by Matthew Bey
The Red City began calling to me that winter. It became like a canker that you probe with your tongue: a constant nuisance and ache in my mind. You who would judge me and condemn my betrayal, you have no idea how it pulled me into Her spidery influence. Yes, I knew about Her from the beginning: that queen arachnid crouching hidden within a net of a city; that web of monoliths, avenues and temples far below the ice and the deathly-cold darkness of the Arctic Ocean. It was that winter, when the ice began to crack, and for the first time in the age of Man, Her prison parted, letting the rays of the North Star shine down to Her wet grave.
I was in my apartment on Wilson Street. You’ve seen the photos, no doubt, of the walls covered with newspaper clippings, the ceiling diagrammed with blood and feces, much of it mine. All that came later, when I had fallen deeper into Her thrall, when my mind became like that of Her servants: inhuman and profound, capable of leaping through the curdling logic to terrifying truths.
But then, on that winter day, as a ribbon of freezing air blew through the cracks of my window panes, it was just an apartment. Poor and ugly and cheap. The carpet had never been shampooed or vacuumed in memory, its stains chronicling a history of previous occupants and their petty sins: a spaghetti stain here, a smear of vomit there, a fleck of blood near the bed, a blackened button of chewing gum ground permanently into the threads. In the corner where I hung my bicycle from a ceiling hook, tire smudges decorated the wall, but otherwise the apartment was bare.
It was one room and a bath surrounded by the darkness and gritty slush of winter.
I lived on the third floor, which meant I rarely had to deal with the landlord. The fat bastard would sweat and blush and nearly have a heart attack just standing on a chair to change a light bulb. Only the worst greed would prompt him to climb three flights of stairs. I would hear him sometimes when I checked my mailbox, shouting in the basement at the semi-homeless drunks he hired to do odd chores.
His shouting frightened me. He sounded like a pitbull that had been beaten every day of its life. A pitbull that crippled children for fun. Nevertheless, every month he spoke to me with quiet sweetness as I handed him a rent check.
The night She sent her dogs to me, I listened to the couple across the hall shout at each other. The door of my apartment was as thin as tissue paper and so, I could hear every word they spat. I had learned from previous arguments that, although they were married, they were not actually married to each other. I sat on my grungy carpet, eating canned soup, too tired not to listen.
I knew it was at my window without turning to look. I could feel its sepulchral gaze blowing on my neck and down my collar. I was terrified of turning and looking out that window: I would have cut out my right eye not to see that thing hanging there. My head turned ever so slightly, swiveling with the reluctant compulsion of putting a hand in a frying pan of hot grease.
I could see it out of the corner of my eye, leering and staring. It loomed there, on three stories of empty air, as black as the shadows in a coffin. Its jaws gaped, laughing and snarling, a toothed carrion hole. To say it looked like a dog was like saying a corpse looked like an unborn child. It loomed taller than me, broader and more massive. It could be at my side in an instant, my whole face swallowed in its jaws. I could smell it. It smelled like rot and sex.
It seemed to laugh, and then it was gone, disappearing into the black space at the edge of my vision. I stared at where it had been, at the roof of the building across the alley, searching for the pattern in the tar shingles that looked like a dog, looking for an image I did not want to find.
I would come to learn that the shadow dogs were just one aspect of Her, like a baited hook is an aspect of an angler. The dog was a shape of Her will; a tickle to let me know that I had touched a sticky strand of Her web; that She was coming for me; that before I could free myself, She would leap on me with Her talons and legs like spears, and She would wrap my soul in Her mind, and smother my unholy terror.
Perhaps you think it ironic that the great betrayer started so humbly: accosted in his home, ignorant of the part he would play, a victim of Her animosity. But I won’t play the martyr. There were others with their parts to play, their own corruption to embrace. There were other manifestations of Her awakening power.
That winter, lights appeared over every city. The magnetic poles shifted restlessly. Farmers reported strange shapes preying on their herds at night: things like dogs or bats or huge lizards that would disappear into forest or field. The most sensitive among us began to dream of the Arctic ice, which was even now breaking apart in her restless slumber. Only the ignorant attributed the shattering of Her prison to the folly of man.
The sensitive had become aware; we had tasted Her venom. We gravitated toward each other.
I found them when I posted to the webpage of a radio show that catered to the bizarre. I had seen the dog several times since it first appeared at my window, growing closer and bolder with every visitation. If I used a public restroom, it would fill the stall at the very end, its shadowy back hulking above the partitions and scraping the ceiling. I would strain on the toilet, all the while listening to its slobber. The previous night I had woken and it was in the apartment with me, leaning over my bed, caressing my mouth with the hot stink of its breath. Some days, it would trail me, staying just at the edge of my vision, a giant darkness fleeting behind my head whenever I turned to look.
I met the remote viewers on the radio show website. They seemed like the answer to all my problems at the time. They promised they could “image” the source of my visions, trace the shadow dogs through the collective exercise of fantasy. Others had seen the dogs by then, or things worse than dogs. So, we had an eager crew of twelve remote viewers – and me, the eager novice – when we met in the basement of that house.
The thirteen of us sat in a circle like a seance or a coven, an inauspicious beginning for our investigation. They let their minds go blank and began to free-associate images, feeling out the threads that tied the shadow dogs to the world.
I had glimpsed the dogs on my way to the remote viewing, lurking between the houses, big as horses, but leaving no footprints in the gray snow. I neglected to tell the others. The dogs had never approached close during daylight, so I had thought us safe. How foolish I was, inexperienced in Her scheming.
