There’s . . . [clears throat] . . . There’s something very wrong with me. I don’t know what it is. I just . . . I just don’t understand it. I suppose . . . If I really think about it, it all started when I went to the toilet. No. Not like that. Well, actually, yes. I was having a wee. But it was what happened after. That’s when I had that first funny feeling. It came out of nowhere. I’m . . . I’m trying to think what the trigger was. What made me . . . Change so suddenly. And for the life of me, I can’t think of a bloody thing. It actually pisses me off. Quite a bit. And also leaves me . . . Somewhat scared. It came over me like a . . . Like a delicate spiderweb just softly falling down and wrapping itself around me. I was none the wiser and things just changed. It was like . . . Like a force was within me. Someone . . . No, definitely not someone. Something within me. Telling me what to do and feel and think. But in a fraction of a second. There were no thoughts. Or ponderings. It just happened. Go there. Do this. Have a look at this tile. Touch it. No. Not like that. See. Now you’ve been thrown into the opposite wall. I told you that was the wrong way. Yes. Like that. Now take out the secret futuristic gun you’ve never seen in your life before. Yes. You know about it. Well. Not really. I know about it. Whatever I am. And I’m somehow controlling you right now. Whether you want me to or not. And now we’re going to put the tile back in its proper place. Make it look like it was never touched. This way no one will know. And now its time to go on a killing spree. Let’s start murdering people, shall we? Oh no. You don’t get a say in the matter. It’s all out of your hands, so to speak. But very much in your head and . . . Beyond your control. And off we go then in search of our first victim. And who just happens to be looking around Ostium, in search of a way out? An escape. A means of egress? One of them. A helpless young man who has no fucking clue what the hell is going on. A perfect first victim. So let’s follow him and see what he’s up to then? Give you a pretense that you’re in some sort of control of your faculties – but really you’re not. Oh good. There he is. Cornered. And now he’s seen you. Which is going to provoke a reaction. And you’re left with only one option. Shoot the poor helpless retch. Didn’t that feel good? No? It didn’t? Doesn’t bloody matter. You have no control. No say in the matter. Let’s move along then.
And inside I feel like I’m being both torn apart and squashed into an infinitesimal ball of nothingness. And there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. I just . . . I just want to bloody give up.
The killing spree doesn’t end with a single death. Wouldn’t be much of a spree then, would it? I go through door after door, at times wondering if I’ll ever return to Ostium and be free of this controlling curse. Sometimes I am sort of myself, feeling I have some authority over my being and my mind. And yet . . . In the back of my brain there is a sense that I know this is not true; it is not my current reality. I am little more than a toy, a puppet. Whether I am Punch or Judy remains to be seen, but has little bearing on this new existence. Resistance, as one Captain Jean Luc Picard let us know when he had been taken over by the alien race known as the Borg, is futile. So the doors come and go, and so do the men that soon become bodies. Corpses. Stiffs. Victims of the business end of the laser gun I am forced to point at them and fire. I feel a little piece of me die inside with each death. Each murder. Because I know it’s something I can’t take back. No matter how much I might want to. And even if I wasn’t my full and conscious self, it was my hand that held the gun; my arm that held it steady; my finger that pulled the trigger.
That first kill. When it made me drag the body through the door to into the casino building on Catalina and left it in the cinema. In the chair. As a parting gift for Jake and Monica. Even though I wasn’t physically doing it; I wasn’t in control of myself by any means, in that roomy larder at the back of my mind I was aware. I was very bloody aware of what I was doing. Screaming, biting, scratching, spitting . . . Doing fucking anything to get a reaction, to get something of myself back. No effect. Nothing happened. Did fuck all. And I had to just suffer through it. When it – using my body – carefully placed the corpse of Richard Kahling, knowing full well what it was doing for those who would eventually see it. I knew as soon as we came into the cinema. Recognized where I was and then realized what it was making me do. Nothing I could do to stop it. It was beyond terrible. It was agony.
And now I’m standing here, sort of myself. And I have no clue when I’m not going to be me again; when it’s going to extend its talon-like fingers and take over again. But let me get to where I left off first and clue everyone in on what the fuck is exactly going on here. To the best of my ability, that is.
