Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Message

      The message came to him in a dream that he was unconvinced was merely fiction. It had the vivid quality of an experience happening in present time, not the hazy quality of a dream that felt like a movie remembered rather than a movie watched. Come to Centralia. It's here waiting for you. What was waiting for him? Everything my life was ever worth. It's in my study. In this book. Come to Centralia and open it. But Centralia was burning from the inside out. It had been for the past decade. But something about the way Darian's uncle beckoned him and showed him images from inside the old house in Centralia in his dream felt more like a demand than a request, and one not worth ignoring.

      Regret settled on Darian's chest like a boulder crafted from horror-movie-fears and paranoia. The street leading up to Centralia, Pennsylvania had a hellish smoldering crack splitting it apart so that his car could go no further. He bundled up his coat and continued on foot. A deep, unsettling silence almost made Darian feel as if he'd gone deaf. The town was coated in a murky haze mixed from soot, snow, and low-hanging clouds. Despite this obscuring fog, every detail Darian could see jumped out in startlingly detail. Every flake of snow glinted sharply, every outline of a building or tree had a depth of spirit that Darian could swear had manifested itself into reality within every leaf, every inch of stucco, and every roof tile. Where the snowflakes met steam from the burning strip mine under the cracks of earth, they melted into rain before hitting the ground and sizzling away.
      He almost couldn't remember the incident that claimed the life of his uncle anymore, Darian realized as his feet crunched on the dirt path of the main street in town. He had been young enough that the loss didn't hurt him his the way it did his mother, and he had adjusted to a new town after the evacuation with ease. Yet, his feet seemed to know exactly where he was going. Not even the unfamiliar piles of rubble blocking parts of the road deterred him. He turned left at the church whose walls were peeling away. Not a single stained glass window remained intact, and the door was carelessly boarded up. He stopped to look up from the base of the steep stairs when suddenly his right foot started to feel hot. He looked down and saw a filmy white liquid pool at the base of the stairs touching one of his shoes. And then the rubber started melting away and smoking.
      Darian reached down and violently ripped off the shoe as a nauseating panic rose into his throat. He tossed the shoe away and watched the rubber and fabric disintegrate into nothing. The side of his foot was red and blistered. He gazed up from the viscous pool and saw that streams of the stuff was sliding down deep gulleys in the stair case, which was cracking and crumbling away around the edges of the canyons. He leaned over and peered into one of the gulleys in which the liquid flowed and thought he could see straight through to the burning strip mine underneath, a glowing red sliver peaking through the crack in the earth.
      He hurried on with surprising speed, considering his blisters and lack of footwear. But the adrenaline coursing through him said to get out as soon as possible. He took a right at the school, which had a hundred black, empty windows staring out at him. No one had been there for years and years, but he couldn't shake the feeling that he was being watched. He started jogging, his steps uneven and his foot aching. Finally his uncle's house seemed to burst out of the concealing haze and without rational thought he slammed into the front door, thinking it barricaded, as if he were trying to escape a pursuer, but it swung open with little effort and he tumbled into the house face first with an aching shoulder.
      Behind him the door slammed shut, and a suffocating darkness settled. With shaking breath Darian stumbled through the house, his fingertips gliding along the wall, making his way up a staircase. Something pushed him forward, something he couldn't place his finger on, even though everything else inside of him was screaming to leave.
      The door to the study creaked open at he neared it and he slid inside. There were shelves upon shelves of books that smelled old and musky. A heavy black dust was layered on everything. There were books flung cross the floor in various states of deterioration, yet despite the hundreds of options, Darian found the book his uncle had showed him in his dream. It was thick and leather bound. He pulled it out slowly, his hands shaking, his pulse rapid, and flipped it open. It was hollow on the inside, and contained a piece of folded up paper.
      Darian unfolded it and squinted to try read it in the dark. There was one sentence: You never found me. The book melted in his hands and he felt the thick, viscous liquid eat away at his palms. His screaming couldn't drown out the sounds of dripping as all the books started to slide away into corrosive puddles on the floor. Darian tried to run but the door to the study slammed shut. And no one ever found him.

Author's Note:

      I feel like if for some reason Chris Wooding ever reads my blog, he's going to notice that I steal the first names of all his characters. Oops. Anyway, this is a 2014 hybrid fiction piece that I wrote combining a quote from the book Ice by Anna Kavan about a deserted town being eaten away by a white corrosive liquid, and the fact that Silent Hill was based on a real town in Pennsylvania named Centralia that's been burning from the inside out for over 50 years. I'm such a sucker for horror stories.

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