The night air freezes in from the open window. I shiver under my jacket as I take another drag from my short cigarette. I lean out and release the smoke into the darkness. From behind me I hear a light beep. With a sigh, I flick the sizzling stub into the black, the embers of my bad habit darkening on the gravel.
Shutting the window, I turn around and slip back into my chair. I rub my eyes and click off my alarm. I feel along the wall until my fingers find a small switch. It turns with a sharp metallic snap, and the wall in front of me flashes to life. A stack of screens showing alleyways, streets, and warehouses bathes the little room in a high definition glare.
It hurt the first few nights, but eventually the pain settled into a dull thudding on the back of my eyelids. I didn’t want this. But a mix of student loan debt and delusions of adventure made me see this gut-wrenchingly monotonous job as an opportunity for action and danger. I was wrong.
It’ll be over before you know it, I think to myself as I check my watch, the hands moving painfully slow under the scratched crystal. My gaze drifts down to the cigarettes sitting on the window sill. I shouldn’t. The supervisor hates when anyone so much as brings a pack into the booth. But the prospect of another long, soulless night rouses my craving. Okay, I’ll open the window and just have a quick one. No ashes, no problems. I slide open the glass and feel the cold rush in. I grab for the package when a sharp crash sounds off in the distance. The clamor makes me jump. When my heart begins to beat normally again my mind scrounges for a reason to stay right where I am. It’s a racoon or… or a gust of wind…
Just as I have settled the sound’s origin, I hear a rapid crackle and hiss from camera nine. The screen blips to static. I sit there confused for a moment before tapping the screen and eventually smacking the top of the monitor. The shock fades into anger as I rustle around the room for my flashlight and holster.
“It’s those damn pawn-jockeys again,” I mumble, reassuring myself.
I tighten my belt and step out into the night. I shiver under my coat. Camera nine is set nearest to the line of storage warehouses and happens to be the most expensive and well-kept. Of all the places that I had to manage, the warehouses were the most likely to be broken into. I always hated the cameras. Walking down to fix a chipped lense or a slit wire makes me feel much less like a grizzled security guard and much more like a not-so-glorified IT geek.
I trace the usual route: past the smaller storage lockers and onto the more expansive storage facilities. After a few tight cement turns, I find the camera staring diligently at the row of tall metal doors. I examine it from eye to outlet. The lense is unblemished, the chord tight and uncut, and, seemingly, it’s recording as usual.
“Waste of my damn time…,” I growl.
I sigh heavily, too weary to rant. Besides, I have a cigarette and a warm booth to return to. I turn to head back, but I notice something odd in the distance. I raise up my flashlight to be sure. One of the unit’s doors has been slid open. With a salty gulp I consider heading back and calling it in. But I remember of all the wasted nights sitting in that tiny booth. I gather my courage and rest my sweaty palm on the handle of my gun as I walk slowly to the darkened doorway.
From the threshold, the room is a boundless expanse of inky nothingness, as if the night itself had been poured into the space. The unit is one of the larger facilities, often used for cars, machinery and, on one occasion, a small aircraft. But tonight the place is seemingly empty. As my flashlight carves its way through the dense dark, I pass rows of skeletal shelves, their frames clear of any boxes or bags. However, if there was anything bigger in the space, I wouldn’t know.
I perceive my environment in a small cone of light, the darkness choking out my pathetic beam as well as any noise. All I hear are my own footsteps clapping solemnly across the concrete. I long for some sort of light switch. If I’m not mistaken, there should be a fuse box along the northern wall. Just then I hear a crash. I freeze in place. The echo is sonorous, bouncing through the darkness and changing pitch, as if the building was playing some crooked game of telephone. The sound came vaguely from my left, and, clutching the flashlight tight in my fist, I step towards the clamor. Another clang sounds off, this time defined and clear. I’m in the main storage space now, with nothing but an endless floor spreading out into the darkness.
