It isn’t madness, exactly, but it’s definitely a kissing cousin. The city isn’t alive, not any more than it usually is when people use that expression, but it looks like something under it is. The asphalt of the street twitches and swells, making me think of flesh with worms slithering just beneath it. Everything is darker than it was, like I’m viewing it through smoked glass painted with nightmares.
Everything is moving at a faster pace than us, the lights of the passing cars look like solid bars as they barrel away and leave their tracers behind. It’s like watching a time-lapse movie, the clouds moving sickeningly fast, the people walking like normal, but in fast-forward. I fall to my knees, my stomach threatening to launch itself from its usual spot.
I find it difficult to breathe, and even when I close my eyes, I can see it all. I realize that I’m yelling something, but it takes me a few moments to realize that it’s actually a word I’m yelling, over and over again. It takes me another few moments to realize that it’s the name of the Savior.
Lizzie grabs me under the arms and pulls me to my feet. “Sorry, shamus, but we don’t have time to relax. Can you pull yourself together enough to walk, if I help you?”
I mumble something through clenched teeth, and whether it’s a curse or an affirmative is anybody’s guess. I’m able to get my feet moving, though, which feels like a real accomplishment, under the circumstances.
I can still see the inhabitants of New York, but they’re wispy, ghost-like. Some of them have shrouded over their shoulders creatures of a more solid variety. Big-eyed things, like monkeys without skins, their long tails like jellied caterpillars wrapped around the necks of their hosts. Some of them have giant, bulbous eyes that glare at us, others have only hollows where their eyes should be. Some of them hiss as we pass, and one reaches out towards Lizzie, its feeble claw raking the air as she ducks away.
“What are these things?”
“No foolin’. What kind, I mean? What do they do?”
“Ever the detective, eh?”
“Must be my passion.” I’m able to support myself without her help, which is good, because more and more of the little creatures are starting to grab at her. None of them pay any attention to me.
“I don’t know what each and every one of them do, but most of them are just spoilers. They latch on, put you in a rotten mood, like that.”
“Creepy,” I say, bringing a cigarette out from my pocket. I light it and blow a plume of smoke into the face of one of the creatures. It hacks a tiny cough, almost like a sick child, and then hisses at me like a serpent.
“Try not to irritate them, Saint.”
“Hard as I imagine, I can’t really see me doing anything irritating to anyone.”
“Yeah. You’re holding up pretty well, by the way.”
“I prefer not to talk about it,” I say. Truth of the matter is, I’m having a hard time keeping whatever passes as my sense. The initial shock of the Underworld blew a fuse in my mind, to where it almost seemed like I was watching a movie. As the reality of the situation begins to sink in, I can feel my grasp on sanity loosening. The cigarette seems to be helping, though.
“Hang in there, tough guy.” She reaches out and gives my hand a reassuring squeeze. I flick a bit of ash at a creature that’s swiping at her. It growls and unfurls from the lady it’s been wrapped around. Even though she’s passing in high speed, I see her face lighten up as the creature falls to the ground. Also, the bit of swirling mist or smoke or whatever it is surrounding her, it changes from a sickly green to a deep blue.
“I told you not to annoy them,” Lizzie says. It isn’t fear in her voice, exactly, but definitely trepidation.
The little creature begins to run at me. It has a hobbling gate, and I realize that it only has three limbs. It uses its tail to launch itself forward every third step.
“What happens now?” I ask her.
“I don’t know, man. Nobody before was foolish enough to piss off demons while touring around in the Underworld.”
The thing is almost to us, and I consider giving it a couple pieces of hot lead to munch on, but I figure I better conserve ammunition. I step forward and stomp the little bugger. It squashes with a gruesome splatch sound, and bits of its insides shoot out from beneath my shoe, like a giant ketchup packet full of black, chunky ink.
“That’s disgusting!” Lizzie cries from behind me.
“Yeah, well,” I say, trying to scrape the demon goo off the bottom of my shoe against the curb. “Now you know what happens.”
“Yeah. I do.” I look up at her and see that she’s pointing. I turn around and see that creature after creature is dropping down to the street.
“Well, look on the bright side,” I tell her. “I’ve managed to cheer up pretty much everyone in Union Square.”
“I’d feel a lot better about that if it didn’t mean you had to draw the attention of a small army of Day Spoilers.”
“Yeah, that part’s kind of a drag.” We’re surrounded, and the things don’t look like they want to be friends. They’re approaching slowly, and I’m not sure if it’s to build the tension or because they still aren’t too sure about attacking us.
“So when you say you were taught about things like this,” I say. “Your education never covered anything about fighting an army of these little guys?”
“I told you—nobody’s ever been stupid enough to mess with them before. We use the Underworld as a means to escape. We get here, we keep our heads down, we get where we need to get, and we pop back upworld.”
“Seems like your teachers weren’t all that adventurous.”
“We’re talking about losing our souls here, Saint. For eternity. Most of us don’t like to gamble with that kind of thing.”
“Wimps. So what’s the rule about bringing stuff?”
“Bringing stuff. I mean, we’re here, I’ve still got my booze, I’ve still got my clothes and I’m still packin’ heat. So what are the rules about bringing stuff over?”