That last time. Going through the spaceship or space station – whatever it was, I still don’t know for certain – I felt more aware and in charge of myself than I’d felt in a long time.
The thing that takes over me, as I said before, I have no clue what it is. What it consists of. Whether it has a corporeal form, whether it’s supernatural, or on what plain it possibly exists. It’s beyond my ken in any shape or form. Even after everything I’ve read about and learned through the truly enriching experience that is the Enigmatic Mysteries of the Unknown, and in turn, Ostium. But I’ve been thinking. Trying to wrap my mind around what this thing might be; where it might have come from. What its origin, its genesis is. I know this is something Jake is very good at, and I honestly wish he was here with me now. He must be somewhere, right? If he’s alive, of course. I have no bloody clue. I do know, or at least I think I know that I’m alive. As far as Jake is concerned . . . Well, any proof remains to be seen. However, things look pretty fucking bleak right now in regards to one Jake Fisher. But the thing. The entity. It’s got to be a part of Ostium. A part of the foundation of this . . . World, for lack of a better word. Because Ostium is its own contained self; its own existence and reality. There’s nowhere else like it. Nowhere else where these specific rules apply and don’t at the same time. Does the entity exist because Ostium seems to be something good and pure that takes you to these magical places in time and space? If there is to be this good, there must be a balance in the bad. The evil. Hence the possible loss of life that Jake has hinted at may be related to Ostium. The radiation cloud that killed so many of my fellow people. The earthquakes and tsunamis; the other devastations. And now . . . There’s me. Going on a murderous rampage.
It’s got to be related to the blackness. Jake has always described it as something sinister and dooming, even if he’s never let the blackness actually take him. Until he did. Until it took us. And it seems that’s the end of that. But then there’s also what Monica has seen and experienced. The screams. The ghoulish sounds. The banshees . . . There seems to be either a lot of somethings at work here, trying to fuck everyone over, or one big bad guy or bad thing running the show. My thoughts lean towards the latter.
But I really need to get back to talking about what just happened to me. I can tell I’ve been avoiding it. Leading up to it and then going on perpetual tangents. Talking about anything but the so-called gorilla in the room. Or is that a bull in a china shop? I blasely talk about how saddened I am by the loss of Jake when the blackness took him, but I was fucking there. I saw it take him . . . Just as the blackness took me.
Monica went through the door without Jake, presumably ended up back in Ostium to continue her particular timeline without this Jake in it, but in that other one there was her Jake, the one she was carrying on her shoulder. And on the other side she played it cool, kept her shit together, and I suppose continued on as if everything was normal and fine as can be in Ostium . . . And there I fucking go again. Another tangent.
Bloody focus Dave! Keep it together mate. You need to. For your own bloody sanity.
Okay. As I said, an inordinately long time ago, I felt more in control of my faculties than I had in a long while. Going through the metal doors on that ship or station. And then seeing that strange museum of the future. And on the other side of the room: Jake and Monica. Actually, to be more precise: one Monica and two Jakes, one unconscious. They were talking very closely. Almost intimately, I thought. And then they reached their monumental decision. The blackness was loud and encroaching at this point. I knew I was completely and utterly fucked. So I just stood there and watched them. I’d already given up. And just as I watched Monica step through, I could feel the entity sinking its claws into my mind, once again taking over me. Was that because the blackness was so close? If this entity is somehow linked with the blackness, then that would make sense, however after all the times its taken over me before, the blackness has never seemed to be impending. So why should it be any different this time?
Okay. Time for the hard part. The bit I’ve been unable able to really describe to myself yet.
I suppose if the entity starts to take over me at any point now as I’m describing this experience, I’ll have a pretty good idea that it’s either related to the blackness and/or it doesn’t want me to fully know what happened to me. Okay. Here goes.
The last thing I saw was Jake watching Monica go through, and I was so confused. Then the blackness came over me. I couldn’t see it, not even out of the corners of my eyes, because my focus was on Jake.
