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The Witch & The Wedding Gift

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Martin sat quietly in the car as he waited for his partner to arrive. They were both detectives and Robert had been sent to meet with an old woman who, it was believed, would offer the information necessary to solve a crime. Robert had furiously worked for many weeks to find out who the Wyttick woman was. He had heard her name in hushed whispers throughout the ranks of London for some years but had never realised why she had the reputation she had. In particular, there was an order of heroin addicts who occupied a derelict tower block in central London who had first led him to the woman.

Robert had once gained a vital piece of information and wormed his way slowly through the building with its rancid stained walls and cracked flaking paint. Rats scuttled away around each corner that he turned and the elevator had used condoms filled with yellow spunk flung haphazardly against the wall. He had entered the place solely to follow up on a lead but became increasingly concerned as to why no other police officer showed any interest in entering the place. It was clearly a hive of crime. As he had shuffled carefully along some of the hallway towards the specific flat he had remit to enter he noticed a door creak open. From it emerged the face of a fat spotty teenage girl—Robert would have guessed she was around fourteen—who leered at him with a cracked smile and missing teeth.

He tried to ignore her but he had to pass by to reach the door and when he did she leapt forward and rubbed her hand against the back of his coat. She cackled hilariously and slammed the door shut. Robert reached behind him and felt a wet substance matted against the fabric of his coat. He brought it to his nose and wretched immediately from the smell. His fingers were coated in a pale translucent substance troubled by spots of blood. Its smell was hauntingly familiar and the action left him feeling violated.

He could hear the child howl with laughter from behind the door. There were other voices too.

She was no older than his daughter, but he couldn’t stop. He had to move forward, and when he did finally reach his target and kick the door down he found an emaciated young woman of around nineteen with a lingering pulse. It was as Robert tried to resuscitate her that the life within faded into nothingness. Her pale blue eyes never once glanced up or fixed themselves upon Robert during the final moments. As he cradled her naked and bruised flesh he had tried to wrap his coat around her for warmth; looking over her emaciated frame he initially assumed she was a heroin addict who might have been able to assist him in his murder investigation. But as he stared at her it became clear. Despite the gummy mouth and missing teeth, the branded scars, and the painful sagging eyes, this girl was the missing medical student he had been looking for. The injuries, both internal and external, were the calling cards of a serial killer who had stalked the country during the last few years.

She proceeded to expire in Robert’s arms. And as he stumbled out of the block clutching her in his arms with a tremendous sense of loss and anger he saw the wretched greasy little face of the ugly child emerge once more. She looked for a moment as though she were prepared to throw something at him—something that Robert could not see—but when she glimpsed the young girl she leant back and said:

“Ask Mrs. Wyttick ‘bout that,” and disappeared immediately.

Recognising the name Robert had pressed his older partner, Martin, about the woman. It had taken weeks but Martin had finally revealed that the woman, through means totally unknown, would be able to offer information to anyone who knew a certain phrase and was willing to pay a price. Robert had initially jumped into the car weeks later—ready to make the drive up to Glasgow—with a wad of twenty pound notes. But Martin had sighed and reached across, and looking Robert in the eye, he made it clear that the price would be something altogether unique to that individual.

Martin was now sat in the car having driven to Glasgow in a single day and waited patiently. It had been a full eight hours when he felt a sudden vibration in his pocket. There were only a few short sharp buzzes before the number quit and left a missed call but Martin immediately knew what it meant; the missed call was from Robert. He sat up, left the car, and walked towards the immense concrete totem that stood in the midst of an abandoned industrial estate.

He entered the building, which he knew housed nothing but Mrs. Wyttick, and walked towards the elevator. He hoped he wouldn’t have to enter the room with both Robert and Evelyn present but was nonetheless shocked when the elevator doors opened and revealed Robert. He was naked, laying in his own shit, and weeping profusely with a phone clutched in one hand and a plastic bag full of clothes in the other. Immediately Martin reached down and began to help him up. He took no care to keep himself clean but was invested only in helping the younger man.

