Extract from Hush

October 13th, 2000 • Posted in Extracts |

He cannot tear his gaze from the dead man.

Even though terror is bearing down inexorably upon them, still the body grips his attention. The corpse has fallen to the crawling ground, and has started to disintegrate. Darting shapes – ant-like things, big as scorpions, made of blood – nip at the exposed flesh. They burrow into the wound at the back of the cadaver’s neck and bear away gory morsels. The body’s cells seem possessed of a sudden repulsive energy, their binding properties reversed by this perverse domain until their very molecules rip apart in a cloudy red haze. In a matter of seconds the dead man has ceased to be an individual. Now, he is a swarm.

He turns away from the sight as something brushes his arm. He spins around, but the movement is instantly transmuted into a dive by the unnatural geomotries of this place. He thrusts out his hands, certain that they will be seized by the swarm and undone in a bloody frenzy.

Above him – if one can use such a term in a place such as this – “up” where darkness pirouettes endlessly, something is stirring.

A hand catches his arm and jerks him upright. The woman with the knife passes her hand in front of his face, disturbing a shimmer of motes in the air and casting black rainbows across his vision.

“He’s gone,” she signals. “It is coming… Priorities.”

He nods, feeling as if his brain is a loose ball-bearing rebounding off the inner planes of his skull. He yearns for the luxury of a scream, a cathartic bellow of rage and madness, but if he opens his mouth all that seething life will flood in unchecked. Besides, he has no breath.

Something appalling is almost upon them, something terrifyingly awesomely malevolent. Without a heart to beat faster or flowing blood to run cold, his body stiffens into a parody of terror: hands hooked as claws before his chest, eyes bulging.

The woman tries to sign to him but she too is gripped by the icy vice of dread. Her hand springs open and the knife falls away, or descends at least, and is immediately lost to sight.

The whole group stare fearfully in the same direction, the Citadel at their back the only reference point. They can see nothing but the gluey darting thickness surrounding them. They can sense the pressure building, though. A gentle shove comes first, rocking them on their feet; then a kick, a full-force explosion that sends them hurtling backwards.

From out of the corner of his eye – his vision distorted by the tricks played by this realm’s skewed light – he sees one of the men calmly gutting himself as they tumble back, repelled by the bow-wave of the approaching terror. The man’s innards snake out, blood pluming into the dense air like strands of dead sperm.

Then the entity arrives, looming – or maybe gathering – out of the seething air. The gigantic thing surges on, and with every blink he thinks it is upon them. But it takes an age to arrive. An age in which the woman beside him opens her mouth to scream and swallows a thrashing shape studded with glistening barbs and grappling hook-like shapes. She gags, her eyeballs bulge- then erupt from their sockets, to be followed by twisting spumes of flowing mucus which themselves seem to be swimming with lidless, black eyes.

He tries to look away before the creature – or swarm of creatures – reverses its journey, but still he witnesses the cascade of red and purple and pink as she is turned inside out.

Her body bumps the ground (“Down”? Where is “down”? What is “down”?) and quickly dissolves away, though her innards remain hanging grotesquely in the air. Seconds later, they slap across the surface of the approaching terror and remain where they strike, like smashed flies on a black, reflective windscreen.

He catches a full glimpse of the terror then, a wall of blackness on which colours play like oil across water, endlessly flowing. Some of the colours he knows, yet others are so alien as to register only blankness in the visual centres of his cortex. The thing fills all the angles of his vision, expanding up and around the remains of the team, a giant bubble enveloping them, changing and billowing. For an instant before it hits they see their reflections along its shiny, living, dreadfully sentient surface.

The thing sweeps unstoppably over them, driving a man and a woman into each other’s arms, blending them as they are driven beneath the surface before they burst asunder in a gush of red. He is still trying to scream, still trying to expunge the filth and the pain from his convulsing body. The entity scrapes his skin, tearing chunks of his flesh away with barbed hooks, ripping his clothes and shredding them from his body. He tries to force his hands down to protect his genitals, but feels them grabbed and held by something slippery and cold.

He bounces. His rucksack absorbs some of the impact, flinging him up again into backward flight and forcing him clear of the passing mountain of madness. He looks down and sees a man grabbing onto his lower legs, eyes wide and teeth locked into an insane grimace.

He is still tumbling, distance and direction exchanging places, spinning his senses all around. The ground grasps at him with greedy claws, but the great wake left by the horror drags him from its tearing hands. He bounces again and reaches down, trying to grasp onto whatever he has bounced from, eager to feel anything solid in this maelstrom.

His hand closes around a shape and draws it to his face: it is a rat-faced, offal-limbed obscenity its multifaceted eyes glimmering with cool intelligence. Its fangs are enormous, chipped, newly reddened. He flings the creature away from him and it explodes into a cloud of tiny bat-things before disappearing altogether in the haze. He feels his momentum slowing. The rucksack is tugging him down, recognising gravity as, perhaps, an animate being cannot.

At last, a halt. The surface beneath him is a transluscent black mirror, like volcanic glass. He sees his own shadow, looks away quickly. Too unsettling. He examines his body, noting the slashes in his skin that do not bleed. He grabs for his genitals, glad at least to feel them whole.

To his left, the man with the manic grin is rolling across the black glass. He comes to a stop and kneels quickly.

“Rush? Rush? Rushing? Where’s my head? Have you seen my head? I ate it, so it went well.” The man is signalling frantically, words and phrases tangling together.

He crawls to the madman and grabs the sides of his head, trying to stare some sense into him.

Eventually, the man calms himself slightly. He has lost a layer of skin from his face, and looks grotesquely sunburned.

He signals to Sunburn: “The Citadel. There.” Pointing at the slowly turning mile-high spectacle. “We go there, now. You and me. Okay?”

Sunburn nods, fingers twisting at his side. “But my head!”

“You’re fine. You still have your head. Anyone else left?”

They peer around together and see… no one.

Nothing.

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