It was cold to begin with. Incredibly. Like if you’ve ever fallen through ice into semi-frozen water. I personally never have, but I know there are plenty of blokes who have, and I can at least imagine how extremely bloody cold it must be. The sheer shock to your system. It must be paralyzing. That’s what this felt like. Absolutely and completely paralyzing. It wasn’t quick either. Like a cold thick liquid. A frozen blanket that’s spent the last day in the freezer and is now enveloping you. Me being shit-scared didn’t help either. As it folded over my head with its cold weight I made the decision to close my eyes and mouth. I didn’t know – and I still don’t – if this would help prevent the blackness for getting inside of me, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I put my hands over my face, covering my eyes, nose and mouth, and stuck my thumbs in my ears. Must’ve looked like a right sight. But at that moment it was all about attempted self-preservation.
The weight and cold pulled me down and I let it; had no choice really. I fell down onto my knees, crouching, curling myself, putting my head between my thighs and trying my best to become a ball-shaped human. No particular reason, it just occurred to me in the moment. Seemed like the safe thing to do. Whether it was or wasn’t, it worked. I felt myself getting squashed down, smaller and smaller under this suffocating cold weight. It started to feel a bit like in a dream where you feel you’re falling and spiraling even if you’re on solid ground. There was definitely a surreal sense to it; like reality was starting to blend with something else and I was unsure of what was actually happening to me. It felt like I was starting to turn around, even though I could still feel the floor pushing onto my knees and feet. And because it felt like my body was starting to spin, it made it feel like my mind was spinning. Then I got a horrific image in my head. From watching too many creepy Saturday morning cartoons where the spider is rolling up a fly or some other insect food in its web, spinning it round incredibly fast. Was I the insect food for whatever was being done to me?
Just when it felt like I couldn’t be squashed down anymore; that I was about to be turned into nothingness, or just go splat like a stepped on pea; the weight just disappeared. It was gone. The weight and the cold. In a second, or the blink of an eye, if I’d had either eye open. I waited. For a number of minutes. Counted to a hundred. Then did it again, just to be sure. I didn’t hear anything. Could still feel the floor below me, so that hadn’t changed. Fortunately. This was where I turned into a complete kid. I slowly got up: sitting up until I was on my haunches, then rising to my feet, while my eyes were shut tight, my hands still covering my face. Not wanting to see anything. Not wanting to see the truth. Wanting to keep hiding from everything and just hoping it would all go away.
Of course, it wouldn’t, but I eventually made myself brave enough the spread my fingers and look between them at a . . . A different world. I slowly took my hands away from my face and stared at something that just didn’t seem possible. It was all very dark, like it was nighttime. But the buildings all had this white luminescent glow around them, like an outline, or a tracing. That was why I didn’t really recognize myself at first. And then worked out what the buildings were; put two and two together. I was somehow back in Ostium. The shapes of the buildings all made sense, especially with the doors being outlined. And there were the numbers all lit up to. It felt like I was in some magical place: a Harry Potter world, perhaps, or Disneyland. But then my mind turned to darker thoughts, that were also more accurate. This whole thing also reminded me of that bit in the Lord of the Rings films. The ones by the kiwi, Peter Jackson. I’m talking about the scenes not where Frodo is constantly fondling that ring – which he does way to fucking often, in my honest opinion, talk about his bloody precious – but the scenes when he actually puts the ring on and everything turns into a sort of extremely haunted dream place. All the edges and lines are blurry. That’s what this felt like. Fortunately, there wasn’t a giant bloody scary eye looking for me. Nor any Nazgul. At least not at the moment.
Cautiously, I started walking around. I wasn’t in a particularly recognizable place in Ostium, meaning the front gate wasn’t in sight, and neither was the clock tower. But I was still in the areas with the buildings. I started walking down one of the streets, not really sure where I was going. In my mind I told myself I wanted to find the clock tower, since that was a door I knew would definitely open for me. It was the one guarantee in Ostium, really. The silence was . . . Bloody weird. I know this was an alternate Ostium. Maybe on another plane of existence or in another dimension. But I didn’t expect it to be quite so ominously quiet. And I’m not talking about there being no loud or even audible sounds nearby. I mean more like someone had turned the volume knob all the way down to zero, and I was now, for all intents and purposes, deaf, apparently. I tested it. Got to be empirical about this after all, don’t we? It’s what Jake would want, isn’t it? So I walked up to the nearest building and reached out for the wall of blackness. I could see it was a wall because of the white glowing outline, but the actual wall itself was all black, like there was nothing there. Nevertheless, I reached out, almost thinking my hand was going to pass through it completely, since it was all black after all . . . But no. I felt the wall. The wood, the texture, the solidity of it. It was all very real, even if I couldn’t see it. I even knocked on it and heard that sound, even if it seemed muffled, like I had cotton wool in my ears.