He tried to ignore the blood, but it was difficult. He walked the limping man to a nearby bench in a hallway where he knelt down and began to dress him. Robert stared only at the wall ahead. It was at the stage where Martin had rolled a damp sweat soaked sock up and was preparing to slide it over Robert’s foot that Robert reached out, quivering, and stopped him. He took the sock and began to dress himself. Martin stood up and waited patiently, and even offered his coat to wipe up the mess.

It was clear of an hour when, having finally dressed himself, Robert spoke.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “I don’t get it.”

“What happ—” Martin began to ask before stopping himself. He decided to ask, “What did she tell you?” instead.

“She told me we’d find him in the Billington pump station.”

Martin slid his hands into his pockets and nodded.

“Good,” he said. “That’s what we came here for.”

“I don’t get how she made me—” Robert said before suddenly spluttering and bursting out into tears.

“It’s okay,” Martin said reaching down.

“No it’s not!” Robert screamed pushing Martin away. “You fucking knew!” Martin stepped back and held up his hands.

“I didn’t know anything Rob.”

“Yes you did!” Robert sobbed through snot and tears. “You and those fucking cunts in that precinct.” Martin knelt down and pushed aside Robert’s weak attempts to slap him away. Instead he pulled the young man into a close embrace and held him. Robert fought for a moment before eventually relenting. “How did she make me do those things!?” he sobbed into Martin’s ear. “What… what is she?!”

“I don’t know,” Martin shrugged. “No one knows. But look,” Martin said pulling Robert up from his shoulder so that they made eye contact. “No one’ll ever know, yeah? You’re not the first person to go to her for help, and you won’t be the last. You won’t ever need to tell anyone what she did. You made the decision to do what was necessary to solve the case, you did that. You’re in charge. Not her.”

“I’m not the first?” Robert asked as he tried to wipe away the snot he had left on Martin’s shoulder.

“No,” Martin answered.

“Have you?”

“We don’t ask that,” Martin snapped. “You understand? Don’t ask anyone if they’ve seen her and they’ll never ask you.” Robert nodded as he struggled to keep his breathing under control. “Now,” Martin continued. “I gotta ask. Don’t make a thing of it, okay? But I gotta ask. I can take you to a guy a few blocks away, a dentist but with qualifications in proctology. He can help… he can…” Martin sighed. “I can take you to him and he can patch you up, or I can take you to a hotel and you can have a shower.”

When Robert gave his answer Martin nodded and reached under his arm and began to pull him to his feet. Together the two men began to shuffle towards the door. Robert, close to passing out, imagined only the damaged and broken corpse of the young girl whose life he had raced, and failed, to save. He thought of the man they’d catch and kill for the crimes he had committed. But somewhere, deep in his head, he could not escape the actions of Evelyn Wyttick. He struggled to connect the nightmarish and feverish warped reality that he had stepped into in that flat atop the block and from which escape had felt like an elated and long forgotten dream, but he remembered clearly some words of advice said to him by the wise Martin before he first left the car earlier that day. At the time he had dismissed it as a joke, but having faced the woman and survived, the words did not stop ringing through his ears even some hours later.

“She’s everything she says she is,” Martin had told him. “She is everything she appears to be. She is Evelyn. And she is older than the written word.”

-

Martin bounced his bum gently back and forth against the boot of his car as he smoked his cigarette. It was dark and the pump ground away silently behind him while he peered out from the hill towards the distant skyline of London’s suburb, Billington. He watched the lights carefully for a moving pair that signalled the arrival of the woman. Many years ago he had been contacted by the women who paid for Evelyn Wyttick’s accommodation and who carefully managed a plan of ‘containment’ that was spread around the metropolitan police as a joke during the seventies. It was a funny sight in that everyone passed it around as a quirky and weird anecdote. But they still handed them out each and every year and if you refused to take the booklet, or if you refused to read it, they would come back and give you a new one the following day.

