It’s not a proper dream. It’s impatient, fired with urgency. It arrives without warning, veering suddenly out of the night.
You’re kneeling on the bridge. It’s late afternoon. Clouds mass low in the sky, seagulls wheel over the bridge spans, humidity hangs thick in the air. Cars speed by on either side of you, the whoosh of
their passage filling your ears.
The Mouth of God
by Ramsey Shehadeh
There’s a dream you have.
It’s not a proper dream. It’s restless, impatient, fired with urgency. It arrives without warning, veering suddenly out of the night.
You’re kneeling on the bridge. It’s late afternoon. Clouds mass low in the sky, seagulls wheel over the towers, humidity hangs thick in the air. Cars speed past you on either side, the rush of their passage a staccato roar in your ears.
The body in the dream isn’t yours. Not really. You tell it to close its eyes, but it won’t. You tell it to focus on the fading yellow lane markers between your knees, but it lifts its head, just as the hood of the Chevy appears beside you.
Time slows. The car inches past, frame by frame. Sarah ticks into view. She’s hunched in her seat, hands hanging off the steering wheel, staring dully ahead, her face freighted with fatigue. You know that expression. She brought it home with her every night: that bone-weariness.
She’s so close. You want to reach out and touch her, but the dream body won’t let you. It simply watches the car pass by.
And then time accelerates, and the calamity begins.
It starts as a tremor, vibrating up through your knees. The road begins to move. You lift your eyes to the main cable, rising in a gentle parabola to the apex of the near tower. It’s growing taut, now. The suspender cables arrayed along its length tremble and shift out of parallel, like harp strings vibrating through a discordant note.
Afterwards, the investigation found that the pier supporting the eastern span of the bridge was flawed, and probably had been for years. There wasn’t a single, catastrophic event, they said: it was a series of small, nearly imperceptible failures that reached a tipping point at 4:32, August 13th, 1988.
But you know better. Your lord does not show Her hand.
Cars are slowing down. A Toyota comes to a stop beside you and a man steps out. He’s an indistinct, grainy figure in the traffic helicopter footage that aired after the disaster, but in your dream he’s plump, slightly balding, encased in a starched white shirt. Half-circles of sweat spread out from his armpits. He looks up at the shifting cables, his face a mask of confusion.
When the survivors are asked what they remember most about that day, they all say the same thing: the sound. It begins as a high keening, the cry of steel bending beyond its tolerances, and rises quickly to a shriek, buttressed by the squeal of brakes, the high cacophony of hundreds of horns.
It is the sound of your lord, screaming. The din of Her endless, inscrutable rage.
And then a bang, a crack, the calamitous shatter of breaking concrete. The road yaws wildly to the side. The suspender cables snap, one by one. And then, with a deep, thunderous groan, the bridge tears itself in half.
The dream releases you. You scramble to your feet. Sarah’s Chevy is trapped in a scrum of cars sliding inexorably toward the sudden canyon in the center of the bridge. You run toward her, passing through crowds of panicked commuters fleeing pellmell in the opposite direction.
The Chevy slides around in a half circle, whirling slowly toward the breach. Sarah reaches out to you through her open window, calling your name.
And then, in the instant before she topples into the breach, everything stops.
You’re running as fast as you can, brushing past frozen pedestrians, vaulting over the hoods of cars. This time, you tell yourself, you’ll get to her before it’s too late.
You don’t, of course.
Her face begins to soften. Its features shift, come loose, wander away from their mooring — and then sink, capsizing like flotsam into the soup of her skin.
You want to look away. You can’t.
A claw erupts through the blank canvas of her face, and then another, and then a third. And then hundreds, wriggling like cilia.
They brace themselves against the side of her head, and something hauls itself into the world.
The dream ends. You’re kneeling in the sewer, sunk in the reek of your lord’s effluvia, screaming.
When your mother’s god spoke, He spoke loudly: angels and burning bushes, floods and rainbows, locusts and eclipses and parting seas. The message wasn’t always obvious, but His people always knew that there was a message.
That isn’t the way of your lord: She speaks in hints and murmurs. A bird hopping into an abandoned building, dragging its broken wing behind it. A ring of plastic bags circling a park bench. A headless doll tumbling down a flooded gutter. A magazine skittering across a deserted street and into an alleyway.
