The floor was vibrating. The walls shook, pathetically trying to withstand the shifting below the foundations of the apartment complex. The television fell over, coughing up shards of glass in it’s last breath. I cursed all the money wasted, calculating the price of the setback in my head. Outside my window lay a contrasting scene of a magnificent Sun shining over the city.
Inside my home, though, I was miles away from it. I was tossed back and forth, without an end in sight. I had likened my situation to being a reluctant passenger upon Charon’s ferry, riding the tumultuous rivers of Hell straight to it’s depths.
I could see the televised warning in my head as I stumbled. The University’s Ricther Scale was reading a minor earthquake, but they didn’t say it occur after the one that would cause the building to collapse upon me. I had never experienced an earthquake before, and anxiety’s overtly heavy breathing became a schizophrenia I couldn’t get rid of.
Attempting to keep my balance, I began to make my way to the doorway to my apartment bedroom. A particularly strong tremor pushed me back. Began to steady myself. Stepped on a long piece of broken television screen.
I didn’t have the strength to stay on one foot. The shard that entered through my heel was too painful. The bloodied floor didn’t stop shaking. The earthquake was too powerful for me.
I began to limp a step, trying to put as little weight as possible on my injured foot. My timing was off. Then I fell.
I opened my eyes. I was laying face down on a carpet that was stained with my blood, and it had now browned into a gross reminder of my accident. At least I hadn’t bled a large enough pool to erase. There was an indentation in my temple, a pocketed wound that dug deep past all the caked blood. I could feel a scabby layer of blood over the part of my face below the wound, and picked it off. After testing them, I found my wounds yielded no pain, so I rolled over and sat up.
The lights were off. A digital clock that had survived displayed nothing. My cellphone was on the floor in the kitchen, the screen in pieces from being knocked off the counter onto the tile.
And the curtains were closed. Strange, as I usually always have the curtains open. I tried to recall the details of what had happened. Had the curtains been open? Seemingly insignificant, though. I decided to find out how bad the damage was. After a preliminary glance, I saw the outlines of a trashed apartment. Almost everything that could have been broken wasn’t just broken, it was destroyed. The side table I dented my head upon had a corner painted in a dark red. All meaningless items now, though I wondered if they had ever been anything more.
I pulled the shard out of my foot fluidly. Perhaps the nerves had been killed. I stood up, walking over into the kitchen to wash the blood off my face completely. Turning the faucet had no effect, and I began to wonder just how bad the earthquake had been. The multiple stories of the apartment complex had survived, but what about elsewhere?
How many buildings were brought to their knees? How many were now homeless? In the ensuing days, would we have food or drinking water? How would the local common man get by now that his workplace was destroyed?
Who was dead now? I could see the casualties in my mind: people crushed by their homes, or impaled by the metallic odds and ends that supported the growth of skyscrapers. And then I could see the ones it hadn’t killed, the ones lying under a pile of debris, hoping the suffocation would be quick.
The curiosity that lay behind the door leading out of my apartment distracted me, and I quickly forgot each and every death I had just contemplated. I walked to the door, and opened it. My peripherals caught the blandly painted black 8 on my door, and then I was greeted with more darkness. I stepped out, looking down the hallway.
The ceiling had collapsed, blockading any conventional exit I might’ve been able to take. I was furthest from the elevator, neighbored to the left and across the hall. I took a look at the my neighbor’s door, seeing a blandly-styled 5. I wondered about it. Was this always number 5? Where was the logic in this numbering system? I couldn’t keep my focus upon it, though, and walked up and knocked upon it.
No answer. Another knock, harder this time. Seconds passed.
Am I all alone?
I heard the lock turn, and the door opened slowly. A boy appeared. He seemed to be about 12 years old, rather young to be in an apartment alone during an earthquake. He quickly stepped out, closing the door behind him.
“Hello.” He said, looking up at me. I stayed silent, looking back, though not quite sure why. He was an average looking child, black hair and an unassuming visage. I felt a subliminal urge, a desire to remember if I had every seen him around before.
“Hello. Are you alright?” I asked finally, eventually dismissing the question.
“Yes. Are you?” He asked in a peculiar way, looking to the wound in my temple.
“Uh, yes, it seems so,” I said, perturbed by the strange vibes this child was putting off. “Do you have a cellphone, or anything we can use to get help?”
“No. There will be no way for us to get help,” He said in a certain way.
“Hm, that is unfortunate. Since my cell phone was broken, it seems we’re cut off. Where’s your Dad?”
“I don’t know. He’s been gone for a really long time. I wish he could be here.”
“Oh, I see. I’m sure he’s fine, you know. He’s probably on his way here now, to check up on you. Perhaps he’s downstairs right now, and all we have to do is find a way there. Is there a fire escape or a building next to the windows in your apartment?”
“There’s no way out.” A cold reply, especially for one so young.
“Hm. Mine is a straight drop down as well. And it seems a few floors above us have consolidated themselves here,” I said, walking towards the mountain of debris. There wasn’t a single gap, and it extended well past the floor of the next level. I turned back, and the boy stood there, looking at me. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“Victor. Or Timothy, that’s my middle name.”