The plan was terrifying if it was meant to be taken seriously. It discussed the need to contain nuclear weapons in Scotland to contain The Threat should it ever leave. The deliberate eradication of Glasgow struck Martin as a bit extreme, but it all made sense when he finally met the people responsible for the leaflet in real life. They stank of ambivalence. The woman had approached him in a café and made clear that it was she who he was supposed to meet; she was in possession of an angular face that was long and gaunt with a large crooked nose. She was, for the most part, a young and pretty woman but after she told him what she was he couldn’t help but laugh at the congruence of her appearance and her acclaimed occupation.

“I’m a witch,” she had said. He suddenly imagined her atop a broom and couldn’t stop giggling quietly to himself. “Most people react like this,” she had muttered while she waited for him to catch his breath.

“It’s fine,” he answered. “I’ve met Evelyn, I buy it. I really do.”

After that the woman had treated him with suspicion but she seemed to accept his candid belief in her claims. She proceeded to inform him, in detail, that certain areas, specifically Billington Pump Station, were considered part of her group’s jurisdiction and should not be investigated without her presence. Why she insisted this she would not say, but Martin suspected it was something to do with the rumours of missing children and shifting piles of bones which sang the most entrancing songs.

“What’s the Celt?” Robert asked suddenly as he limped slowly up to Martin who was pulled from his thoughts and forced to pay attention to the man beside him.

“What?” he asked.

“The Celt,” Robert repeated as he awkwardly shifted to pull out a cigarette of his own. “I was told to watch out for him. She called him Brannwyn.”

“Why do you ask?” Martin repeated.

“She told me to watch out for him,” Robert said again, growing a little terse. “After it all happened.”

“She must have liked you,” Martin replied.

“She didn’t have to use that voice of hers much,” Robert added. “I felt like she could have made me do anything. I mean… she did. She could just tell the whole world to die and they would. Once you hear her you can’t stop. And I mean it’s one thing to tell a man to jump and for him to jump, it’s another thing to tell him to walk through walls and for him to do it.”

“It’s a powerful curse she can put on you,” Martin nodded.

“Yeah well I stopped fighting,” Robert continued. “I grew numb. I thought it was a nightmare… maybe. I don’t know. She liked that I stopped fighting. She… told me she liked it.”

“Her currency is consent,” Martin sighed. “So she told you to watch out for the Celt, eh?” Robert nodded as he drew from his cigarette. “She must’ve liked you a lot. Well,” Martin said as he began to answer him, “Brannwyn’s a mythical figure from Welsh lore. He turns up in the Scottish and Irish pantheons too. Sometimes he’s a trickster; sometimes he’s a downright fucking eldritch abomination. Most Welsh stories depict him as a traitor who wrecked some prehistoric Golden-Age kingdom—one that was built when the Egyptians were still learning how to piss standing up. The Scottish tend to portray him as a monster that lived in caves and traded women’s lives for the tanned hide of a new-born.”

“How do you know all this then?” Robert asked. Martin laughed and removed from the pocket of his coat a well-read leather-bound book titled, Brannwyn: The Celtic Set.

“It was in his car you berk!” Martin scoffed. Robert responded with a gentle laugh. “She must’ve meant him.” Martin pointed to the building behind them. “Watch out for The Celt, yeah? Well he got away, so she wasn’t wrong to say you should’ve watched him!

“Fuck,” Robert sighed as he thumbed through the pages. “You think this is where he got his inspiration from? All this time and I never thought to pick up a history book.”

“That ain’t a history book, it’s dated 1734. And besides,” Martin said as he finally laid eyes upon the sight of a car bumbling up the gravel path, “I wouldn’t worry about the details of it, he’s down there and our guide’s finally just arrived. Let’s go catch the bastard.”

“Why didn’t you call me sooner?” the woman said as she walked them into the pump station. “This place belongs to us and I should have known straight away if you thought this guy was bothering the Alra’an.”

“The what?” Robert asked.

