Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful

Chapter Thirty-One

In control of her emotions once more, Marise checked her provisions. The building shuddered as a tram passed overhead, creaking around her as she stood, whispering for her to explore further. She snapped the bag shut. Her hand went to the knife in her pocket, only to find it missing. She panicked for the briefest of moments, then remembered that Raine had stolen it.

He’d used it to kill someone.

Weaponless, she inspected the area she’d locked herself in.

The building stretched up and out, like an enormous dance hall, but all the decorations had been shattered or hauled off in the intervening years. Shredded portraits adorned the walls. She couldn’t tell from here, but it looked as if they’d been burned as well. She took in a deep breath — realized that the place had been burned at one point, but the intervening years had mostly deadened the smell, replacing it with mildew and rotting wood.

The windows were mostly covered over with bits of plywood or caked in a film of dust. As she tried to make out silhouettes of covered furniture, her artist sensibilities took hold and played with the vague shapes. She saw phantoms coming to claim her, monsters in the guise of pretty young men, all the horrors she’d never believed in before.

Somehow they seemed all too real at this point.

She swallowed, wanting to look out to the alley again, but found the glass clouded, opaque. She bunched up her sleeve to wipe it free, but heard muffled voices on the other side. She dropped her arm.

Instead, she turned to the darkness and crept forward, into the menagerie of horrors she’d constructed. Every sound only added to the voices of the monsters she projected down each hallway, around each corner. In an effort to calm herself, she tried to analyze her situation, what her next move would be.

She had no idea what to do. She’d run from the Officers, lumped herself with a criminal, someone with death rattling after him, and, the best part, he had no idea she’d risked her freedom to protect him.

Another quake reverberated through the floorboards, the trams rattling the building. She closed her eyes, riding the wave of fear, this time glimpsing the symbol again. Just as clear as it had been before she’d lost it in the cafe. Excitement overwhelmed her senses, as if discovering a long lost friend. She fell to the floor, digging frantically in her bag. A crumpled sheet of paper and a fragment of charcoal hit the ground in her haste and she went to her task.

A quick circle, followed by several wisps that spread across the page. She traced the lines, expanding with each stroke, creating the illusion of movement in all these overlapping waves. She had it, she had claimed the symbol once again and she would not let it go, never let it go. She let out a pent up breath, tried to stop but her hands kept going, boring into the page as they fought to make the image perfect.

Tears spread down her cheeks. She pulled in a quick breath, fighting against the loss of control. She focused all her energy into stopping her hand, but her fingers failed to respond. A scream pressed tight against her throat, but the Officers were just on the other side of that door. No, she—she slammed her eyes shut, not daring to look at the rendering torn from her.

Her hand stopped.

She used the jacket to wipe her face dry. Then, realizing blood still stained the fabric, she peeled it off, opening her eyes in the process. The simple image watched her eagerly, but she’d captured that elusive design.

She lifted it up with the caution of holding an infant. Her heart fluttered at the thought of this coming from her hands. She didn’t know what it meant, but a power resided in it. If using charcoal left her feeling so overwhelmed, what would happen if she transferred it to a different medium? She couldn’t even consider that at this moment, no, she had to preserve it.

A crack of thunder shook the abandoned building, causing it to tremble, as if moaning in fear. She clasped the sheet to her chest, listening as the rumble bore on. While protected from the water at this moment, she looked down at the charcoal drawings. Now she had her translation, she needed a more permanent solution. Gathering the paper up, she took her bag in hand, leaving the crumpled pages behind with so many of her other failures.

She pulled her bag up to her. Wrapped around her shoulder, it drew on her shirt, pulling the white fabric aside. A hot whisper drifted over her skin, setting her nerves alight, gooseflesh stretching the length of her body. She went rigid, spun round. Her hand grasped for her knife, but came up empty.

She shook her head, whispered, “You’re losing it, girl.”

Turning from the entrance, from the scattered pages, she pressed into the giant hall. As she moved forward, she realized that her initial impression had been wrong. While there were lounging couches, decrepit instruments, she spotted a platform that seemed to serve more as an altar than a stage. As she reframed the building in this guise, she noticed faint etching all along the walls, repeated over and over as if repeated invoking would summon something.

The altar was recessed into the floor, beyond it a broken down staircase. A grand banister curved along it, firm and in perfect shape. She eyed the pulpit, finding waterlogged books and crumbling bits of chalk. The longer she spent inside here, she liked it less and less. Something was terribly off about this place. Her gaze trailed up to the shredded portraits on the wall. Three large vertical slashes cut down the middle, revealing damaged wood behind. But, through the scars, she saw a faded gold eye staring at her. She turned away quickly, moved toward the stairs. She could see the barest hint of a reflection in the worn wood. She tested the first step, found it solid. She climbed three more before coming to a stop.

On the landing, the silhouette of a statue dominated the staircase. She could only make out its form, a figure that leaned into the stairs, as if judging her. She took another step.

Then it moved.

She screamed as she tumbled backward, landing with a hard thump on her ass. The sudden exhalation stripped her of her breath and she gasped for air. She stared as the shadow jerked forward, down three steps at a time, not quite touching them. Her vision swam, turning in the darkness. She tried to scramble back but her arms wouldn’t respond, her legs frozen in place as the moving specter leaned in, eyes opening into white lights. Its breath, rancid and rotting, gurgled from the slit in its face.

Hello, Marise. That’s a pretty picture.

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Justin D. Herd

Justin D. Herd is a purveyor of the weird and strange. He occasionally squawks at friends and family, but does so only under the cover of night. Okay, that's not true. He squawks in full daylight. Drinking games have been built around his peculiarities, but the truth of it is this: he is a loving husband, with two wonderful dem--children. One growls at things he likes, including pretty women. The other has started to learn hand-eye coordination. Neither had made it to the tender age of three. From there, things will only get more interesting. He spends most of his writing time either at a coffee shop or sitting at one of his many desks around his house. Any other place makes it nearly impossible for him to write. He uses horror movies and rock music to help get the juices flowing. His favorite authors are Jeremy Robert Johnson, Alan Campbell, Terry Pratchett, Justin Cronin, and Patrick Rothfuss. He consumes most of his books through audiobooks, but still loves his personal library and getting lost in the printed word.