The parking lot was mostly empty and drowned in heavy rain, yet I still left the car at the very far end, right next to the fence with only a river beyond. It did mean enduring the sleet as I trekked to the nearby building, but I would rather be hidden from any coincidental meddlesome eyes, and the darkness of heavy clouds and defunct lamps provided for that nicely. I took cover under the small roof above the back entrance and had one last look at the pocket clockwork.
The small hand was pointed at the door and the big hand was nearing twelve. It must be here, though I didn't feel anything except for some strange familiarity with this place. Then again, I wasn't quite at the top of my game. Everything was still so new and a little off - not truly uncomfortable, but different, like a tooth cap you can't stop touching with your tongue.
I couldn't really idle, though, with the readings as urgent as they were. I didn't want to idle.
Picking the lock was easy and I took out a flashlight as I ventured inside. Everything was gloomy and grimy, all sounds drowned out by the insistent rainfall. From what I saw on arrival, this once was a cinema, now rundown and abandoned. A dead place, out of sight of anyone who didn't know what to look for. An ideal place for an incursion.
Then I heard the voices.
Coming from behind the door to my left, they seemed to be chanting. I tried the door handle, and though stiffly, it moved. The room beyond was large and poorly lit by flickering light, its floor strewn with strange shapes. The chanting intensified, accompanied by the sounds of struggle. I attempted to slip through the door without making a sound or drawing attention to myself with abrupt movements, but still the old hinges creaked and I involuntarily cringed and something was really wrong with that scene and I had it on the tip of my proverbial tongue, but-
A shape rose up from one of the many seats randomly littering the floor, starting right after me. Then the lights exploded in a crescendo of music and I finally made one more half-step into the room that let me see the threadbare film screen where a cultist just summoned a "demon" in a latex costume.
"I was starting to think you forgot, Robbie," the woman who got up to greet me said.
"Oh, hi. No," I managed, before she threw her arms around my neck and started to kiss me.
Well, that explains the feeling of familiarity with this place. Incited, the memories came flooding in, of this little hideout where I - no, Robert - sometimes went with Kristy to hang out with her rowdy bunch of friends. From the memories I managed to quickly skim through, Kristy was clever and generally fun to be around. Robert had a good taste, though unlike Robert, I wasn't particularly enraptured by the neon green stripe in her hair, nor the piercing currently scratching my tongue.
She pulled away and looked at me questioningly: "Is something wrong?"
I leaned forward for one more quick, reassuring kiss. "No, sorry. I had a few rough days."
"You could've called me," she said, hugging me tight.
"I know, I just needed a while to take stock of, well, everything."
Damn, poor choice of words. She looked me in the eyes, suddenly uncertain and worrying.
"What's happening, Rob?"
Not the time for this! I came here...
"Everything all right, Kristy?"
Dave, I remembered. He always saw Robert as the outsider and rival.
"Everything's just peachy, Dave," I retorted and turned back to Kristy: "My uncle died recently. He made me his heir, and now the family is pretty pissed at me, so I was trying to avoid everyone, I guess. Sorry."
Distract her with a sob story, then get back to work. I came here...
"Oh," she hugged me again. "You could've still called me. Wanna go out and talk about it?"
"No," I offered a smile. "Maybe later. Thanks," I amended quickly to dissuade any further prying.
She dragged me to her cushion and cuddled up as we watched the bad old horror film, but something continued to bother me, and it wasn't my newfound girlfriend nor the squalid, spooky surroundings.
I knew I came here to... to...
I couldn't concentrate. The air was stale and stinky, smelling of old beer and sweat and...
Robert did frequent the parties here, he knew the people and I could chalk up some confused feelings to that, yet I followed the readings, not Robert's memories. I could have made a mistake, maybe? I was missing something obvious, and the acrid air, the loud film and a starting headache from trying too hard to get all the fleeting memories and thoughts in order didn't help.
I had something that might, though.
I reached into my breast pocket for a flask of lishgar. I liked to carry one with me, even if I only rarely used it. The risk of addiction and the sheer price of this stuff made me think twice. I had a new, young, healthy and most importantly completely clean body now, though, and I needed a clear mind. I involuntarily shuddered as I quaffed a small sip.
The film was blaring, but otherwise, everything was so... still.
"Hey, what are you hiding in there?" Kristy grinned at me.
"Nothing particularly tasty," I smiled back and tried to leisurely tuck the potion away, but she was already snatching the flask from my hand.
"Let me be the judge of that, you know I have a cultivated taste," she winked.
I stifled the urge to yank it back. I did not have enough to waste it, but I really did not want to make a scene. The potion was so bitter that she won't drink much, and it can't really harm her with a single dose. I hope.
Sure enough, she swallowed, started to cough and shoved the flask back at me.
"Why in hell would you drink that? That's worse than the rotgut Dave brought that one time!"
"Told you," I said and went to hug her, but then she turned pale and started to scream.
I didn't misread the clockwork. The party was too still. I came here for a reason, but I forgot.
