea what any of this even meant.

There was only one thing to do in a situation like this. Watch as much TV as I can until I came up with an idea. It had never failed to work for me before.

Of course, there was probably nothing but shitty daytime TV on at this time of the day. The usual formulaic gameshows, depressing news reports and sensationalist chat shows. It was tabloid television at it’s worst, but it was probably all that was on at the moment. I’d already got through my DVD collection a week or two ago and, well, desperate times call for desperate measures.

I foraged through the depths of the freezer for another microwave meal and eventually emerged with a lasagna which I’d bought a few weeks ago. As I stabbed it a few times and threw it into the microwave, I looked out of the kitchen window. A short, fat ginger cat sat on the fence opposite the window and stared at me. I smiled to myself and turned the microwave on before collapsing onto the sofa and reaching for the remote.

For all the creepy wooden models, deadly playing cards, dark cathedrals and possessed music shops – the one good thing about this world was the daytime TV. Although half of the channels showed nothing but static, the others were really fascinating. Especially the one which showed nothing but shifting geometric afterimage patterns. Yes, it looked like a screensaver of some kind or another, but there was the occasional strange face in the background. It probably had nothing to do with the case though.

Once my meal was done, I sat at the table and ate it in silence. Keeping my eyes on the TV, I started to notice something forming behind the patterns. It wasn’t a face and I don’t think that it was even a symbol either. But it was something. Reaching for my phone, I took three picture of it. Although the photos were grainy as hell, it was just about visible. Finally! Something here that could actually be photographed.

As for the thing itself, it was almost like a pyramid, but it seemed to exist in four dimensions and it was slightly rounder than any pyramid I’d seen before. Although it really didn’t look like a pyramid either. I couldn’t describe it. Just when I thought that I’d found a way to describe it, it changed. By now, I’d started taking a video of it on my phone.

Liminal Rites Animation 1

When I finally pulled my eyes away from the screen, it was getting dark outside. Maybe it was just a distraction for the sake of a distraction? But I sensed that it was something more. Something important. I guess, like with anything here, I probably wouldn’t find anything about it on the internet – but it wouldn’t hurt to look.

For once, it took me all of two minutes to find exactly what it meant.

Chapter Sixteen – Less Abstract

25 Jul

‘What?’ I said, leaning closer to Rosie.

‘There’s something going on with this world. The cathedral opening up is just the first sign. I’ve seen and studied that place at every hour of the day and it has never opened before.’ Her eyes got slightly wider.

‘Was there anything rare or valuable in there? Whoever hired me might have been looking for something…. Less abstract.’ I said.

‘Not really. Well, nothing you would be able to carry out of there – unless you had a lorry or something like that.’ Rosie smiled and sipped her tea.

The radio crackled again before the opening notes of “Gimme Shelter” echoed around the cafe. We were probably both looking in the wrong direction or at least I hoped we were. I absolutely hated those cheesy fantasy novels and sci-fi movies where someone ends up in a strange other world and has to save the planet or even, drumroll please, the universe itself!

Seriously, they’re just beyond contrived. They’re nothing more than the same story told in a thousand ways just to make powerless people feel powerful for an hour or two – like they’re a “chosen one” of some kind. But, and I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, Rosie had mentioned that this world was changing and it probably wasn’t for the better. No doubt that I’d have to find the wooden models’ one hidden weakness or some predictable bullshit like that.

No, I told myself, this was real life. It wasn’t a story or a film. Anything could happen and whatever happened would be more chaotic and messy than any film-maker or writer could dare to think about. Reality didn’t have a plot to it with a neat beginning, middle and end. Good didn’t always triumph over evil, cases could be left unsolved and, when it came to mysterious missions, we were much more likely to get it wrong than get it right. Still, it wouldn’t help to have someone with me.

I ordered another coffee and some more rose tea for Rosie before reaching into my jacket pocket and pulling out two hundred quid. Rosie raised an eyebrow as I slid it across the table to her. I just smiled and said: ‘I’d like to hire you, off the books, to help me out with this thing full-time for a couple of days.’

‘Well, I’d have done it for free. But, if you insist.’ She pocketed the money and smiled at me.

‘Anyway, you said that you’d never seen the wooden models before. They seem dangerous, but I don’t know. I mean, I thought that the you-know-what was perfectly harmless when I saw it for the first time.’ I mimed shuffling a deck of cards, Rosie just nodded.

‘Well, that’s the strange thing, when I saw the models for the first time – I didn’t feel anything. If you’ve been here long enough, you can usually get a good sense of anything pretty quickly. Either that, or I’m like one of those psychic phone lines which costs two quid a minute.’ She giggled and moved on to the new cup of tea.

‘So, you got nothing? So, there’s a chance that they might not be as evil as they appear to be.’ I said.

‘Not a clue. They could be anything.’ Rosie shrugged.

‘Well, we found them in the cathedral and I found them in the backroom of The Demon, which is near the cathedral – so it’s safe to assume for the moment that they are sticking to that particular area – or at least most of them are there. All we have to do is to work out why.’

Rosie sipped her tea in silence before finally saying ‘They’re either looking for something or they’re there to do something.’

‘They might not even be relevant to what we’re looking for, but I guess that we should take a closer look. I mean, it could at least give us a few clues.’

‘Yeah, I guess.’ Said Rosie as she finished her tea.

I finished my coffee again and said: ‘We’ll check it out later. If you’re half as tired as you look, you need a rest too.’

She smiled at me and nodded before saying ‘We could meet up here at nine tomorrow morning. I’ll see if I can find anything else in the meantime.’

‘Me too.’ I said.