The Quiet City
By Tom Pogson
It started the moment she locked the door.
As soon as the gold-colored tumblers of the deadbolt clicked into place she felt something inside of her twist. Her chest felt tight; her neck like it was swarming with spiders.
Then came a tremor in the cartilage of her bones, in her sinews and the fiber that binds a soul to the earth. Amy knew she was in the worst kind of trouble.
Something had felt wrong since she left the employee entrance of the British Columbia Archives building beside the museum. Skirting the long concrete bench she climbed the eight stone steps to the sunlight and traffic of Government Street. Even with the warmth of afternoon sun on her face she could not lose the feeling that something wrong was weighing her down. It was not like those final nights she had with her cousin Amber. This was not sorrow or guilt. It was bigger. There was no shaking this off.
Amy Paul crossed the road, passing the grey stone buildings of the Victoria Legislature, hurrying past the stone memorials and the fountain on her way to her apartment on Croft Street. It was the same thing she usually did with the exception that she did not feel like stopping off anywhere on the way home. Normally something would tempt her in. As she got closer to home it felt like she was hearing the drone of a nearby bee farm.
Now on the other side of her front door, it felt like she was inside of the hive.
Cautiously Amy lowered her backpack to the floor. Strands of her long brown hair rested on her glasses as she moved slowly, no idea what was keeping her so fearful. The bag slumped against the brown wooden closet in her front entrance way as she turned around for the hallway light switch. It was early November, so the little one-bedroom apartment was still illuminated by a soft silver-grey seeping through her drapes.
She could not see anything different as her brown fingers slid up the to the plastic rectangular fixture, setting upon the curved plastic light switch.
Listening to the still air as the lights came on, the soft tungsten glow spilled into the kitchen and the living room. The only sound was her grandma’s old metal fan on the dresser in the bedroom that she never turned off.
Amy stepped forward and turned on the kitchen light beside the rounded green fridge. She looked towards the dining room table where the wide silver smudge bowl that Aunty Kathy gave her rested next to a ceramic bowl of bright red apples. She looked towards to the bedroom, which had become slightly darker, save for the softening light from between the curtains.
It did seem dark for that time of year.
It did seem quiet.
Then the air became heavy. Amy froze. It was like you had a giant racehorse breathing on your cheek, but the kind of horse that wanted to drive you straight through the drywall.
Her head turned.
Black swirling terror froze the blood in her veins. Growing in the still air of the kitchen, the gathering black seemed made up of something between flies and finger-sized daggers. Next came a horrible hissing, tearing noise as the shape formed before her, the figure always in motion, its changing form darting around a widening mouth and red orange eyes. Jagged orifices of eye sockets, nostrils and non-existent lips perpetually altered in shape, the undulating spectral skin continuing to swim and scurry as its throat brought forth sounds from hell’s deepest heart. From there, the demon shrieked with a fury that could have dropped her to the floor.
Instead she ran, bolting around the wood division in the apartment’s center into her living room, the creature passing straight through the fridge and the cupboards to the other side causing her to leap back as it emerged with a horrifying smile.
Her first-floor patio door latch was stuck. She pushed on the latch, the white plastic refusing to budge as the spectre slunk closer. Desperately Amy tried throwing whatever she could find at the horrible face that sneered at her, shoes and books and her large white coffee mug just passing through it. She ran back around through the kitchen to the hallway, the demon following and screaming inches from the hairs on the soft nape of her neck. She tried the deadbolt at the front door, but it would not move. The gold latch was as solid and stiff as if it had never been made to turn.
“You’re mine!” it screamed from every direction in a cacophony of thousands of horrible voices.
She ran through the kitchen again, hoping to this time smash a window but it appeared there as well, blocking the way. Each way she tried to turn it faced her, shrieking almost victoriously, until Amy was cowering, trembling in the corner of the dining room, under the table holding onto the smooth curved ash table leg.
Then it began laughing at her crumpled shape, a horrible grating noise surrounding the young woman as the demon neared her from the kitchen. It grew in size and darkness until it blotted out the light from above. Then another demon just like it appeared and began closing in, this one from the living room where it rose from behind the couch. Then another appeared and another.