So where the bloody hell was I?
The blackness had come over me but hadn’t killed me. It’d . . . What? Transported me to this elsewhere place? Was that always what it did? Or was this something usual? Was it supposed to kill me, but things got muddled up somehow? Yeah. That’s right likely. Because I’m special. Just like Jake. Keep dreaming, mate. But what did this mean for me then? I felt . . . Whole again honestly. Like I was myself, and in control of myself. Fully me for the first time in ages. Had that blackness caused some effect with the entity that’d been controlling me? I wasn’t feeling anything right now, which wasn’t to say I wouldn’t in any moment, but this did feel different. I felt different. More in control. Maybe it was because of where I was. In this . . . Bloody strange place, where things were anything but what they were supposed to be. I joked about another plain or dimension, but maybe it was the truth. This was all ever so different. So why not then? Why couldn’t I be magically free of that menace?
I stopped suddenly. I swore I’d heard something. I stayed perfectly still, trying my best not to move, imagining the hearing abilities of my ears reaching out in all directions like little satellite dishes, trying to pick up the sound I thought I heard, or trying to prove I wasn’t a complete plonka and hadn’t heard a bloody thing. No. No. There it was again. Shuffling footsteps. Could definitely hear them now. I started tiptoeing towards them. I was curious, but still terrified. I suppose there was always a very small chance it was Monica, but anything else usually meant something shitty. So this time I was going to be extra special careful. I quietly went down an alley and got close to the next main street. The footsteps were a lot closer now. I made it to the corner and counted to five, trying to keep my breathing even and as quiet as possible. When I’d made myself brave enough to do something, which I expected was just before I started legging it in the complete opposite direction, I stuck my head out around the corner to see what was making those oh-so-noticeable footstep sounds.
I didn’t know who or what it was at first. What with the little amount of light there was in this place, being able to recognize what this actually was was going to bloody tricky. I was pretty sure it was human. A person. Walking up the street. No clue who it might be. Definitely no one I recognized. He or she was pretty short in stature. The upper part of the body was hunched over, not because they were holding something but more that was just their shape. Possibly due to old age. Or a disability. It made me think the person might be a geriatric, an octogenarian, or a centenarian perhaps? Had they received their letter from the queen? They kept disappearing in shadow and then appearing again with a bit of light, but for such a short time, it was really hard to see what they looked like. I could barely tell what they were wearing. It looked thick and heavy. But it was pretty bloody cold in this strange realm, so that only made sense. He or she was also wearing heavy trousers that looked too big for them. And heavy clomping about boots. That’s why I was able to hear them so well. Now that I was closer, I could hear the person breathing. Like everything else, it was asexual, but consistent. Like they were tired after a long walk or run, or they were sick in some way . . . Or they were just bloody old. Wheezing was just a way of life for them now.
All probable possibilities. And as I felt myself gag over that horrible piece of alliteration I saw the figure stop. Quite suddenly. Like they too had heard something . . . Or someone. I held my breath. I hadn’t made a sound, had I? The cold enveloping me and turning me into a statue. I felt my heart stop along with the rest of my body. An impossibility I know, but then this whole place was an impossibility.
The figure’s breath had changed. They’d definitely noticed something. Something that’d made them come to a dead stop. I heard a phlegmy clearing of the throat. Then the person started to turn around towards where I was. There was the creaking of sinews and cartilage; the cracking of old bones. I don’t know how I heard this, but I did so clearly in the dead silence. The head of the person was hooded. Arms reached up and from the holes of the sleeves appeared white, gnarled, ancient hands. The fingers arthritic and claw shaped. The old hands reached up and grasped the edges of the hood.
