Categories > Original > Fantasy > Tradewinds 09 - "The Building is Hungry!"


by shadesmaclean 0 reviews

Shades' unsettling realization

Category: Fantasy - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Fantasy,Horror - Published: 2009-10-10 - Updated: 2009-10-10 - 1742 words - Complete

The drop into the skylight earlier was easy enough, but in spite of the fact that what lay behind Shades was nothing but a dead end, even after nearly an hour it still bothered him that he could not go back.

Back in the halls again. On one hand, it was hard enough feeling as if he had to keep his guard up constantly. Yet he also had to battle that mysterious sandbagging that was making it hard to stay awake, to stay focused.

Fortunately, the halls themselves were part of an enormous complex, full of long hallways and stairs, so he hadn’t had to face any doors so far.

The Building was vast, bottomless. Though the pressure was low-level, it was constant. He knew it would wear him down eventually if he stayed in here too long. Was beginning to suspect that he was one of those rare exceptions, an anomaly of sorts at the Mall, and his and Max’s energy combined had formed an even greater anomaly, which had allowed the both of them to survive for as long as they had in there. But this place’s power was still greater, and he now understood that it was only a matter of time before even he succumbed to its terrible influence.

That line of thought led him to an ominous conclusion. Places like this, and the Mall, were pitcher plants, fly traps. Slippery, hungry holes in the fabric of reality. And, much to his chagrin, this one even came with its own warning sign.

Shades was beginning to realize with growing alarm what this place really was. The endless, ever-shifting scenery. The mix-matched passages that made no architectural sense. That sense of being in a maze whose walls and boundaries are in fluid motion when you’re not looking. Keeping you, engulfing you, folding up the entire world into the maze. This was the stuff nightmares were made of. He could easily picture Evil-Cam chasing Amy through this place.

In that moment, a scene played out in his mind’s eye. It was really a dream he had the other night, emerging from the dim waters of Rem, that deep sea of dreams which most seldom remember. A message in a bottle from beyond night’s Plutonian shores.

There was Amy, having (for the moment, at least) lost her unseen hunter, looking around with tangible apprehension. She looks right at Shades and says, Watch out, Dex! The building is hungry! Then resumes her seemingly ceaseless flight.

If what little Max said about this place was true, he suspected that, in spite of the Harken Building’s sinister reputation, somehow no one would ever quite get around to tearing it down.

Back in the blind alley— which he realized was somehow the dreamplane’s version of this building— Amy had been pointing to that same line of graffiti even as she warned him. Those words now shook Shades to the core. After remembering that, he found himself looking around even more warily than he had before.

He blinked away at the sandbagging, that stifling, dryer-lint heat, as he finally understood this place for what it really was. It was a graveyard. But though it must surely house its share of unquiet spirits, it wasn’t really a graveyard of people.

It was a graveyard of places.

Lost and forgotten, places that no longer existed. Places that no longer were, in one world or another. Now he was certain he had dreamt of this place, in nightmares his waking mind refused to remember. Had often said he had few nightmares as a child, but now he understood that his unconscious memory had been holding out on him.

These thoughts just kept coming unbidden, gnawing at this mind. Looking back, Max had seemed uncharacteristically perturbed by this place after looking at it for a while. Outlanders’ tales, indeed… He would have to ask later just what kind of stories he had heard.

If I ever get to ask him anything again.

So lost was he in his dark contemplations that he almost shot the black-and- white panther that just stepped around the next corner. So startled he nearly fumbled Max’s weapon as he realized who he very nearly killed with it. For his part, Bandit just stood there, watching him.

“Bandit? Is that you?” For a moment, Shades had to grapple with the disconcerting thought that maybe this wasn’t the real Bandit, finally deciding that was just too paranoid. Still, when his friend didn’t appear next, he began to worry. “Where’s Max?”

Yet even after Bandit started toward him, his human companion still refused to put in an appearance.

Figuring that if this really was some kind of impostor, like John’s looking-glass doppelganger that sometimes haunted his dreams, the big cat would have had more than enough time to pounce, Shades put out his hand and patted his head. Cursing the Building, and all of its unsettling thoughts that kept slithering into his head here, he petted his friend. Fearing the worst, but putting on his best face, he said, “Come on. Let’s go find Max.”