The beam of light shakes as my hand trembles. I begin to hear another sound. It isn’t sharp. It begins lightly, almost simmering in the background. It’s almost like… rain. It is a cascade of smaller sounds; something that is so familiar and yet so obscure that I can’t place it. It’s not rain, that’s impossible. I was just outside. I get closer and the sound becomes louder and more defined. It rises up around me, resonating from the walls and ceiling. I know what it is. The sound is practically roaring. It can’t be. I would… I would have seen something on the cameras. The sound gets even closer. It’s impossible. I hear clapping.
An impossibly huge audience of palms applauds me in the darkness. The sound is deafening. My head aches with the torrent of noise. I flash my light around. Nothing. Just the floor and the darkness. Suddenly the noise ceases. The claps fade away. I try to still myself, but my entire spine shakes, each vertebra vibrating. I hear a skitter to my left. I whip my light around to it. Something shines in the light, just for a moment. I tremble forward, my hand still clasped to the handle of my Glock. As I come up on the source, my mind barely even registers it.
It’s a pair of arms.
They had been sort of hanging there, palms down.
My light had hit the fingernails.
I want to run. I want to scream. I want to hurl. But I stay in place, frozen, staring. The arms are mismatched. The first is longer than its brother. The other is bruised and ragged.
My stomach turns. N-no. Its not-, I think futility before I recoil in terror. The fingers twitch. They stretch and wiggle like spiders exploring in the dark. Slowly, they begin to rise to their palms, gaining some sick sense of balance. They teeter away into the darkness like little children in an uneven cadence.
I unholster my gun, pointing it shakily at the darkness. I take a step back. I hear the rain again. The sea. The clapping. It’s just as loud, but it roars in front of me now. From where the arms were. I point my flashlight over my gun, every fiber of my body quaking in fear. It doesn’t take me long to see it in the light.
A cataclysm of dismembered limbs crashes forward. Thousands of arms swaying and twitching. Thousands of palms slapping against concrete in satanic applause. Pale flesh shines in the light. Blood glistens off severed stumps of bone from handless limbs. I rip the weapon from my side and fire into the clot of appendages. Each shot briefly illuminates the horror, showing a writhing mass of limbs spread up the walls, like a creeping infection of flesh. If I had not used up all of my bullets, I would have used one of them on myself.
I feel my soul rip up through my chest. My finger continues to pull the trigger in a series of rapid empty clicks. The corpses continue to crash forward like an ocean of carcasses. I feel my knees shaking. The flashlight slips from my hand and falls to the floor, the beam still illuminating a portion of the carnage.
The primal part of my brain bashes into place and my feet are running, sprinting away. I rush madly through the pitch-black. The storage facility is still oppressively dark, and all I catch are fleeting notions of shelves and corners. And the clapping. It’s all around me now.
In my tumult I come to a wall. I whip my head around, my eyes meeting the glorious green light coming off the exit sign. I sprint toward the door and rip open the cold steel handle. The night air rushes in and I don’t stop until the facility is a grey smudge in the distance. I stop, lungs burning. I lean over and throw up.
I lay on the ground, crushed and spent. I think of what I had witnessed and my mind drifts through my sunday school stories and the drab catholic Sunday masses. My fingers drift to my collar and examine the small silver cross bound to my neck. I never really believed. I was agnostic. But tonight I pull the chain out and press the silver over my heart.
Slowly, I get to my feet. I don’t how I can. I feel empty. I feel like my life is in shambles but not a thing has changed. I check my watch. 4:00 am. My shift is over. I’m not sure what that means anymore. Somehow I’m at my car. I can feel my hands again. I had dropped the light, but the handgun is still secured tightly in my clenched fist. I release it and take out my keys. I’m slowly remembering how to function.
I somehow make it through the streets. It wasn’t that hard. It’s not like there is anyone out at this hour. I only stopped to throw up once. Somehow, I make it to the driveway of my apartment. I just sit in my seat. After a couple of hours of staring vacantly into my dashboard, I go inside.
I float through the door and into my cramped apartment. I slump into the couch. My mind tries to touch whatever I had seen but just the prospect of rationalizing Hell itself burns the back of my eyes. Something in my chest snaps and tears begin to stream down my face. I begin to sob and wretch on the floor, bringing my knees to my chest like a fetus. I clench the cross until the silver edges dig into my hand. I grip it harder.