A demon rose up behind her, right out of the wall, followed by five more, all of them now laughing viciously, the sound becoming a single scream. All of them wanted her death.
The first one gave a great scream like the roar of a thousand eagles, the room shaking and the table snapping in two above her. Red apples scattered across the floor.
In front of Amy’s near crumpled form fell the sage stick and her mother’s zippo cigarette lighter with the Jack Daniels engraving.
Without thinking or realization she snatched the lighter and the sage, her body smoothly swinging into unconscious motion. She rose.
Into the hellish hurricane she stood defiant, her back arching and her frame becoming taller than she even was. The noise in the room rose to piercing as the stick of sage began to burn, the white plumes of smoke billowing by her side.
Her eyes were not her own. They were ablaze with an ancient light. In a world that even the very stones beneath were in consistent flux, those oak brown eyes faced out like the one single purest element. Walls shook as if the entire city was about to sink.
“By the Great Spirit, you will leave!”
Louder than bombs she screamed, swinging the sage like a sword.
*** bonus teaser, Chapter One first half ! ***
Morning light through glass squares of a patio door flooded the dark wooden stairwell as he hurried up panting. Enoch found every day busier than before, ever since taking ownership of the Inn less than a year back. He didn’t have time for this, even if he knew he had agreed to it. Betty was sick. He needed to hire more staff somehow. Everything was piled up.
In the room at the end of the hall, Daniel was sitting on the soft white linen bed with the copper frame. He felt only slightly lethargically numb since he was not actually sure if he had fallen asleep.
A knock at the door broke the quiet.
“Mr. Whitmore!” came the voice of the older man.
“Well…it’s your wake-up call Mr. Whitmore. Seven thirty!” He said through the five- panel door. “Would you like breakfast brought up to you?”
“Umm…no, no that’s ok Mr. Sage,” he called out, “I’ll be right down!”
The response from the man outside was him knocking on another door further down the hall on the top floor of the Prairie Inn, the sound muffled as Daniel rubbed his eyes and got up to dress. Without even thinking he took out one of his Duke, Sons and Co cigarettes from the pack on the table and lit a match. Taking a drag, he went over to the source of the morning sun.
The room had two windows, both tall and rectangular running from the roof to only a little ways off the floor. The north-facing side with the tall chair in front of it looked towards a small cluster of shops, post office, little homesteads and the hutch-like railway station nestled amongst the woodland. Daniel stood facing the other sunnier window, morning sun streaming in through the light cotton curtains. Wearing only his white linen pajama bottoms with the blue drawstring, he looked outside to see what he could not have made out when he arrived the night before.
From the railway tracks that passed just yards from the steps of the hotel, he saw a single dirt road running east to west between the rolling fields where two farmers were already busy under the cool mid-October sun. A single country road crossed just beyond the first ridge, evident by a single horse drawn carriage that rolled along, it’s black hood like a little sail crossing a sea of sporadic woodlands, farmland and irrigation.
Except for the white capped mountains in the distance there was very little to remind Daniel Whitmore of his last clerical posting in the young town of Cranbrook, deep in the Kootenay Mountains.
Now on the Saanich Peninsula the only sounds was the singing of little chestnut chickadees that had decided to make a nearby poplar their gathering place.
He blew smoke towards the window which curled up over the wood frame towards the sky. In the clear glass ashtray on the dresser he extinguished the single red ember of his cigarette.
His little room it was so peaceful after the steamship journey through the Gulf Islands, and before that, the port of Vancouver.
The train he now needed to Victoria was not for another hour and a half so he decided he would get something to eat first from the pub downstairs and maybe a cup of coffee. He grabbed his felt hat of the low-slung white dresser, clicked the door latch, and went out into the hall.
An hour later he walked out into the warm light of a near cloudless morning, Daniel in a slight hurry toward the village up the tracks.
The little hut with the words “Turgoose” written in black ink over it’s rain cover was empty as he climbed onto the dusty slats of the wooden platform. The wood creaked under his weight, which was still somewhat slight even after being a regiment veteran of the South African war as a younger man. Now at thirty-two, the only clue to this was his colt six shooter that still travelled with him, concealed deep within his case.
*** to be continued…***
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