My fellows in the city rejected me, whether out of fear, or the fact we’re all loners by nature.
“Don’t you touch me!” the homeless man screamed at me, “Don’t touch my stuff!”
The area where I was in was less than appealing. This particular Chicago winter wasn’t harsh, but it wasn’t pleasant. The freezing necessitated that I find a warm place or get a hotel. Hotels have less exits than you might think– a story for another time.
The man tottered onward, content I wasn’t going to steal his junk. He’d probably stab me in the throat for my laptop if he knew I had one. I watched him make $20 panhandling a day. As long as I traded some useful stuff with them and didn’t encroach on their panhandling, they left me alone. Someone new ruffled their feathers, it threatened their livelihood. And their feathers were already ruffled by something else.
Lights shined on my tent and I heard a car pull up. I pulled my knife out of my pack. Voices, I strained to hear what they were saying. An argument broke out, shouting, clattering, and then the loud pop of a gun. Footsteps moved around, more shots, and the sound of tents being ripped. I waited, my hands slick with sweat around my knife.
He came at me fast, my wrist was caught before I could swing and the gun was pressed against my head.
“Get it over with fast you crazy fucking demon, I won’t be one of you,” I said.
The barrel pressed against my head harder, but then pulled back.
“Cut yourself,” he said.
“What?” I replied, chancing a look at him. He was muscled, there was no anger in his eyes, only intent. He grabbed the knife out of my hand and made a swift cut on my hand. I jerked back, blood spilled on my clothes and dripped on the ground. He looked for a moment, and then put the gun away. I took this to mean I could leave my tent unharmed and grabbed my pack.
The makeshift city was in disarray. Bodies slumped out of the tents.
“Why didn’t you kill me?” I asked.
“What do you know about them?” he poked a corpse with black blood pooled around it. It seemed to move of its own volition. I considered his question for a moment and hedged my answer.
“I think they took some bad drugs,” I replied.
“No, the demons, what do you mean?” he was not pleased with my answer.
“I don’t know, I saw some junkies shooting up and they became something else,” I said. “REAL weird. Cannibalistic nature and morphology I can’t explain,” I tried to sound as sane as possible. “Are you here to…kill them?”
“Yes…no…I don’t know” he said, holding his hands up to his head and walking towards the black SUV that still had its lights shining on the massacre. Some syringes filled black liquid glistened in the beams. Shadows danced on all the walls around us in this huddled camp under the city proper. An engine gunned and a car with no lights on barreled down on the parked SUV.
The man took a firing stance, gripped, aimed, and fired three shots into the window in rapid succession and then ran to the side as the vehicle slammed into the parked car. Figures rolled out of the car, their movements jerky, holding bats and knives. Other cars rolled down into the tunnel after it.
“You’ve been bad, Jadyyyy. You’ve disobeyed. Be our friend, Jadyyy, and we’ll forgive you. We love sinners, Jady,” their voices gurgled as if they had a mouth full of water. The lights from the SUV Jady had arrived were crushed, but some light still glistened off their dark eyes. A smell wafted from them on a breeze that made me retch.
Jady moved fast and wordless, running past me and down the dark end of the tunnel. Of course he’d use my escape route.
“Fuck fuck fuck,” I said, gripping my pack and scampering after him. The tunnel quickly narrowed, and I passed under the heat vents that kept this place bearable, turning where Jady had turned into the pedestrian sized maze under the city.
The voices behind me whispered and questioned. It felt like they were at my ear, but I glimpsed them far behind when I turned a corner and barreled in Jady looking around wildly.
“Where do we go?” he said, grabbing me.
“Come on,” I said confidently. I had no idea where I was going, I had lost my way in the scramble. I was a computer nerd, not an escape artist, and I was tired already.
The pathways flickered by, sometimes lit by lights, and sometimes by grates leading to the city above. Stairs went up and down, leading along foul smelling water, and pipes that carried electricity or water themselves. I can’t explain it, but as I ran I felt the right way to go. My turns became more confident as I led Jady.
We stopped in a passage near a rusty door, a T section at either end, leaving us choices as to where to go. I held up my hand for him to stop, feeling something different here. The group of things caught up, but didn’t come down the tunnel to our end. I could hear them as they milled about.
“There are gone, the paths are forbidden to us,” one hissed.
“Do they know of where they go?” another asked.
“A pathfinder has not been seen in an age,” another more distinguished voice disagreed, “They don’t know where they are, or what comes next. We have much work to be done.”
The sounds of footsteps leading away made me hold me breath. Jady looked expectantly at me. I shrugged.
The door creaked and rusted bits fell to the ground. We backed up as something snaked around the edges and it slowly opened. A soft green glow came from inside. A feeling of warmth and inviting came over me, before I knew it I was inside.
The dirt walls were covered in vines with small glowing flowers. In the center of this hollowed out room, a tree grew, half in the wall. It must have been ancient, the size of a redwood. A boy formed from the bark and stepped out of the tree, dressed in leaves and smiling.
He spoke my real name.