De Profundis (Part II)

There was something wrong with his legs. No…with how he ran, perhaps? A curious, loping motion. The sun would have dipped and disappeared into the horizon, but she waited. She waited…

She waited….

For what, though? Why was she here? This was not the green meadow. It had no sunshine and the bees did not drone.

As far as her eyes could see, there was undulating grey earth. Lumpy and powdery-dry. Ashen and chalky. She was standing in what seemed to be a desert.

I’ve never been here before, she thought. What is this? Where am I?

The knoll was not a knoll but a dune. Something loped along it, but it was not her brother. Did she have a brother? What was that, coming toward her?

She observed the object come closer, bringing with it a sense of disjointedness, of unease. It went on all fours, like a dog. Yet, there was something about its body that was human.

I’m not quite sure what I should do, she thought. I don’t like it particularly, but what is it?

She stood in place and, as the creature came over the ridge into view, felt a building revulsion.  

It walked on its hands and knees and was completely naked and hairless. It stopped a small distance away from her, and arched its human back strongly, enough for its face, which was on the back of its head, to see her. It surveyed her at a distance, its queer eyes fixed on her own.

She steeled her nerves to steady her shaking limbs. I must be brave, she told herself. I must not run.

She might be able to know from this creature where she was and how she could get to the beach. She prepared to clear her throat, but it spoke first.

‘Have you seen my baggage?’ It asked.

‘I – I beg your pardon?’ she stuttered. The question was put so straightforwardly that it took her off guard.

‘My baggage. It wanders around. You need to avoid it. It can be far more boisterous than it intends to.’

‘Oh, I see’, she said, not seeing. ‘No, I haven’t seen anything. I just got here. Where am I, can you tell me?’

It looked at her coolly, arching its back to peer at her. For the first time, it smiled, and she could just glimpse a row of jagged teeth that were clearly sharpened into points.

‘You are at the only place you can be right now. Where do you want to go? That seems to be the more important question.’

She began to answer, and then paused. I have no idea, she wanted to say. All I know is I must find something. ‘I have to find…do… something important. I was along a beach…walking the shoreline. I think I want to go back to the beach.’

It listened quietly, and then shifted its weight from foot to foot, considering.

‘Where is this beach?’ It asked.

With anxiety that seemed to compound, she realised that it knew little more than she did.

‘I was there this evening. Before I was pulled down into the water by some sort of…hand, I guess.’

‘Were you, now?’ It asked, quizzically. Its smile widened. It made her nervous to look at its face. There was something unpleasant about the way it was tilted back. Something unpleasant about the way its body was contorted, about how gaunt it was. She could see all its teeth in the ashy light, sharpened to cruel spikes.

Before she could reply – she had intended to excuse herself and walk away to look for a way out herself – they both heard running footsteps behind her and she saw, in a blur of motion, an upright human figure, frighteningly fast, sprint into her field of view. She only just managed to raise her arms to brace herself before it bodily fell upon her. She screamed, and thought, They’re going to eat me now, this was their plan all along, and if only I’d known!

She squeezed her eyes tightly shut. The creature was on top of her, and she could hear its heavy, quick breathing. She braced every nerve in her body for the bite. Would it be her face, her neck? Or would it do something else more horrible?

When nothing happened after what seemed to be a long while, she opened her eyes.

The creature that sat on top of her was hideous. Its skin was wrinkled and loose, seemingly decayed even as it lived. Its hands looked human except for their claw-like appearance. Its face was bandaged all the way around, so that its head resembled one large mass of cloth. Beneath them, something seemed to ripple and move fluidly.

She looked at it in terror, and the laughter of the other creature broke her petrification.

‘This is my baggage! And how very strange. It seems to have some patience with you.’

The creature on all fours came up closer to peer at her over the shoulder of what it called its baggage. Now that she had taken its initial appearance in, she realised that the skin of the bipedal creature was dried and suppurating, pus oozing from some of the cracks.

She tried not to focus on this as it pinned her down by the shoulders. She couldn’t tell if it were staring at her through all those wrapped bandages, but she could feel a kind of gaze emanating from beneath them. The fixity of its attention, and her awareness of there being something beneath those wrappings – something that lurched and moved – added to her queasiness.

She tried to wriggle free, but the creature tightened its grip on her. She could feel the ash that lay on the ground smudging against her arms and dress.  

‘May I get up now?’ She asked.

The creature on all fours peering around the body of the baggage grinned at her again. ‘It says it might be able to help you get back to where you were.’

She blinked in surprise, trying not to show the relief that flooded her. Instead, she nodded vigorously, and a smile escaped her hold. ‘That would be very helpful.’

The baggage moved its head as if looking her over.

‘Can it see under all those…bandages?’ She asked.