It didn’t take long for them to come upon a vending machine in the next hall. For Shades to realize just how hungry he really was. For it to occur to him that it had been just as long since Bandit had eaten last. And all of it had been ruined by the pool water.

Though durable, he reflected, one of the downsides of denim was that it took forever and a day to dry. He was still damp from his unexpected swim, and knew he would be for a while yet. What he really wished, though, was that his damn boots wouldn’t make so many squishing noises in this too, too quiet place.

The Building ain’t the only thing that’s hungry around here…

He still wasn’t completely sure he trusted the food in this place, yet he knew he couldn’t go for too long without something. Nothing but necessity. There was also a pop vending machine, a really old one, and Shades decided to check it out. After nearly shooting Bandit, he concluded that he couldn’t waste any more ammo. He had no clue how much Max’s pistol had left, but knew that, from here on out, every time he pulled the trigger, he would have to make it count. Instead, he decided to again put his new lockpicking method to the test.

Besides, while the first vending machine he ran into appeared to want dollars, this one demanded to be fed something else. The numbers themselves looked familiar enough, but from the instructions and the unknown symbol, he had no clue what kind of currency it took. Just out of curiosity, he grabbed some loose change from his pocket and tried it.

Sure enough, his quarters and dimes proved totally useless, every one rejected.

Fishing out the ballpoint pen with the ink tube and the tip removed, he inserted it into the cylindrical lock and probed carefully. Apparently, some old locks were susceptible to this method, and this one looked pretty old. Just another test.

Still, he was surprised when it actually worked, yet again. Remembering Bandit’s needs, he also grabbed several bottles of water. It was tricky at first, but he finally got the big cat to drink from the bottle as he poured it out, he was that thirsty.

That settled, they resumed their exploration. A short while later, they came upon a door that hung wide open. Fearing what he might find on the other side, he stepped around the door itself, pointing Max’s gun in as he entered.

The first thing that struck him was the smell of old book bindings. Though the view left him disoriented for a moment. He had always rather liked libraries— being alone in a library was like having entire worlds all to himself— though they often gave him an odd feeling, this was topped by the fact that he was looking down on the whole thing from the small landing he stood at.

Again, seeing this made him wish he could have stayed longer at the Centralict Library. A little longer in that vast treasury of knowledge. Even Max had spoken of how he was similarly tempted by it.

A few steps down, and he was in a long, high-ceilinged room, lined with shelves on either side, with a narrow island of chest-high shelves down the middle, dividing the room. A thin strip of windows ran near the ceiling on his right. At one end of that island a book sat open.

Or rather, part of a book. A few pages still clinging to their binding, but Shades found himself drawn to it. Though an older volume, he couldn’t help himself; he was a sucker for reading material. At least he didn’t feel that foreboding presence, as he had with the Book of Fate.

It appeared to be a book of poetry, mostly pertaining to supernatural and eerie imagery, but the page with the beginning of the passage he found was missing, so all he got was:

—to nowhere uncheck’d.

All aboard the Mystery Train, walk through the dimly-lit cars, away from the Twylight City, riding under fading, dying stars. All the passenger cars art empty and the destinations don’t connect, but this train doth run through every one; ’twill make the hair stand on thy neck.

Nameless armies prowleth abandoned places, incomprehensible and vast; no one returneth who hath seen their faces: thou’rt through the looking glass.

Nowhere to hide from the scanners, in this dark place of Shadows, thou wilt never find the Lord of the Manor; in the Halls of Power, no one knows. Creepy like a place from some old black and white movie show, to which no one wouldst even come: ’twas more real than they couldst know.

A Presence in the room, of impending doom: don’t freeze up, for ye must runneth. Footfalls in the hall, to the book’s tomb, when something wickèd this way cometh…

Quite frankly, the whole thing seemed too apt for his taste, in this place. He put the book down, deciding that he had read enough. Perhaps too much, in light of all he had seen.
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