“Robert,” Martin said holding his hand out to the young detective. “Let’s not do this, okay? Just… just go with it, yeah? We’ve come so far; we need to catch this guy. And you!” Martin said speaking curtly to the woman, “We pulled up, he spotted us while he was smoking, and ran. We went through his car. No one went in without your precious oversight, okay? What about you, are you gonna be okay?” Martin said turning to Robert who looked the young woman up and down.

“She’s wearing heels,” he said. The woman looked down to her feet and then to Martin who rolled his eyes.

“Look,” she said as she took her designer handbag and removed a pair of trainers. “It’s late, I wasn’t exactly prepared.”

“Oh,” Robert groaned. “That makes sense.”

“Yeah,” Martin said exasperated. He opened the door and quickly gestured for Robert and the woman to go on ahead.

What passed from that point was a strange and awkwardly silent descent through the metal and stonework tunnels that layered down through London’s ancient foundations. Unknown to many are the numerous buried rivers concreted over a century before during The Great Stink of 1858 as part of a renewed effort to clean the Thames of human effluence. It was into one of the tributaries of the Fleet Street River that these three descended. These tunnels were long since abandoned remnants of nature that had been buried, industrialised, and brutalised.

“I think we all wore inappropriate footwear,” Martin groaned as he stood in the ankle high muddy brown water that flooded over his formal shoes. Robert too could not help but grunt in discomfort at the wet sensation that enveloped his feet. “Jesus,” Martin scoffed. “It’s warm.”

“It’s shit,” the woman quipped as she stomped past them.

“Why’s she here?” Robert asked as she turned a corner up ahead. Martin meanwhile fumbled with his flashlight before throwing Robert one of his own. There was a brief moment where the woman’s light source faded into nothingness while only Martin’s weaker flashlight left to illuminate them. For a moment the pair were forced to stand alone in the silent, cramped tunnel that rolled off into a slanted blanket of darkness.

“Look at it,” Martin said once they both had their lights pointed up ahead. “This joins up with the Fleet Street River which runs all the way to the sea, and that freak upstairs has worked here all his life. We need someone who knows the place.”

“Yeah but why her?” Robert asked once more.

“Because Aaron Decker isn’t the only ghoul down here, trust me. This river’s older than London and it weren’t happy to be buried by it either,” Martin snapped in reply. He seemed uncomfortable at the way that the light of their flashlights bounced up from the sloshing water and refracted along the crumbling walls around them that curved into an arch above. They could hear the woman up ahead, and even see her when the tunnel straightened out. But overall the quiet trickling of the water by their feet and the haunting echoes of their voices were the only thing they could hear, and the short reach of their light—which fell upon either brown walls or brown water—was all that they could see.

-

Martin sat down in front of the old woman. She was seated back in a large recliner with an oxygen tank wired to her nose. Her palms overlapped gently atop her belly and as she gazed off towards the TV in the corner of the room, calmly breathing through the strange tubes with a distant almost death-like smile, she appeared to Martin as a totem of patience and sheer will.

“What do you know about Alra’an then?” he asked. The woman remained still and did not respond. Martin chuckled to himself and reached across to a nearby black coffee he’d made and took a sip. “Mum told me,” he quipped with a gesture after neatly placing it down on the coffee table with a clink, “about your time in Indonesia. She told me to tell you that they’ve brought that house down now, the one you had built by them villagers long ago. She thought you’d want to know that the rituals there have stopped; they’ve stopped honouring him.

The old woman’s smile faded and she looked down her nose towards Martin with a grimace. She sat up and brushed her floral dress down with her hands.

“Who the fuck are you then?” she snapped. Martin burst out into a loud guffaw.

“It’s me,” he answered. “It’s Martin. Mum’s worried about you Nan.” The old woman stared at Martin for a while.

“You’re a funny looking one,” she said. “You’re… ginger. And that hairline. And a moustache. I don’t… Who are you? Wait,” Evelyn said with a moment of recollection. “My God you can’t be him. You’re so old!”

“Mum’s worried about you,” Martin repeated. “I’m here to sort a few things out, okay?”