‘See?’ The grin widened. ‘It doesn’t have to see. It knows.’

It touched the fabric of her skirt, lifting the train on it. Its fingers glided overt the silky gossamer and it smoothed it under its touch.

The grin of the creature diminished. ‘It says it would like that fabric’, it told her, jerking its head toward the baggage.

‘But that’s my dress’, she said.

The grin came back, wider than ever now. ‘You’ll need to give it something for aiding you. It won’t be free. It won’t be cheap.’

She considered this, smarting under its twisted grimace. ‘Better the fabric. Better the clothes’, it said. Then added in a lower tone, ‘Than anything else,’ and licked its lips.

She saw this last action and shuddered.

‘Okay’, she said, and began to unbutton her bodice.

Soon she was out of the dress, and only in her petticoat, which came to just above her ankles. She started to proffer the mass of fabric which she held, but stopped suddenly and said sharply, ‘I’m giving this to you, but how do I know that you won’t just take it and leave me here, or do something equally vile now that I will have given you what you want?’

‘One can never say’, the one that grinned replied. ‘Such is life. Do you have a choice?’

The bipedal creature, however, was considering her quietly, and did not take its gaze off of her. It came closer to her, walking jerkily, almost bird-like, until it was at eye level with her. Then it used one of its claw-like digits to open a dried-up crack in the loose skin on its shoulder.

Blood began to ooze out of the cut, blood that was more black than red. She tried to take a step back, visibly showing her disgust now. Before she could move her foot, the creature caught hold of her by the back of her neck. Its grip was like a vice. It was strong, and pulled her face up to the cut. In the suddenness of it, her delayed resistance did little for her. She tried to flail her arms, but the creature was so strong, her feeble kicks and swings did not even make it flinch.

Her face was forced into the slimy crevice, her mouth rubbed against it. She did not scream because she did not want to open her mouth at that that instant to the oozing fluid. The blood smeared her face.

She could hear the grinning creature from somewhere to her right – she could hear its taunting rictus in its voice as it spoke – ‘You must drink. If you want to go back’, and still she resisted. The baggage’s hands never tired, it held her fast. Finally, after a few moments, she licked. The blood continued to flow, trickling down her chin. She swallowed some and tried not to retch. It tasted warm, but not of iron. Instead, it was as if she were drinking mud. It tasted of earthy, clay-like soil. Her stomach was unsettled, but she kept her composure well enough to prevent herself from vomiting.

In a few seconds, the creature relaxed its arms as abruptly as it had caught hold of her, and she fell to the ground.

The one that grinned came up, arched its back and angled its head to look down at her. You don’t have to go through with it, you know? You can stay here. There’s lots to do here. The grin spread farther across its emaciated face, and it passed a greyish tongue over its sharpened teeth.

She coughed quietly, trying to forget the earthy taste that lingered in her mouth.          

‘Why am I still here? You said it would get me out.’

The baggage bent its head over her once again. It had wound her dress around its shoulders and arms.

Its skin…, she thought to herself. Its skin looked different. Or was that just a trick of the light?

Keeping its head motionless and still – she felt that its gaze was constantly on her – it began unwrapping the bandages that covered its face. She looked at its actions, horrified but transfixed.

She heard a scared whimper and turned her head briefly to see that the grinning creature had scampered away. It faced away from them and used its hands to cover its contorted face as it bowed over.

She turned her face back toward the baggage and watched as the bandages fell away. Beneath, its skin pulsed and moved with frightening vitality.

Finally, it came upon the last, thin layer of cloth. Slowly, it peeled it off, and she could hear, in the very motion of it, whispers that became louder and louder, until they were screams, and her vision became an orange glow that swirled and grew brighter and brighter until it engulfed the world.

She heard a million voices, like buzzing in a hive. She tried to cover her ears against the loud invasiveness of it, but she realised that they came from inside her. They came like waves, out of some dark and deep recess and engulfed her being. As she found herself carried up and away in their torrent, she could hear snatches of words, of sobbing and screaming, laughing. A baby’s cry, and a death rattle. She listened to battle orders, pleading, and lullabies. A priest’s confession, a thief’s redemption. In the cacophony, came another voice. She knew this one, and the feeling of recognition and sudden, cold consciousness was jarring. She turned her attention toward it. It repeated a phrase over and over, louder and louder, until it drowned out all other voices in a scream. ‘Wake up’, it shouted. ‘Wake up!’

To be continued…

Published by questingpotato

An incurable culture addict, I live inside my head most of the time and occasionally visit the internet for supplies, only to hunker down once again and think. The products of this cloistered calling include weekly reviews (on just about any media), half-decent articles when I wax philosophical, and many very spontaneous opinions, unsolicited and freely given, thank you. Occasionally I will rant.

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