This article is part of the The Reificant series.
I have fed the fire with the bodies of men and women I called friend. I have sealed the water beneath a golden lid and denied its triumph. I leave my shell in the cave in the mountains of black rock and return to the cold and dark place. A suggestion, electric, transmitted over distance and given flesh. To the creaking, rain-lashed debris of a past civilization, teetering on the brink of final dissolution, the water chewing up the legs. I am not alone.
I am not welcome...
I emerge from the wreckage of the iron tunnel into wan daylight and a driving, torrential downpour. I stand amid a once-great city of metal and glass, polymer and brightly-painted surfaces, eroded and collapsed to heaps. Leaning towers and scaffoldings rise high above, swaying amid the steady wrack of the unnatural ocean waves.
This is no place by the sea, no dockland, it is an island built upon gargantuan pylons of iron, eroding and sloughing off by hundred-ton panels into the rippling tides of the water below. The pale sea collides in thundering waves and steals away pieces of the platform. It is hard to say how long this process has been going on, but it is clear that it is nearing its end. Soon the ocean will weaken the massive pylons and this island city will begin to tilt and spill into the sea. It will be consumed and forgotten. As if it was never here at all.
I search the ruins of this place, climbing over fallen shelters and entering those that still stand. The wind is too powerful for me to take flight. Doors bang open, sheets of plastic billow out from damaged structures. The rain drums against roofs and spills down the sides to form streams of rust-red water that flow out to meet the sea.
I step beneath the sunken dome of a long-ago amphitheater. Faded images depict isopods standing on four legs and manipulating various objects with their many forelimbs. Water pours into the amphitheatre from the cracked dome.
A phosphorescent ecosystem exists amid the heaps of masonry and tangled support beams. Gilled fungi sprout high into the air. Glowing blue fruits sway atop long, pale stalks. A familiar white grass clings to huge, rectangular stones and the surrounding floor. Red light pulses from speckled fruit growing against the floor. Small crustaceans scuttle among this fungal forest.
I explore the amphitheater and beyond, encountering more and more of these fungal oases, always hearing the chatter of unseen animals and the quiet snap of jaws. I encounter crude sculptures of more recent design. These black symbols are made from crossed metal beams lashed simply together. They have been placed in odd positions - in vacant windows, leaning against structures. They remind me of the black, cruciform shapes the men painted upon the ceiling of the cave.
I come to a place where the city has fallen into total collapse, breaking open in an artificial canyon whose walls expose strata of levels, tunnels and pipes, plunging into the poisonous sea. Shaking walkways are suspended across this yawning gulf. I hesitate, watching the swirling water below. Its surface bulges and the water emits a series of bubbles, shedding envelopes, revealing themselves as a collection of dozens of translucent spheres. They rise up from the canyon, each bubble containing a green nucleus and tiny organelles. The bubbles swirl around one another, drawn together as if by magnetism, becoming a rising serpent amalgam that wriggles up from the canyon, colliding with several walkways, parting the fragile structures as easily as threads.
The walkways plummet into the canyon, disappearing into the water. The bubbles rise above the slumping spires of this wretched city. The bubbles break apart again into individuals, still rising, swallowed by the rain clouds above. I am alone. A single walkway remains to span the chasm.
Across the canyon, within the carcass of a manufacturing hall, clambering over the spill of forgotten machines, I discover a single, bloody footprint. It belongs to a man. I am tempted to call out, but I do not. I search the fallen machinery and discover a bloody clump of hair stuck to the corner of one of the rust-eaten machines. More blood, fresh enough to still be dripping, falls down the side of another machine.
There is little warning. It is a wonder that things with flesh so pale could so easily conceal themselves in the shadows. They hiss and click their jaws, leaping out at me from several directions at once. Their eyes are shocking blue, bulging from either side of flattened, oval heads. They are bipeds, but not jointed in the same way as a man, and their long forelimbs are viciously clawed. It is only their diminutive size that saves me.
They are smaller than a man, but more agile. They leap atop me, stabbing their claws into the soft flesh of my joints and tearing at my shell with their fingers. I am able to fling them away, breaking their bodies over the machinery, seizing them and tearing out their limbs with ease.
Many scuttle out of the shadows in ambush. They are fearless, but not foolish. I cleave through their bodies and flop their horrid entrails upon the tilting floor. They pause, circling me, baring their translucent teeth and snapping their jaws at me. They retreat into the darkness again, their blue eyes visible in the black longer than their hairless white bodies.
Alone again, my breath hissing through my spiracles, I feel the damage they have done to me. I am no longer sure-footed. Many small injuries are spilling out my lymph. It is not enough to kill me, even with time, but I will be slowed if they attack again.
I do not care. Even before I did not fear death. An end reached in battle was a glorious thing. During my travels I often envy my brothers who perished in the fight against the traitor queen. In death they became heroes, and I remain as flotsam, forever alive and adrift in this terrible water.
Are you concerned that you may be a character trapped in a Tom Waits song? Be smart and learn the warning signs before it's too late. Also, it's too late. It has always been too late.
I'm haunted by a recurring vision of a skeleton flipping me off. To avoid seeing this terrifying image in bumper sticker form, I pay someone with a blank bumper to drive in front of me at all times.
The Something Awful front page news tackles anything both off and on the Internet. Mostly "on" though, as we're all incredible nerds.