“Why she send you then? You’d think she’d have time to come see me.”

“She’s not here Nan,” Martin told her taking another sip from his coffee. “She’s busy. But she asked me to sort this out and I am. All of us have a lot of concerns. Why…” Martin lingered as he looked around the decrepit flat. “We assume you’re here as part of some… grieving process. I mean they reckon they’ve got you trapped but that’s not true, is it? You just came here and sat and they built this place around you and… Jesus Nan, how long has it been?”

“Piss off!” the old woman shouted. “Scourge of Brettany you were. Threw it all away for some gold and you never cared about me. Why should I listen, no, why should I even trust you!?”

“Yeah I know,” Martin told her. “None of that’s important though. We need to talk about what you’re going to do. We were all happy to sit back and wait and relax while you let all of… this pass but now it’s becoming a risk.”

“Oh you bloody kids,” she interrupted with a wave of her hand. “I’m waiting!” she cried. “I’m waiting for him. None of you could ever appreciate that!”

Martin looked sad and gazed away to the window and the Glaswegian skyline for a moment.

“Nan,” he said. “You’re gonna die. And you can’t give birth to yourself again. You’ve waited too long you’re all… shrivelled up down there.”

“What’s it matter!?” she argued. “I’ll just die and go off into his world and then we can both trot on over. I used to die all the time.”

“Nan!” Martin cried. “Nan for crying out loud he’s gone. He’s not around and he’s definitely not in charge anymore and that’s if he’s even—”

“Stop!” The old woman shouted. She brought a hand to her mouth and tears welled up in her eyes. “I’m waiting. He said he’ll come meet me here and he’ll come.”

“Right,” Martin said sitting up and reaching across to place a hand on the old woman’s lap. “That’s fine. Mum sent me here to sort it all out, okay? I’m going to get you a new body, yeah? It won’t be… yours but it’ll keep you alive and what’s important is that you're safe. That’s more important than the bloodline.”

“Oh,” the old woman began to sob. “I buggered it all up! All those millennia of hard work and it’ll just go away with this!” She motioned towards her frail and feeble body.

“It doesn’t matter,” Martin said firmly. “Yeah it’s a loss for the family but there are plenty of us and your blood will live on in us. What’s most important is that you stay here, with us. I’m going to bring you a body right here. You won’t have to move. I just… I need to find that bloody Alra’an thing of yours.”

“Oh that,” the old woman replied dryly. “Why on Earth do you want that?”

“It’s all part of the plan,” Martin nodded. “Mum said they—”

“Foul women,” the woman hissed. “Stealing a woman’s bloody wedding gift!”

“Yeah,” Martin continued. “No one likes them Nan. You don’t have to tell me. But I need it and I need to find it.”

“It was my wedding gift,” the old woman told him in a shrill plea. “My wedding gift. From one of your father’s friends. The Shimmering Tree I think we called him. He built it piece by piece, just for me. Big and ugly thing it was.”

“Yeah but what is it?” Martin repeated.

“I don’t know,” she answered briskly. “He mentioned music but I just liked tossing people in there and seeing what came out. Whew!” she motioned quickly with her hand to her temple. “They came out different. It didn’t always put them together quite right.”

“It eats people?” Martin asked.

“Slowly!” the old woman cried. “You’ll find Arthur’s bastards in there still crying. Might just be brainstems by now of course. Point was though it broke you down but real slow.”

“Why?” Martin replied quizzically.

“I don’t know!” she cried in answer. “It’s not about purpose sometimes Brann. Don’t you know that? Sometimes… sometimes it’s about the art.”

“Right,” Martin said standing up. “That’s good, great actually. She’ll come out if she thinks some guy’s been speaking to the Alra’an and I know some weirdo in the pumps where it lives. About time he did something useful,” Martin mused this quietly to himself before looking up to his grandmother and speaking once more in a reassuring tone. “I need to go now, okay? I’ll give Alra’an something to chew on, you’ll get your body and Mum’ll sleep better knowing you’ve got something young to sit in.”

