Sunday Archive: In This Darkness, Part One

This one was completed in 1993, and as you follow my retarded novel project you’ll see that I stole my own characters and storyline, which goes a long way towards proving that I only have one story to tell.

In This Darkness

McGavin looked up. There, again, he thought that he heard laughter. Yes, from somewhere upstairs – music, laughter, people. The sounds of life that had become so alien to him penetrated into the shelter; ghosts of his memories. The shelter was cold, still stinking of death, but McGavin wasn’t mistaken. He heard those sounds – oh, could it be madness? Clear, blessed madness finally arrived to take him away? He grabbed the shotgun and inched towards the door. Pausing, remembering the horror of last week and afraid to betray his position, he placed a hand gingerly on the steel. Last week had nearly killed him; that much was certain. Some looters had found the bodies outside and had attacked the shelter, hammering on the door relentlessly. But they couldn’t get through. That’s what these shelters were made for. He pressed his ear against the cold metal and listened to the noise outside. Tinny, distant, rolling down through the walls and vents and floor. The sounds of madness eating away his own mind. He heard a resounding cacophony of people and music. Vintage rock and roll accompanied by shouts and hoots, laughter, conversations. He rolled his eyes upward, staring at the ceiling. Could this be real? Who the hell was in his hotel?

He tapped in his code on the keypad, cringing as the locks pounded open – each heavy metallic thud sounding so final that a voice in his mind called out for patience, to deny the curiosity, to wait out whoever was intruding in his hotel.

Stay safe.

But McGavin couldn’t survive in the shelter forever. He would have to venture out sometime. With his heart pounding in his skull, he took a deep, nervous breath and blew it back out. Suddenly feeling weak, he pulled the handle and the door rapidly swung inward, depositing a body into the shelter. McGavin leapt back, his shotgun at the ready. Nothing there but the bodies; those he had dumped and a few more. He glanced down at the unfamiliar corpse on the floor and his breath caught in his throat. The thing was a couple weeks rotted, but that wasn’t the rough part. The body had been split nearly in two – gored. The eyes had been brutally clawed out and the face scratched beyond recognition. The right arm was mutilated, clothes and flesh hanging in shreds from the bone. This wasn’t a final gift from the looters, something else had done this.

He stepped over the corpse and peered down the hall. All looked clear for the time being. He moved cautiously down the length of the dark hallway with the 12-gauge leading the way. Eventually, he came out of the catacombed sub-basement and into the basement proper. Rec rooms and conference rooms stretched away down four hallways. Spokes on a wheel. His hotel had been designed years ago, before his birth, every level branching off in four directions with a central hub. A unique shape that had made the old place a roadside attraction. In the hub, a double metal staircase rose to the lobby. McGavin now faced this staircase, closing the door to the sub-basement and leaning against it. An access door into the garage had been smashed, a calling card left by the looters most likely. Two of the hallways ended in emergency exits which McGavin had welded shut months ago. It took him a few moments to realize the import of the red signs glowing above each exit.

The power was on.

There were no clear thoughts in his head, just a jumble of fear, confusion and joy. Was it over? Was he mad? Was it a trick? The power had been knocked out weeks ago, the shelter switching to the solar generators on the roof. Now the main power was back on? Upstairs, the sounds of the party carried on and McGavin felt himself drawn towards the once familiar noise. He inched up the stairs to the double swinging doors and pressed a hand against the cool surface of one of them, prepared to push it open and leap into the lobby. At the final instant, he heard someone on the steps and spun around onto one knee with the shotgun ready.

“What’s this?” a stranger said, laughing at McGavin. A man and a woman stood arm-in-arm on the first step, looking up with booze-glazed eyes and smiling calmly. The woman wore an exquisite dress, dipping dangerously between her breasts where a diamond pendant glittered in the fluorescent lights. Her blonde hair was piled high and her eyes shone with a beguiling calm.

“What are you doing here?” McGavin asked stiffly, finding it hard to speak after a week of silence. He found himself staring at the diamond pendant. It seemed to reflect light from some preternatural source.

The man smiled and raised the index finger on his free hand. “It may be more in character to ask ‘who the hell are you?’.”

“Who the hell are you?” McGavin asked as he pumped the shotgun, a wholly satisfying sound. He expelled a spent cartridge and shuddered slightly. He remembered when Keaton had done himself in a week ago.