I relaxed my mind poorly. While the others went limp and closed their eyes, sketching visions on yellow legal pads, I remained very-much alert and anchored in the present. I alone noticed the shadow dogs entering the basement. I watched, frozen in terror, or perhaps in limp complicity, as the thirteen black specters took their places around the circle. They leaned over the remote viewers. Their stench filled my blood. Sweat poured down the remote viewers’ faces, yet still they recorded their fever sight. Pencils scribbled furiously and broke. I could feel septic drool drip on the back of my neck.
In that moment the remote viewers touched Her, their questing minds brushing against the purest essence of hate, a dormant capacitor beneath the Arctic Sea. She broke them as human beings. Something vital in their brains burned out like a radio dropped in icewater. As one, twelve pairs of eyes turned to me, and with twelve mouths and a thousand voices She spoke to me:
“The Red City rises.”
I left the remote viewers there in the basement, lying in their own shit and frothy vomit. One or two continued to scratch at legal pads covered with sketches of spiders.
You know as I do that they were the lucky ones. They who escaped her burgeoning kingdom, those who never saw the Red City rise through the broken ice and draw its full power from the stars. You envy them, as I do, their blissful vacuity.
But you grow bored. You want to know how I brought all this to pass, how I foiled Project HAARP, the government’s great ionic weapon they had erected in Alaska to forestall Her coming. You want to know about the people I lured to my apartment, the women and the boys, the landlord, and the adulterous couple across the hall; the grisly deeds that heralded the last days with headlines of blood. You want to know how I drew their guts from them, my victims, the innocent and the vile, tuning their pain like an antenna, a lightning rod of cause and consequence. You want to know how I slew her enemies, even as She drew the magnetic North Pole into the bowels of Her city, that giant lodestone reactor.
I will tell you that I chose of my own free will. I alone among the teeming innocents of earth chose the raping, chose to be flayed and gutted and re-knit, and I chose when She had no influence over me. From sanctuary I made my decision, and from safety I lashed out at the world.
It happened as I fled the basement of drooling psychics, the dogs in pursuit, their howling laughter slicing the night. I ran through the middle of the streets, black salt-slush seeping through the rips in my boots. Asthmatically, I gulped the steel-wool air. Stumbling to all fours, sliding on ice-wet knees and palms, I squelched to a stop, cringing with the expectation of jaws clenching the back of my neck and the meat of my legs.
When I rolled over to face the nighttime droning of the city, the dogs had gone, returned to the nightmare ether that engendered them.
What relief I felt to be alive. As I lay on my back, staring at the sky, I saw my saviors. Black planes without running lights crisscrossed and wove, visible only against the streetlight haze of the city. They drew a web of contrails from horizon to horizon, a web of dissipating chemicals to counter Her psychic web. I could feel their protection like a blanket, I could hear the voices shut off one by one, the ceaseless jabbering of the Red City, the background hum of madness that I had not noticed until it had gone. The chemtrail counter-measures, the haze of carbon-black, had erased the city from the Red City’s dreaming.
They were men, agents of government, who resisted the plotting of the Red City. I would discover that a mighty battle was waged against the Red City in the highest levels of the powerful and the privileged. A handful knew of Her existence, although fewer still believed Her weak enough to defeat. The chemtrails were only the leading edge of a campaign that included the Project HAARP facility in Alaska, the acres of ionic lenses that focused day and night on the Red City, striving to curdle her power. I let myself hope, but a hope is not so thoroughly crushed until it is allowed to blossom.
Within an hour, the wind scattered the web. The gibbering seeped back into my head. The dogs slurped from the darkness, searching for the fingernail crack, the flaw in my mind that would let them in to ravage my soul, and leave me drooling and empty, freebasing Her divine consciousness.
You who have never seen a soul devoured by Her appetite cannot understand that dread, that supreme comprehension of powerlessness: a cockroach between pliers, a corpse in a coffin, a slug on salt.
I chose to be Her slave. I chose to be a concubine. I became a general among the tens of thousands who answered her call, the captains of the dogs, the feeders of nightmare.
So, that night, I lured the adulterers from across the hall into my apartment. It was easy. The landlord proved more difficult. He would never mount three flights of stairs voluntarily, so he had to be bludgeoned and dragged by the ankles. I had to rest six times before I got us both to the top.
The dogs ate their guts while they screamed around the gags. And as the dogs took in the pain, they became more solid, flesh poured into molds of shadow, standing on two legs like fanged parodies of men. Their shoulders scraping ceiling plaster, the dogs spoke to me, teaching me logics beyond the walls of thought.
We orgied in viscera for days. And when we had glutted our black souls in that vile revelry, they bore me up between them, carrying me to Her, resplendent within Her web of cyclopean stone, to sit at Her side as the most depraved of Her lieutenant slaves, to preside over the ascendence of the Red City, as its monoliths and avenues were re-painted with the gaping throats of a billion sacrifices.
I regret it all, every moment of it. You can take little comfort in that, I’m sure. And I can take little pride in being Her concubine, pregnant with a thousand thousand of Her maggot spawn. I stand swollen before this world of the dead, the traitor presiding over strewn carcasses, and I weep for you, my kingdom of corpses.
Matthew Bey is one of the stupid geniuses behind Space Squid, a free humor and fiction ‘zine. He’s also an editor, blogger and podcaster at RevolutionSF.com. Links to his many publishing credits can be found at his website:www.matthewbey.com.