Martin stood up and began to leave when the old woman reached out and gripped his arm as he passed. She looked up at him with a strange leering grin.

“Speaking of which,” she hissed gently. “You couldn’t send me up some company could you? Nice young lad maybe?” Martin laughed warmly and reached down to touch her hand.

“I think I know a guy.”

-

“Huh,” Martin shrugged as he stared at the fat corpse before him. “That was unexpected.” Robert was panting breathlessly in the corner. He tried to speak but Martin reached out to signal the need for silence before stepping forward and kicking the large corpse onto its back. The mouth was covered in foam and his face was blue. “I guess he really did need this,” Martin chuckled as he turned to Robert and held up an asthma pump he’d found in the killer’s car.

“We fought…” Robert said breathing heavily from the corner of the small room in which they stood. “He just… he just started choking… he grabbed his throat… he… he…”

“I get it,” Martin said. “Thing is though… he was the Alra’an’s dinner.”

“The what!?” Robert gasped.

“Ah shit,” Martin groaned to himself. “We were gonna catch the guy, feed him to the fucking Alra’an and I’d walk away with that silly woman. It was not meant to be this hard to bring her out of hiding.”

“The woman?” Robert cried. “She… she fuckin’ legged it! This…” Robert stood forward and kicked the killer’s corpse. “This prick mentioned some dancing bones and that fucking Bran-muffin prick and she just ran off! And then he took the chance and tried choking me out, if you can believe it!”

“Yeah,” Martin griped. “Yeah I can. I wonder if she figured it out.”

“Figured what out?” Robert asked.

Martin took a deep breath and sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose. With very little effort he un-holstered his gun and shot Robert in the right shoulder, almost without aiming, before running over to lay him gently on the ground.

“Sorry,” he whispered with an uncomfortable expression. “This won’t be pleasant.”

Robert lay there in shock. He watched Martin leave the room through the only door as he felt his vision wobble and fade. He gasped for breath and reached down to his thigh where he felt his own firearm. He was still in total disbelief of what had just happened but quickly came to regret not even trying to shoot Martin whose sudden betrayal was only just setting in.

Suddenly a strange and plentiful piping music washed up and filled the room. As his lungs filled with blood Robert felt almost relieved at the sound but then he looked down and laid eyes upon it. It was a quivering mass of bones stitched together with fleshy polyps that popped and blistered with running puss. They were like translucent bulbs held aloft by twitching veins of meat while squeezed on all sides by a haphazard collection of ivory shapes too abstract to have come from anything alive.

It crawled over to Robert and as he felt the tendons slither out and wind up his forearm there was a momentary sensation of soothing elation. The pain from his wound eased and Robert felt his chest lighten and his lungs clear.

But then the veins grew taut and aggressive. They started to pluck away like piano strings cut under tension, and as they whipped back they tore ribbons of skin and muscle away. There was a brief moment of near paralytic silence as Robert gazed upwards from his arm only to see the jumbled pile of bones quiver and rise up. It displayed the ribbed folds of a cartilage mouth lined with fist sized molars before suddenly leaping at Robert to consume him in a terrible, mangled scream.

-

“Been a long time!” Martin cried down the empty tunnel. The woman lay hidden away in some inlet, her breathing frantic and her clothes soaking wet and cold. “Don’t recognize me, do you!?” he cried. “Don’t worry,” she heard him cry from within the abyss. “It’s eating poor Robert, won’t be coming to you for a while. It uh… it likes to play with its food, though of course, you know that don’t you!?”

“Come on!” he cried once more. “Come out. Let Brannwyn take a look at you.”