I wake up a few hours later. I’m on my couch. My coat is rolled up under me. I run my hand through my sweaty hair and my palm stings sharply. A small red cut in the vague shape of a cross. Lines of dried blood run down the side of my palm. I look down. The cross shines in the morning light, sitting in a patch of dried crimson. I pick it up without hesitation.
What little sleep I had gotten was oddly peaceful. To my memory, there were no dreams. Below me I hear an obscure gnawing. I’m hungry. My stomach comes back up to me, grumbling incessantly. I open up my fridge and retrieve a jar of peanut butter and the remnants of a loaf of bread. I eat, glad to somehow fill the emptiness.
I slump back into the couch, not bothering to put the food away. My mind tries to right itself. Hallucinations. I haven’t been sleeping well the past few nights. It’s all in my head. I was just startled by the noises.
But then the multitude of clapping corpses rises fresh in my mind. Any logical explanation keeping me stitched together is cut and tears run down my face once more. I hug my shoulders and babble to myself incoherently. Devil. Beast of the Pit. Beast of- I stop myself. I say the last words again. Beast of the Pit. I’ve heard that. Even before I have the fully formed thought I leap from the couch and tear through the stacks of papers strewn around my house. It’s here. I know it is. I dash to an old bookshelf and rip through the titles. Here. I pull the slender volume and wipe the dust away from the black leather. My Bible.
I open the book and the spine gives an aged groan. I flip towards the end. Here it is. What I’m looking for. Revelations.
They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.
The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come
The hairs on the back of my neck prick up from the words. Woes. Pits. The words are arcane and ritualistic. I suddenly feel much smaller. I grip the crucifix around my neck. Abaddon. I’m not sure what that means. I look around the room, but I don’t find much else. Besides my bible, I don’t have anything in the way of religious research. I head back to the kitchen and grab my ratty laptop. I flip open the top and slowly type in “Abaddon.”
Words flash across the screen. New Testament. Revelation. King of Locusts. I swallow dryly. Angel of Death. My spine begins to tingle. Claps resonate in the back of my memory. Other names are shown. Belphegor. Asmodeus. My back prickles. I grab for a pen and pad.
I am at the table for hours. Researching. For something. I’m not sure what. Something with hands. With arms. The computer screen begins to get fuzzy. My papers seem far away. I lay my head on the table, and I doze off.
I wake up with a jump. I check the clock. 7:00 am. I look around sluggishly. The room is blurry and distant, the table and chairs in front of me seem to twist hazily. I rub my eyes. As I think about coffee, my eyes set on the small package of cigarettes, temptingly full. I could of sworn I smoked up the entire package last night. I guess I hadn’t. I grab the lighter and walk out to my porch.
I light the tip and take a delicious drag. The nicotine saps into my mouth, the smoke wrapping warm around my lungs. I exhale contentedly. I chuckle deliriously and wave my hand through the vapor like a playful child.
Suddenly a crash sounds off in the distance. My ears immediately prick up.
Another clamor rings out. Closer now. The cigarette drops from my lips.
I hear a slam. It’s right behind me. Its coming from inside.
I sprint off the porch. I leave everything behind.
A huge roar rips through the darkness.
I make the mistake of looking back.
Mounted grotesquely on the top of the complex is the beast of arms. It is sitting perched across the roof like a bird of corpses. Thousands of limbs are grouped around some hulking oblong center, pulsing and flexing like a great demonic heart. Crops of meat peel off to maintain its balance, some grasping together to form great legs and supports of flesh. Near the center of the mass I see something odd. It’s small and dark, barely seen in the sea of dead. But I catch it. A head.
I scream and peel off into the night. The road and trees are bent and contorted, as if they were put through some damaged photo-filter. I take the impossibly tight turns with the frenzied breaths of a man near death. As if sensing my fear, the beast slams each one of its arms and lets loose an unholy screech. It leaps from the roof and extends four legs that shake the ground as it lands. More arms drop down and wrap around each other, molding themselves into the inverted joints of a panther.
