Where the Streets Have No Name
by Stewart Wilson
Jack tells me it's easier in the old cities. London, Paris, Moscow, even New York and Boston. Anywhere people have generated the idea of the city-as-entity for long enough. I know he came to London to do it one last time. I came to find him.
I do a line of something I was promised was the ground up corpse of Tony Blair after the flour/anthrax incident. It's got quite a kick to it, the old bastard's magical protections burning in my throat. That should keep me awake for a couple of days, which should be all I need. If I'm not back before I sleep, I'm not coming back.
I make my way into the Tube, hop down into one of the tunnels. I never realised how cold it is down here without the trains. There's a walkway which stops me becoming so much red ooze, and a short way down the line is an alcove that turns out to be another tunnel. I go a fair way in, and lean against the wall. Fag-ash in a circle around me, prick my finger so I can get the heptagram in blood on the walls of the tunnel. I'm protected now. At least, protected from things here. I take the wrap out of my jacket, tip the powder into the liquid and watch for the mere seconds that the resultant mixture crystallizes before breaking down again. I snort the crystals through a rolled-up hundred-dollar bill an American friend gave to me. I think it's worth about a pound at present rates. That's all I can think of as my head starts swimming and the strange crystals alter the harmonic frequency of my brain.
I open my eyes to madness. Buildings stretch up around me, impossibly tall. Gothic archways around doorways barred shut with black steel and chains. The windows barred but smashed. Just looking up at the nearest makes me dizzy. it must be at least a mile to the top before it hits a sky with no stars. The mid-levels shine lonely lights out into the darkness. These and the neon orbs hanging irregularly from wires high above the streets provide the only lighting.
As I walk down the road past more strange architecture, the cobbles moan underfoot. Each has the likeness of a face embossed on the top. I run the rest of the way. Shadows dart around me but I can't tell if they are people or just the swinging orbs. When I pause for breath, I'm sure it's people. A noise behind me of steel on stone and I turn, just as the smell of machine oil and unwashed human hits me. Jack mentioned the creatures, but he was never able to describe them. Now I see why. Reaction takes over and I double over before I vomit on my clothes. The creature is hideous. A twisted thing, only able to move because of the impossible clockwork machines bolted through it's legs, the skin drawn back away from muscle and bone. One arm hanging limply, ending in an infected stump. The other ends in a mess of screws and blades.
The fear loses it's grip on me and I run far and fast. Around me, the street warps and flows, my terror propelling me further from the thing. Thoughts building up unbidden in my head. The creatures can get to me in this world. This is their place now. They are the ones who stayed behind when we left. I should have set up some psychic defenses before snorting. Stupid girl. Clouds of thoughts swarm my mind as I see light pouring from the door of an open building. Sanctuary. Lost heritage. I need time to process everything I'm taking in.
I'm within three steps of the doors when they swing shut with a cruel laugh. A roar from above, then inhuman shrieking that threatens to pierce my eardrums. Bat-like things, all wings and jaws and claws are flocking from a smashed window. Run girl run. Got to get away. Got to find Jack. A corpse dangling from one of the overhead wires looks like the Hanged Man. Jack's card. Got to find Jack. Not welcome home.
“ANNA! “ Jack's voice rang out and I ran for it. Ran until it felt like my heart would burst. Need to find Jack. Need to get him out. Unfortunately, I found him.
There wasn't a building here. Just a sheer square hole in the ground, projecting down. Pipes dripped oil and ichor where their connection to the edifice should have been. Jack was balanced there at the edge of the chasm, supported on a frame of bone and tied down with his own guts.
“Anna.... why am I not dead?” His voice was badly slurred and only then did I see that his tongue had been cut out and nailed to his left thigh.
Whatever fight was left in me vanished and I collapsed to the floor. More voices in my head. What you get for coming back. Shouldn't have left. Jack's not dead. Shouldn't be here. No death without permission. My eyes crept up, not wanting to see Jack again. My view was blocked by a towering mass of skinless muscle. My eyes adjusted, registering it as a human form. Six arms. Smoked glass bolted deep into the flesh at some points. It was inserting iron hooks beneath Jack's eyelids, so I could only assume it was leaving me for later. No death here. Only pain.
“Jack... “ I had to say it. Had to distract the thing long enough for Jack to concentrate. Had to get him out of here. “Jack.”
The creature turned. There was no face, just smoked grey glass. Each hand had wicked black talons. It reached out for me and my flesh split in the language of terrible angels. My voice-box threatened to burst but the pain forced the last of the magic in that Blair-dust through me and into him. The world needs a savior more than it needs a junkie magician.
“Wake up, Jack.”
He fell back into infinite blackness. That was the last thing I saw before the creature's claws put my eyes out and took my face for a mask. I know it went to hunt Jack in our world, I could feel it's thoughts. It left me alone with my pain, never to die. The thing with the screw-arm found me two days later.