The woman lay shivering and thought of those violent brazen images carved into the ancient tomes she had studied as a child. Both man and myth and long since forgotten, Brannwyn was one of Evelyn’s many bastard heirs. He had ransacked much of Europe as a young man and robbed the continent of the right to civilization as the Middle East rose up with the great nations of its time. He was supposedly born in the ancient spires of forgotten Hyperborea and served as antecedent to its total destruction. He possessed none of Evelyn’s guile, but many within her society had postulated about his paternal lineage—either direct or once removed—which had been used to occasionally justify his status as demigod. Regardless of the specifics, he was a strange and enigmatic figure whose legacy’s erasure was welcomed by anyone who knew of his accomplishments.

Martin however remembered things slightly differently.

“You know,” he said as he trudged down the tunnel, against the slow river current, towards the woman. She held her breath and waited in desperate hope that the inlet might hide her, though to her right she was blocked by ridged and rusted iron bars that lent to her a sense of despair. “I tried the superhero thing, if you can believe it.” Martin chuckled. “I didn’t get a lot of attention though; I mean try going to the police with ‘I was raped by a man in a batman suit’. Have to admit though; the batman suit made it better. Mum thinks I could be doing better things with my life. But she doesn’t really understand.”

The woman shuddered at the mention of Barbara Wyttick as she saw the rising waves of Martin’s approaching footsteps.

“I hope you remember how you approached me first,” Martin cried. “Matter of luck I suppose that you’d end up choosing to speak with me. It was funny at first, being your contact. I’ve heard a lot about you and your order. Hanging around in the background, getting up to all sorts. Never thought I’d actually sit and have coffee with one of you hags. Still,” he said as his face suddenly dipped into view. The woman shrieked as he made eye contact and began to drag her out from her hiding spot. She kicked furiously as he pulled her splashing through the water before punching her repeatedly in the lower back from behind. The blows were tremendous and left the woman screaming in pain as she collapsed into the stinking water below. “Having you around has turned out to be useful after all.”

“I heard,” Martin then said panting as he caught his breath. “That you don’t take names, am I right? You’re a, uh, lemme think now. You’re a collectivist order, yeah?

Do you feel each other’s pain?” he asked. “Mum said you do. Mum said you all feel the same thing.” Martin laughed as he ran forward and kicked the woman in the stomach. She keeled over and coughed and spluttered blood into her palms. “I bet you felt everything Annabelle felt,” he muttered with a grotesque self-satisfaction. “Nan had her for a long fucking time.”

The woman cried out in anger and lashed out. She had only a fountain pen but it was enough, and so she sank it into Martin’s calf, pinning his trousers to the wound. She watched in pleasure as he screamed in agony. And while it was quick, it was enough. She ran like a screaming banshee down through the tunnel, her feet clumsily cutting a thin path through the water. Martin ripped the pen from his leg and followed with a haphazard lumber.

She ran to the room she had not long since escaped. There she slammed the door shut and turned to see a writhing fleshy mass that entangled one corner of the room from floor to ceiling. It was a wretched quivering mass of ivory bones that clinked in a strange percussive dance. Each piece was held aloft in a pulsing moving mould of slimy pink meat. She watched in a daze as the oozing substance picked dismembered limbs apart while re-assembling them mere inches away. In a slow and deliberate fashion the solid mass would ripple like water and from it would emerge, like the breaking tail of a whale, peculiar and intricate patterns of dripping ropey tendrils.

It took a moment for the woman to realise the shapes were like fragments from some anatomical study. She saw still beating arterial systems and the shivering broken outline of a brain stem and its fractal roots swimming like a fish. Occasionally an eye and the surrounding brow would form and its gaze would dart from place to place in a desperate and expressive terror.

By this stage Martin was furious, and as he approached the door he reached forward but stopped himself suddenly. He listened for a moment; there was only silence from the room beyond. In the moment he made a firm decision. He gripped the metal lock and in a limited feat of strength he snapped it off from his side. He chuckled to himself as he imagined the woman within slowly realising her fate.

“You can all share that,” he cried triumphantly as he walked away. Carefully making his way back up through the tunnels Martin considered how he would be returning to Evelyn empty-handed. But he imagined she’d enjoy hearing about the woman’s fate.

Besides, he thought. She always has other options.

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Written by ChristianWallis
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