“I…I don’t know. I’ve always been going too fast to think about it. You know, kind of like right now, instead of discussing this, we should be trying to figure a way out of here.”
The Spoilers are getting a little braver, so I pull out my gat and blow one into a blackish mist. It keeps the others at bay for a moment, and then they start to creep in on us again. Slower this time.
“Can’t you switch us back over to the real world?”
“The Soul Sucker’s still too close. You probably noticed, being a detective and all, that time moves slower here. We’ll eventually outrun it, but right now, it’s probably waiting around to where we went under, which is just a couple of blocks from here. It’ll be on us in no time.”
“All right, here’s the plan,” I tell her, leading her across the street. More of the Spoilers are waiting, but they move back slightly as we approach. “When I say so, you’re gonna switch us back over. Just for a second.”
“Because I’m the clever detective and you’re the pretty dame, which means I get to decide what happens.”
One of the creatures breaks rank and charges. I kick him apart as he leaps at Lizzie’s face, and although his insides should have served as a threat, his bravery seems to inspire the others. They begin to charge.
“Are you sure about this plan?” Lizzie asks.
“As sure as I am about anything,” I say, taking her hand.
“Why don’t I find that at all reassuring?”
I give her my best clever detective smile and say, “Because you’re pretty sharp for a pretty dame.”
She’s about to reply, but I shout “Now!” at her, and we’re suddenly flipping through dimensions. You know that feeling when you’ve just started down a roller coaster? Where your stomach suddenly seems about three feet above your head, and you’re still falling? Flipping is kind of like that, if that sensation could hit you from about twenty different directions. It’s like opening your eyes and realizing you have no recollection of the night before, and immediately recognizing the room around you as a jail cell. It’s knowing you made a terrible mistake, but knowing too late to do anything about it.
I hit my knees hard as I fall, but I’m back up before Lizzie can offer to help. Up and running. Dragging her along with me. Puking to the side as I run, because being ripped apart in one world and thrown back together in another is none too great for the stomach.
I can smell the Soul Sucker, the scent of burning hair and burning plastic and evil, and I know that it’s near. I’ll only get one chance at this.
The guy’s pretty quick. Not quick enough to be a native, but I’d bet money that he’s been in the city for almost a decade. He’s busy unlocking his car, which is probably why he didn’t immediately realize that the hectic footsteps were coming right for him. He turns, a second too late, yanking the cap off the can of pepper spray attached to his key ring.
I’ve got my piece just under his jaw, and he immediately drops the keys into my opened palm. “You got GPS?” I ask him.
He tries to nod, but that causes the gun barrel to poke into his neck a little more. “Yes,” he says.
“That should be neat.” I turn to Lizzie. “Get in!”
She jumps into the passenger side as I slide into the driver’s side. “What are you doing? The Soul Sucker can still track us.”
“I figure we’ll get some space in between us and those creatures, in between us and the Sucker, and then we’ll flip back down.”
“Good plan, but I don’t think that they’re gonna go for it.”
I look where she’s pointing and see two cop cars headed right for us. What can I say—I’m a heck of a private dick, but not much of a car jacker.
I start the car up. “Grab my hand, grab the handle of the car, and flip us.”
“Are you serious?”
“I’m guessing that Soul Sucker isn’t going to mind much if it has to wander down to the precinct house to get us. We get locked up, that’s it—no running.”
“I’ve never tried anything like this, Saint. It might not flip with us. It might only partially flip, killing us. Maybe once we get to the police station I could flip, come find you, and-”
“Lizzie, just do it.”
She just does it.
If anything, it’s even worse this time. The steering wheel seems to thrive under my grasp, a snake full of a still-living meal. The entire vehicle has a strange, alive feel to it. Like the city—not alive, but hiding something alive.
“At least it came with us,” I tell her, and try to give her that award-winning smile of mine. A wave of nausea hits and I have to fight back the urge to vomit. I give her a thumbs-up instead of a smile.
And then the creatures start attacking. The first one doesn’t do much damage—just splatters as it hurls itself against the door. The second one manages to get a little higher, though, and cracks the window. I throw the car into gear and take off—accelerating right through the two police cruisers that have pulled up next to the bewildered car owner.
I spin a couple of donuts, mashing as many of the little monsters as I can before taking off down the street. It’s rush-hour traffic, but that kind of thing doesn’t mean much when you aren’t part of the material world.
I glance over at Lizzie. She has tears in her eyes. “You okay?” I ask her.
She looks at me and smiles. She wipes the tears from her eyes. “Yeah, it’s just…” She makes a sound kind of like a sob and a laugh, confused and mixed together. “I never thought to bring a car with me, you know? Three years I’ve been falling into this world, and it’s been so terrifying and I’ve felt so vulnerable, and I just…I never thought to do it. I’m glad you’re here with me. It’s the first time since they started chasing me that I have any hope.”
“A little hope isn’t a terrible thing to have, I suppose, but don’t go havin’ faith in me, Brown-eyes. Many a woman has made that mistake before, and it never turns out well.”
Her laughter seems to echo out through this strange world. “Don’t worry, Saint—I’ll never tell anyone you’re my hero.”
I light a cigarette and turn on the windshield wipers, hoping to get rid of some of the inky goo that splattered up on the windshield. “You better not.”