It bounds after me, in great cadenced slaps of a thousand fleshy palms. I bleed forward, every instinct screaming. The buildings blur by as I sprint around walls and hedges. A fleeting notion of calling for help shreds across my mind, but the massacre hounding after me clears the thought. Suddenly the beast jumps up to the roofs in front of me, expanding out into a tide. The beast washes over each apartment, the weight of its dead somehow not breaking in the ceilings. Not even a shingle was moved.
I’m shaking. The beast pours itself down onto the concrete, it’s arms shifting and unfurling. My heart burns from the running but just the sight of the beast sends waves of adrenaline through my chest. I glance around hopelessly. The beast is swiftly flooding out onto the pavement, the dead tips of fingers groping for me. They scratch their nails on the ground and bleed in their excitement.
I am slowly being pushed backward against the wall. It has caught me between two buildings, its center cooing in a low growl, anticipating the savory warmth of its prey. I draw in my arms, my heart slowly burning. The arms close in slowly, patiently. My eyes skitter around for any sort of exit. I feel a bump at my hip. I look down and I see a handle protruding from the wall. I whip around and come to face with a door. I don’t stop to ponder about what is on the other side. Adrenaline blasts into my veins and I rip open the door, lunging into the darkness.
I sit for a moment, gasping air. I sprawl out, lungs heaving. The floor is cold and hard. I open my eyes to nothing. The room is dense and black. I hold my hand up to my face. Nothing. I sit up, my eyes moving futility in my skull. I stand and blunder around for the door. I can’t seem to find it. Despite being set in an apartment complex, the room feels larger than it should be. Than it ever could be.
Suddenly I hear a muffled slam from in front of me. I knew the door wouldn’t hold. Adrenaline burns in my chest as I once again dash forward into the black, going anywhere away from the door. The noise eventually fades, and I slow my pace, my ears pricked up cautiously. I sense my way through the darkness, but there is not much else here but the concrete floor.
I should have hit the other wall by now, I think. Just then my shoulder thumps into something. I extend my hands out blindly and feel cold metal. It’s a steel shelf. Nothing seems to be on it. Not even a box. I keep walking. I must be going in circles. Or maybe there’s a sub basement? Or- I bump into another shelf. It’s just as barren. I take another step forward and I feel another steel rack, and another. There are rows of them now. Something in my stomach twists. I keep moving forward.
As I slowly make my way along, the shelves get further and further apart until the room turns to endless night once again. This is impossible, I think, frustrated. Unless I wanted to sprint into uncertain darkness, I had to keep walking, but I did quicken my pace to a desperate lope. Something bumps my toe and rattles next to me on the floor. I squat down, feeling. My hand closes around a weighty cylinder, the steel cold and smooth in my palm. I know what it is. I feel around for the switch and the flashlight blinks to life. The bright beam struggles in the darkness, but I was happy to be able to finally get my bearings. But I don’t. Even in the light, I only manage to carve out a small cone of vision. All I see is floor.
My thoughts begin to get more heated. It should have broken the door. It must have. But I don’t hear a thing except the frantic pump of my heart. I keep walking forward, my hands beginning to tremble. Something shines in my beam. I squint and walk closer. The light glints off the brass, and I can see smoke coming off of the hollow center. A bullet casing. I reach down. It’s still warm. I walk forward. Brass gleams in the light. I find five more. Then six. Twelve shots. All fresh. Shot from a…
I complete the sentence aloud. My stomach wrenches. I had dropped the flashlight. A low clamor sounds around me like rain. After I shot it. An unholy bellow rips through the darkness. I bring the flashlight around to face a sea of death.
With a great meaty snap the beast sends a pack of limbs hurtling towards me. I feel the impact explode across my ribs as I am thrown out into the darkness. I bounce painfully off the floor and lay there, dazed. Blood drips from my side. I’m numb. The beast approaches slowly. It begins to expand. Arms unclasp. Its dark oblong center peels away as it gets closer.