The man smiled even wider. He scratched his temple, “You know, on second thought, I think I should be asking you that.” He glanced at the girl on his arm, then back at McGavin as his smile faded. “Look, buddy, I’m not your enemy. I just came to this party, okay? No more bad guys. Okay?”

“What party?” McGavin hissed, relaxing a little. These two were blitzed, but harmless.

The girl answered him, “Why, the New Years party, silly!” She loosed a bubbly giggle into the room, causing her man to raise an eyebrow and glance away painfully.

“New Years?” McGavin asked.

“It’s still New Years Eve, buddy,” the man answered, somewhat impatiently, “even if it is the end of the world.”

McGavin relaxed his grip on the gun and stood up. “But the lights – ”

“Look, buddy, I don’t know how they did it. I just came to the party. Okay?” The man was a bit more forceful this time.

“Through here?” McGavin cocked a thumb back to the doors.

“Through there.”

McGavin turned and pushed the doors open and stepped into the middle of a wild party. The main doors and revolving doors leading to the street outside had been blockaded with furniture, a TV set near the barricade showed only static instead of Times Square. Those were the first things McGavin noticed. Then he took in the party as a whole. The lobby was packed with men and women, dressed in gowns and tuxedos. They laughed, sang, and moved gracefully across the floor. A handful of women lined the grand stairway to the upper floors while couples glided up and down the carpeted steps behind them. The glamour and the lights were overwhelming as the lobby seemed to take on the essence of champagne. McGavin let the shotgun drop to his side, but there was no sense of safety here. This was, clearly, madness. Was he still in the shelter, naked, screaming, dreaming, eyes pinched shut in the darkness?

The couple from the basement brushed past him, the man turning to talk as the woman pulled anxiously into the thick of the party: “See – ?”

McGavin spun around on a heel, taking in the whole spectacle. What had these people done? Sealed themselves into the hotel for a New Years party? How could they even think of doing something like this with all the shit going on out in the streets? And the power, how had they restored the power? McGavin looked around for a central figure, he had a lot of questions and he didn’t like standing around like some fool. But here, with these beautiful people, he felt like some sort of monkey: Filthy dungarees, a week’s worth of beard, stinking like death and sweat. He hadn’t bathed since the water left the city three weeks ago. But McGavin told himself that he had no reason to feel out of place: this was his hotel, and these people were crazy. Or, worse, they were creatures of his own madness.

A pair of hands reached out and grabbed his right shoulder. “Welcome brother!” a reveler shouted in his face. The grinning face of a man came into focus, but the reveler quickly paused and the smile faded. The man stared at McGavin, a look of sheer panic blossoming on his face. McGavin returned the stare with an uncertain curiosity as the party carried the other man away.

He grabbed the nearest body. “Who’s in charge here?” He clutched at a tuxedo but found no purchase and was pushed back.

“In charge? Oh, the hostess – she’s there.” A faceless voice answered vaguely.

McGavin, somewhat weary, grabbed a dancing figure and shouted. “The hostess – ”

“Over there, man!” the dancer hissed, breaking free and spinning away.

He glared in the indicated direction, just to see a swirl of glitter and cloth. He jumped up on a scarred buffet table and looked out across the party. There, a hub of the party seemed to spin in an opposite direction, pushing and moving against the outer ring like those old space stations on TV. A fabulous brunette in a red ball-gown carried on seven conversations at once, dipping and spinning with a glass of champagne perfectly balanced by three fingers. Even in the bedlam of the party she was impossible to miss. She overshadowed her attendant beautiful women with an unnatural perfection. Her smile never faded, her laugh rang through the clamor of music and conversation. Her eyes glittered, alert, sympathetic…and her teeth. Only the rich people of the old world – the world when McGavin’s hotel saw parties like this every weekend – could afford so many perfectly white teeth. He pressed the shotgun against his body as he pushed through the party. When he finally made his way to her side, her dazzling smile faded slightly as she faced him. Her laughter paused as if it had been recorded on disc. She seemed bemused by this filthy creature before her, yet somehow expectant. Her face, as she slowly took in McGavin’s presence, showed the weary lines of a woman who had simply known that something, somewhere, was going to go wrong. There was no mistaking it, McGavin had seen the same look carried around by his mother all through his childhood.

Without explanation, without introduction, McGavin spoke sharply and clearly: “This is my hotel.”

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