A foot long and placed in the corner where wall met ceiling, the emergency light flickered its sickly yellow pale into the residential hallway. A faint bass line rumbled from an apartment home, its beat almost keeping pace with the flickering light. Winston knocked on the door that the bass line came from, keeping his body angled so the door would have to happen wide to see him and so he could keep an eye on the hallway.
His eyes darted to a scratching sound from a drainage grate on the opposite side of the hall. Hands curled loosely into fists, he stared. The grate, about the width of his hand and as long as the emergency light, wiggled. It then popped up where a furry body quickly scurried into view. The black rat froze when it got completely free of the grate, realizing something was near it. It stared intently at Winston, whiskers twitching furiously, and then abruptly it went scurrying down the hall. Winston let out the breath he had been holding and knocked on the door a second time.
When no one opened the door, Winston set off once more constantly looking at the ceiling. Mildew and mold ran in long streaks. In places the fungi covered conduits to the point it looked like the piping simply stopped for a few inches and then started again. Next to the conduit were disused rails for automatic pressure washers to keep the hallways pristine. On paper, in the intel provided, the arcology was gorgeous. Small holes showed in the ceiling where a long piece of railing had been ripped free.
He stopped at the next door in the hallway, eyes on the false tile next to the missing railing. Intel provided had it leading to a sub-ceiling or subfloor, dependent on where one stood. It could be full of grims. Or a bunch of Symps trailing me. Shit. Why was intel so bad for this? I could get a few dozen Symps. People are people and will be idiots so there are bound to be a few who side with a terrorist message. But an entire neighborhood? Somebody dropped the goddamn ball. Dropped it big time.
He pounded on the door. The emergency light that was providing a modicum of illumination, blinked out. The telltale hum of air moving through ventilation shafts was suddenly there. He slowly shook his head. It’s worse on regular power. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at the number of Symps. He pounded again and this time the door swung inward.
Faint red light spilled into the hallway but no sound followed it. At least none he could hear. The ambient sound was just too much. Nice call assholes, he wiped his hands on his sweat and blood stained pants, on ordering minimal gear. He walked slowly back and to the side, keeping a wide angle on the door. In and out they said. We have positive intel on the residents wanting Yosem Mir gone from the arcology, they said. He clenched and unclenched his fists, peeking in.
Fully furnished. A cursory scan placed a futon on the right wall. A chaise in front of it. Long hutch on the left wall. Box in between the chaise and hutch. Table near the kitchen entrance. Two more hutches near the table. A red light hanging from the middle, swaying a bit. Seeing no potential hostiles, Winston stayed where he stood and focused on the details. How the chaise was littered with dirty dishes and waded up clothing. He took in the coiled rope on the box and the rips in the futon that had a blanket hanging off the edge. There was pizza on the table, just laying on the table with seven cups scattered around the food. Toys and instruments and books littered the floor.
A look up and down the hall and then Winston entered the domicile. The bass line from the neighboring apartment home was faint, sounding like a slow heartbeat now. He matched his breathing to it and looked in the hutch that was to his immediate left.
Winston blinked. Twice.
Bugs filled the hutch. Worms writhing. Beetles buzzed and bounced off the glass front. Huge hairy spiders stalked the shelves. Locusts buzzed like saws. Flies covered indiscriminate lumps with worms and maggots writhing in a pulsating mass. A cold shiver ran over him like ice water dumped on his head. Who the fuck keeps bugs for pets? Any more remarks were instantly killed when he turned to look at the box. Not a coiled rope. Coiled intestines with the blood appearing black under the red light. The waded clothing was stained black. Black marks on the couch, centered on the tears.
It was having experienced more fubar missions that he would ever freely dwell on that had Winston moving. Into the kitchen, stepping over a headless feline corpse, getting a knife out of the third drawer he opened. A cheap steak knife. It would break after the first cut, but it was a weapon. An upper cabinet opened. Tin of baked beans. The bluntness complimented the steak knife and it was a projectile.
He spared the dead cat a single glance, noting the missing paws, on his way back into the main living area. Winston went to the first bedroom on the right. Bed, dresser, desk, rolling chair, closet open, posters of musical bands on the walls. Winston nodded at the toolbox on the floor of the closet. He opened it and took the hammer without hesitation, leaving the knife.
Bass line matching the beat of his heart now, Winston kept the hammer angled away from his body as he stepped across the hall to the bathroom. The entrance covered by a hanging curtain backlit by a nightlight. His chin dipped in acknowledgement. It made no sense, was irrational in every way, but he accepted the mutilated brown and white dog hanging by a wire as a statement of fact.
The bass was getting stronger as he got closer to the wall separating the two apartments. Winston extended the hammer and pushed the door open to the master bedroom. A snake on the bed slithered into a tight ever moving coil as a warning to Winston. He kept his distance, as he could, checked the en suite, and then a few seconds later was pushing open the last bedroom door.
Faintly illuminated by a nightlight on the wall, the room was a blank slate of freshly painted drywall. Walls without a blemish wherein the other rooms were sloppily painted, had holes randomly throughout, and the odd piece of art work hanging in the hall. He looked over his shoulder into the bathroom at the hanging dog that looked like someone had worked it over with a cheese grater, and then he slowly turned his head to look down the hall. Just as slow, he brought his gaze back to the room. It was too off. Too wrong.
Thump. Thump. Thump. The bass followed him into the room. Angling to keep the door in his peripheral, Winston began walking the room, skirting the walls. A finger traced a line on the new neon yellow paint. Gaze took in the perfectly installed sculpted mid-height baseboard two shades whiter than the wainscoting. The same shade of white as the chair rail. His bed was a matching white; linen, mattress, and frame. Winston crawled onto the bed.
An absence of light, black as sin moved in front of the entryway.
From the middle of the room Winston swung the hammer.
Yellow was the color of light.
Back into a corner of the closet, Winston screamed wordlessly.
Light keeps the horrors away.
The complete absence of light, radiating terror like a forest fire radiates heat, floated. Crawled. Slithered over the threshold.
Light repelled the nightmares.
Winston turned his back to the open door. His hands squeezed on tin of baked beans and the handle of the hammer. Breath catching in his throat.
[Reaper, where are you?]
The door closed.