It stops at my feet. I begin to hear the clapping once again. But it’s different now. It’s slow. Rhythmic. The clump in front of me begins to rustle. Its arms begin to unfurl, dropping away. From the cluster a head appears. The hands around it stretch out like petals of a flower. Bone shines in the light. A bleached skull sits nestled in a cradle of flesh. Slowly, a pair of hands grasp its base and jaw. It moves the head around like a demented marianette, giving it an almost lifelike quality. They pull the jaw open and the beast roars once more. From under its pseudo-neck a hand slithers upward and out, twitching between the skull’s white lips. It stays there, blossomed, palm facing outward. It sees me. Before I think it’s hand is around my neck. I’m being lifted, the air in my lungs slowly being crushed out. The skull turns to regard me. Behind the empty sockets I see movement. I stare deeper into its vacant gaze. I see nothing. I see everything. I see an end. I see a new birth. The arm pulls in. The flesh envelopes me and I feel myself being torn apart.
I bolt upright. I’m at my table. The computer has long since shut down and my scribbled notes are spread haphazardly across the table. My hands slowly unclench and stop trembling. Sweat lines my neck. I rub my eyes. This is real. This is.
In the back of my head I feel a light hum. It’s like the headache I get from the monitors. Except it’s low and calming. Almost warm. Outside I hear rain.
I dress silently. Calmly. Each button on my sweat-stained shirt clicks into place without incident. I pull on my coat. Even under all of the layers I’m comfortable. I stroll out to my car, leaving the front door open.
The city passes in a rapid smear as I tear through the roads. I leave the windows open, allowing the night air to whip through the front seats. I rip faster and faster through the streets, disregarding any offbeat bumps from under my tires. In the corner of my eye I see a bright neon sign. Smith Tool and Trade. With a tight shriek of my tires I pull into the store.
I walk through the isles lined with the jagged packages of nails and screws and the gleaming points of power tools. At the back of the store I find what I need. I test the weight in my palm and smile at the balanced grip. The man at the counter gives me a concerned look before ringing up my purchase. I flash a mild grin and walk back to my car. He won’t think much of me. I’m just another odd midnight customer.
I burn through the city, the street lights brushing rapidly by. My arms are at ten and two, my seat buckled, and I have my lights on. I’m a calm, content driver ripping through the city.
At last, I arrive at the rows of dark grey warehouses flanked by fences. I come to a screeching halt in the center of the lot and turn the car off. I open the door cordially and walk to my booth. I toss the keys over my shoulder.
The row of black screens is still here. Still malignant and ugly against the plain wallpaper. But I’m not watching tonight.
I kneel down to a small fuse box under the desk. I snap open the small red casing. My fingers sniff around for the wires. I find them and rip upward. Sparks rise up and out, crackling and popping in tune with the surge of power that turns the booth dark.
I get up to leave. As I stare back to the forever blank screens I am pleased with the work.
Down the steps. Around the corner.
I hear rain starting.
I hear the patter of the little somethings on the metal. On the gravel. On the bottom of my skull and the backs of my eyes. Tapping away. The rain is here.
I do not walk down the same way he did.
As ignorant as he was.
As selfish as he was.
As blind as he was.
Now I see. This is not a test of bravery. There is no fear here. Only faith.
Tight concrete corners. Left. Right.
The dark doorway appears. It is warm and inviting. Like a womb.
The darkness folds in. It pushes. Moves. Directs. Like mother. Like father.
The darkness is crushing. But this is not a place of sight.
Steel racks. Bullet casings. Black warmth.
The rain recedes. The sea is silent.
All is quiet. The room holds still. Everything watches.
The room is now a stage. A dark quiet space that has been watched and is being watched. The actor has begun his sonnet.
Fingers around hilt.
Far away steel sinks into flesh.
I set my arm on the ground in front of me.
I lean forward and feel warmth drizzle down my side and out onto the floor.
My chest hits the ground. I bow in prayer.
The rain begins to hit.
The carcass cacophony sounds its applause.
Down in my throat, under my bones, I am somber.
I breathe out praise.
It will appease him, I whisper.
Avraham Forrest is a writer and journalist from from Indiana that was thankfully raised on the Twilight Zone, the Exorcist, and assorted tales from Stephen King. He hates standard cookie cutter horror and is absorbed with the complex fear of movies like the Babadook and The Shining. He enjoys biking and boxing, and is very attached to his typewriter.