Kristy had fat white worms gnawing through the flesh of her arms.
We both jumped up from the cushion that was crawling with the same worms. My mind cleared as the drug sharpened my focus, and I saw how many people there used to be on the party. The bodies were everywhere. Half-eaten corpses sitting with a slouch, their insides teeming with hatchling grub. Skeletons nearly cleaned of all meat lounging on chairs, the maggots slowly spilling from them to look for another meal. Here and there was somebody still alive, missing limbs or stretches of skin, ignorant of the eggs laid into the bloody holes in their guts or their eye sockets. Dave tried to kiss his girlfriend, but couldn't really do much more than spread some worms over her face, as they have already devoured his lips. She smiled and kissed him back.
Suddenly, I was staring down at the floor, retching. The smell, the sight, lishgar made me take it all in at once and twice as strongly. I squashed some worms that found my boot and tried to centre myself, then heaved again.
"Fuck! What the fuck?! What did you give me? What the fuck was that shit, Robert?!"
Unfortunately for Kristy, lishgar enhanced all forms of perception. Including the sense of pain. She was clawing at her arms, nails digging deep into the open wounds, tearing the worms apart or away.
"It's real," I barely rasped. My throat felt awful and my stomach swayed with each word. "What you see. We have to get out. Get out of here. Quickly."
She wasn't listening. She was taking in everything, too much.
I tried to grab for her arm, but she recoiled, quick and skittish. At least she was paying attention, now.
"We need to run," I said, then seeing her look I added: "Please, you have to trust me."
Lost look in her eyes, she let me take her hand. It was slick with blood, but at least nothing wriggled in the ragged wounds any more. I had to drag her as we moved to the door.
They were all over the ground, but they were just worms. With every step, they squished beneath our boots. I nearly lost my balance when I slipped on an empty beer bottle, and it was Kristy who kept me up, hissing in pain as she strained her wounded arms. I opened the door and slammed it shut again once we were through, crushing even more of the worms. Not that it would matter in the grand scheme of things.
"We'll have to burn all of this. They are everywhere and I don't have anything else that would make sure we stop them before they can get out. I really hope there are no open drains or pipes in here."
"What the- No! Are you insane?!"
"Kristy, I swear this is real. I'm sorry, but it is. The potion we took doesn't make you see things. I mean-"
"I know! I can feel it, no, see it, no, I just- I know it's real!" She gripped me, pupils dilated so wide there was nearly no iris left. "We have to go back. The guys, we can't leave!"
It was really dark in here. I thought I brought a flashlight, but I must have left it somewhere.
"Sorry, I... Sure, let's go back. I didn't... I... Let's go back to the party," I smiled. I had a really ugly taste in my mouth.
My head hurt.
"What? No. No, no no no no!"
Damn, I felt tired and sick and didn't pay enough attention to what I was saying. Kristy had a touch of panic in her voice, now.
"Hey, I'm not feeling all that well tonight," I said, trying for a soothing tone. I should get out of here, figure out what's going on, try to remember more about Kristy, her gang and this place, then come back. "Would you mind if I skipped this evening? I will make it up to you, okay? I will call you tomorrow, I just need to sleep it off."
"You vomited," she said, suddenly. It was starting to get on my nerves that I nearly couldn't see her in the dark. I thought I brought a flashlight, but I must have left it somewhere.
"I'm sorry, I really didn't mean to-"
"Robbie, listen! That drug, you have a little bottle in your pocket? You took it and me too, but you vomited it up. You have to take it again!"
She was just a shadowy silhouette, but her hands were trembling as she clutched mine.
Lishgar? How did she know about it? I had some with me, but if I took it and couldn't even...
I took a good gulp. If I couldn't even remember, something was definitely happening here.
With the canister of petrol and other stuff I had in my car, the building was soon up in flames. Limited, controlled flames, I must add, and the heavy rain would limit them further. Enough to scorch everything inside, but not enough to spread. With the dark and stormy night and only old office buildings all around, hopefully no one will call the fire brigade and the fire will have its time to remove all traces of the incursion.
The bodies will be found, and it will be reported as a great tragedy. When we came back, there was nobody left to rescue and save. At least their families will have the memories and some measure of closure.
I sat in my car, intent to keep watch and make sure it is truly over.
Behind me, Kristy was propped on the back seat, her arms patched as best as I could with the first aid kit. I offered to drop her off at the hospital, but she refused. The stitches can wait, she said, and that she wanted to see this through.
But all the action was done and all that was left to do was to wait. I knew the inevitable question will have to come now.
"Who the hell are you?" she asked, her tone low and hard.
"Normally, I would fear to sound totally crazy saying that," I chuckled, "but there is more to the world than meets the eye. There are things that-"
"No. Who the hell are you?" she repeated, pointed and accusing.
"I... beg your pardon?"
"That! The stuff you gave me, whatever it was, it makes you more aware, doesn't it? I started noticing all the little things. Posture, gestures, expressions. Like right now, my Robbie would never say that."
"So fucking tell me, who are you and what did you do with Robbie?!"