“Timothy. I really like that name. Well, since we aren’t getting anywhere from being out here, how about we go back in my apartment? We can look out the window and see if we can’t get an idea of the situation.” He nodded, and I walked up to the my apartment, ignoring a vague feeling of strangeness upon glancing at the painfully bland 12 painted upon the door.
Victor came in, and I closed the door. I told him to watch out for the shattered pieces of glass and suggested he have a seat on the couch. The stains in the carpet caught my eye, and I mindlessly wondered how I could have bled such a large pool of blood. I doubted it would ever go away. A piece of me was now a part of this room, until this apartment complex died.
I walked to the window, and pulled the curtains back. I felt a twinge of pain between my eyes, inside my head, as I gazed upon a sheet of bruised and lacerated flesh that had taken the place of my window. I stared at it.
It was a meaty slab, a sewn-together product of multiple skinned torture victims. It smelled of decay, and I could see a rainbow of necrosis coloring pieces. Different skin tones, wounds, and shapes combined with the inexperience of the one who did the sewing created a completely disgusting canvas suitable for me to vomit on.
It was all stomach acid, and burned my throat as I tried coughing every bit of it up. When I finished, I got up, looking at Tim. He looked at me, questioningly. Had he not seen it? I looked back, and the curtains were closed again, bile dripping down the window sill and onto the floor.
“It was nothing.” I said, and went to sit down in a recliner.
All was quiet again. I could hear nothing at all. If sound existed, you would never have been able to tell. When you’re so close to both the airport and the highway, you find the absence of their constant motion a blessing.
I quickly forgot the window of skin, the experience eventually settling within my subconscious as something that didn’t exist.
The time passed. I’m not sure what I thought of during all of it. I remember thinking about what it would be like to have someone close to you die. A friend, a relative, a teacher, a coworker. Someone you’ve spent years with. A parent. What was it like for him in his last moments? When the gunman held the barrel of the pistol up to his head and told him he would die, what did he think about? How did the empty flesh feel after the torturer had ripped it off of him? I wondered, and then dismissed it. I had never known what it was like to lose someone and it was irrelevant.
I would pick the flesh around my fingertips. Sometimes they were small pieces, and other times big pieces that covered whole parts of the nail. The bigger pieces were painful, but they were always more satisfying. The blood made it difficult to grip the pieces, and soon I could taste the armor flowing from my blood-soaked fingers.
Tim sat there. We didn’t talk much.
I wasn’t sure how long I had been there. With no way to keep time, I just sat there. I felt another tingling inside my head, in the same place. Then a strange thought hit me: when was the last time I ate? When was the last time I was hungry? I tried to remember. Was it before the earthquake hit? What time had it been when it did hit? Had I ever felt hunger or thirst since I passed out? I felt an urgent panic shooting up into my veins, an anxiety I couldn’t control, a fear that rose up inside me, rose much higher than the mountains of this world.
“Are you hungry?” I asked Victor, not hiding my panic. Surely his input could console me.
“No?” He said strangely, like it would be odd to be hungry.
And just as soon as it had come, it left. I became distracted, my thought devolving from a realization of something very wrong, to a level-headed contemplation, until finally I forgot about why I would need to be hungry in the first place.
I went to the fridge, and looked down at my phone and the surrounding bits of broken screen. Except there was blood. I looked at it, the answer deduced but not understood. I lifted my right foot up. I had been walking around slowly embedding glass into my foot. It was stained red. Perhaps my head injury damaged a part of my brain that registered pain.
I opened the fridge door, and found it empty. It seems I had forgotten to buy groceries. I walked back to the living room.
The pain of knowing I wasn’t doing anything began to set in. What do you do when you wonder what to do?
I waited. How long? I had no way to know.
I needed to get out.
I went into my bedroom and began kicking the wall. It gave easily. I carved a sizable passage into my neighbor’s home, taking a few steps in and looking around. It appeared to be their kitchen, based off the same model as mine. I turned back and called Tim’s name out, then went through.
And he was standing there, already in their apartment, looking at me.
But it was my apartment.
A chemical, I don’t know what kind, began to cauterize a piece of my brain, the same part that had been in pain. A massive headache slammed the area between my eyes. I yelled. Fell to the floor. Time changed. I didn’t think I perceived it any longer. In fact, I instinctively knew time didn’t exist in this place.
Whatever this place was.
“Victor…” I called out as I got up, attempting to rub the pain that never fully left away. I looked up.
His face was removed. He no longer had any hair, no eyes, nose, mouth, ears, jawline. His head was a carelessly-shaped square-like thing attached to a child’s shoulders and body. He walked toward me, causing me to back up. He continued to walk, not toward me any more but toward the counter, somehow perceiving the outside world.
I stared at him as he picked up a knife, twisting his amorphous head toward me, then shoving the knife into the middle of his face, pulling towards both sides, creating a jagged line that bled black and red. And then he started talking from the wound.