I was about to be shown who or what was beneath the hood. But I wasn’t going to give it a chance. My bravery had evaporated like a frail drop of water on a hot day. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I turned and ran as fast as I could. I had no bloody clue where I was going. The chances of that thing following me and actually catching up with me seemed impossible. It acted really old, seemed bloody ancient. I was probably safe. But I’ve never been one to depend on the promise of probabilities, especially when the chances of the fucking impossible happening exist. I also never wanted to find out what was beneath that hood. To say it was the stuff of nightmares was . . . Quintessentially accurate.
I didn’t know where I was now; what part of Ostium. But it wasn’t any different from before, so I wasn’t that bothered. I gave myself a good five minutes to fully catch my breath. Then a little longer to try and calm down. And then I heard those bloody footsteps again. Getting louder. And closer. How in the fuck? But I wasn’t going to miss my cue when it was this bloody blatant.
I had to get the hell out of here. I needed to get away from this nightmare place. This alternate, bizarro Ostium.
And there was really only one way I could do that.
I started running again, wondering which one I should try. And then like a heavenly sign; a shining star to guide the three kings, I saw the door with the number 2 on it, all glowy and inviting. It was a sign, if ever there was one.
You know the saying? Yes, the one I’m making up on the spot right at this moment: go back to the beginning, because that’s where you’ll find a way out.
You know it makes sense.
I grasped the handle, hearing the footsteps again now. This time it had only been only seconds and the thing had almost caught up with me. I wasn’t going to waste any more time. Praying, I turned the handle and the door opened I little. I threw it open to a blinding white light and part of me really wanted to see: 1) how close this creepy person was to me, and 2) if this light was having any effect on them. It felt so good and pure and strong and so the opposite of this place. But I couldn’t afford to take that chance and waste any more time.
Letting go of the handle, I dove through the incandescent doorway, throwing the door closed behind me as I fell and landed . . .
. . . On solid ground. It wasn’t too hard. A bit soft actually. Kind of springy I’d say, if I had to describe it. I opened my eyes and the first thing I saw was greenery. It was the ground. And it was green. I shot up like a rocket and saw I was in forest full of life and color and vitality. Definitely not the devoid of life place I just was in. I looked back at the door and actually shouted in surprise when I saw there was no door. It was bloody gone. Oh shit. What did that mean? The way back was gone . . . Yes, the way back to that place I never wanted to go again. I suppose that wasn’t so bad then. Also, as a bonus: the fucking terrifying thing wouldn’t be following me here. Definitely advantage Dave with that one. Actually, let’s just call it game, set and match.
I started walking towards a wooden wall that looked very familiar. There was the tree with those three letters. Yep. Indeed I’d come back to the beginning. I was back in Roanoke. Again.
And the usual door for getting out of this place didn’t exist anymore. This was going to be interesting then. But it wasn’t the first conundrum I’d gotten myself into, and probably wouldn’t be the last either.
I walked through the opening in the wall and surveyed the inside of the hamlet. Everything was just as I’d left it and presumably as Jake and Monica had left it too, during their own individual journeys here. The fire pit looked like . . . It was still being used. There was wood in it, burning nicely, a smoke plume curling away into the sky. That meant someone was here.
And for the first time in a long while I remembered I still had the gun and I knew how to use it.
I hesitantly took it out of my pocket, worried that the entity was going to be taking over me again; coming out of bloody nowhere. I waited. It didn’t happen. I waited a little longer. Still nothing happened. Finally, I emptied my lungs. I could only deal with one heart-attack inducing stressful problem at a time.
I had to find who or what was here, lighting a fire apparently.
I went to the first building. The door was ajar. Actually more open than that. Just open enough for me to slip through without making a sound. I took a deep breath, pretended my tummy took up less room, and slipped into the house.
Inside it was quite dark. There was a table and chairs. On the table was a lit lamp; there was oil in the bottom of it, keeping the flame going. It gave just enough light to reveal the man on the other side of the room. He was turned away from me, looking at something on the wall. Staring at it as if it was something very important to him. He was taller than me, black hair. He could probably put up a decent fight, which was why the first thing I did was point the gun at him.
In a shaky voice I asked a simple question: “Who the fuck are you then?”