It was a scratchy, primordial voice that spoke, like a creature physically learning how to speak, and yet mentally knowing an entire language. The voice cracked every few seconds, fluids flooding out the aperture this thing was using to speak. This voice, the thing invading my head, this thing before me, was something beyond normal, something that existed with such a dark foreboding it filled me with a primal fear, a fear that transgressed the physical world. I have known of this thing before, somewhere, and it knew of me. It was back for me.
“Whaaaaattt. Is. Ittt?” The thing said. It waited, staring at me in a way that wasn’t possible.
The noise that emitted tore into my ear drums, it disturbed my mind to a point that I could feel mental illness plaguing me. I could feel it slowly crawling up my brain stem with long, ragged claws. It was as if someone had controls on what I perceived, and they started to play the question over and over, speeding it up, increasing the volume, echoing it inside of itself, over and over. It hurt in a way that is indescribable. Everything that I was, everything I am, and everything I shall be was deteriorating because this voice had wanted it so.
I lifted my hands up, preparing to yield anything and everything I could to the thing, when I saw my fingers: they were picked, gnawed, and in most places infected. Each nail had been removed, and the finger tip was nothing more than a swollen, bulb-shaped piece of me covered in vessels of a deep red and pus of a sickly quality.
I took a breath and then I felt a little different. My head changed. My perception changed. I could feel something firing through my brain, it felt hot, it was fire firing through my brain, something was wrong what was happening to me?
I got sick I could feel the fire in my stomach rise up and it came out my mouth over the floor but it looked like there were bits of flesh bits of flesh, bits of my fingers had I eaten my fingers? how did they get that way
I was horrified I ran back back into my apartment that I was already in through a hole in the wall that was in both sides of my apartment that led me into my apartment. through the hole how many holes can fit into a single apartment? was it even my apartment anymore was it even an apartment apartments don’t usually have holes
It was dark how I could see everything perfectly as I ran through my bedroom. I think I slept here once, somewhere else. It was pitch black, but I could see everything perfectly how could one see in the dark so well? how long have i seen into the dark? how long have i been in the dark how long
TIM was there in the window room he was hungry so he ate the window, i can hear in my head, i hear how much he wants to eat my skin as well oh no that does not sound too good because i have a lot of skin
i ran out i ran into the door trying to open it how did these work? unlock it
in the hallway, so dark, windowless pits.
open the door, close the door.
he hung from above a rope around his neck
the tv played his voice exactly like him the black and white snow mixed and yet not mixed it just went on and i can still hear it somewhat like a song stuck in my head on repeat forever eternal eternal eternity.
he used his blood to paint the will of the gods these numbers repeated over and over and over and over over every inch of every wall
and then i was gone
NON-HOMICIDE DEATH REPORT
INVESTIGATING OFFICER: OFFICER STRNAD
INCIDENT: Accidental Death
LOCATION OF INCIDENT: 6135 N. Styx Ave.
The deceased’s name was Victor Alzwell, aged 19. Subject was found approximately fifteen minutes after the earthquake of July Fifteenth, Two Thousand Twenty. The vic was discovered dead by his landlord. When interviewed, the landlord says he checked on Mr. Alzwell when he did not respond to requests to affirm his health. Mr. Alzwell was found on the floor, a deep wound in the right temple. An ambulance was dispatched, and Mr. Alzwell was officially pronounced dead once they arrived. The coroner determined the cause of death was brain trauma, which occurred during the earthquake. Mr. Alzwell lost his balance, falling and smashing his skull against a corner of a small table.
Mr. Alzwell’s previous criminal history includes one single juvenile phencyclidine(PCP) charge. While officially expunged, I remember this kid specifically coming down to the station because he was the son of Timothy Alzwell, the victim of a homicide case I was assigned to. Timothy Alzwell was kidnapped, tortured, skinned and executed with a handgun. A copy of the entire case file went missing around the same time we brought him in to break the news, when he was fifteen years old. He learned every detail.
Psychiatric testing revealed deep mental illness. He was given a foster home, received psychiatric care, and seemed to be getting better until the PCP charge. Afterwards, he continued counseling, began drug treatment, and was finally pronounced stable. He was given help in finding a job and then left his foster home to move to the apartment complex in which he was found.
This kid was one of the good ones. His was the only death reported during the earthquake, and he didn’t deserve it.
Notes of interest:
Test results show Mr. Alzwell had an extremely high level of N-dimethyltryptamine(DMT) in his system, in addition to traces of PCP.
Upon investigation, it was discovered Mr. Alzwell’s pineal gland reacted in a uniquely adverse way to the brain trauma, and began releasing massive amounts of DMT. It was also discovered that the brain trauma was not instantly fatal, and he lived anywhere from five to fifteen minutes after receiving the wound.
Somehow, despite not being in a conscious state of mind, Mr. Alzwell ripped enough skin from his fingers to write a series of numbers down in his own blood. We’re not sure what exactly what they mean. We had one result using a simple alpha-numeric conversion code, but it didn’t make any sense.
SIGNED: OFFICER T. STRNAD
END OF REPORT