The magazine comes to rest, at last, against an anonymous hump of rags and newspapers. The breeze that bore it into the alleyway falls still.
There’s an old woman under the rags, sleeping fitfully. You study her face. It’s waxen, gaunt, emaciated. A roadmap of broken veins tattoos her cheeks. A patchwork of sores spreads across her forehead.
This could be nothing. You’ve been deceived in your lord’s will before. You look up at the narrow rectangle of sky that roofs the alleyway: an old habit from your youth, when you believed that god lived above the world.
Please, you say. Just tell me what You want.
The sky narrows, imperceptibly, as if the buildings are leaning toward each other. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just your imagination.
“Jenny,” mumbles the old woman. You look down. Her eyes are open, staring glassily at nothing, her gaze shattered and empty. “Will you please pick up your stuff?”
She’s somewhere else, now. You imagine a cluttered playroom, a scattered minefield of toys, A little girl sitting in a plastic chair that’s a bit too small for her, lost in a book. The image is so clear that you wonder whether your lord has given you a vision.
But no: it’s just a memory, slightly altered. The toys melt away, the playroom becomes the den of your old house, the plastic chair a weathered papasan. The little girl becomes your daughter.
She’s sitting cross-legged on the papasan, wearing her Josie and the Pussycats t-shirt, bent over a book, her long dark hair tucked into the back of her collar. Humming unconsciously to herself, in the way she always did when she was reading.
She looks up at you, and smiles.
Alex, you whisper, and banish her from your mind.
“Is Jenny here?” says the old woman. Her eyes dart around the alleyway, alive with yearning, but the rest of her face is a slack mask, drained and empty, marked with old lines of pain.
You know the look. Your lord prefers these sorts of people: broken, hopeless, falling. She lies waiting at the bottom of their trajectory.
You shake your head. “No.”
“Did she send you?”
All she wants you to do is say yes. It doesn’t have to be true. She doesn’t care if it’s true. She just wants to believe it, for a while.
“Yes,” you say.
She smiles, and nods.
You offer her your hand. There’s a pressure building in your mind now, a kind of vibrating susurration. It’s puzzling: neither the angry buzz that comes with the onset of your lord’s will, nor the gentle peace of Her approval.
The woman takes your hand, and you haul her to her feet. She sways for a moment, and then falls slowly backwards until she’s sitting down again, head between her knees, hand still clasped in yours, breathing hard.
You kneel beside her. “I’m going to have to carry you.”
“What’s your name?” she says, without lifting her head
You hesitate. “Andrew,” you say. “Andy.”
“Pleased to meet you, Andy,” she says, in a clipped little singsong voice, like a child just learning her manners. “My name is Ellen.”
I don’t want to know your name, you think, and slip your arms under her knees and behind her shoulders, and stand.
She weighs almost nothing: a shadow of a person, already half out of the world. What life she has left to her is aimlessness and suffering and fear, a study in torment.
These are the things you need to tell yourself.
Ellen puts her arms around your neck and lays her cheek against your chest and closes her eyes.
You move to the mouth of the alleyway and peek out. It’s halfway between dawn and midnight. The streets are still deserted. You step out and turn east, toward the mouth. It’d better if she was walking, but you’re unlikely to encounter anyone at this hour. And the mouth isn’t far.
But then you hear the growl of an engine. Close by, and growing steadily louder. The sound seems to come from everywhere.
A car careens out of a sidestreet a few blocks ahead, fishtails around the corner, and speeds past you.
Then it screeches to a stop, and backs up. It’s an old Buick, long and boxy. A boy with a wide brush of acne arcing across his cheek pokes his head out of the passenger window. “Hey lovebirds,” he says, grinning happily.
The driver leans over. “Can I get some of that sweet ass when you’re done, old man?”
They’re both drunk, probably harmless. There’s someone in the back seat, too, a silhouette and a pair of eyes, staring fixedly at you.
You keep walking.
The car rolls forward. “Hey asshole!” says passenger seat. “We’re talking to you.” He leans over and rummages at his feet, then sits up and hurls an empty bottle out the window. It shatters against the wall behind you.
“Strike one!” says the driver. “Come on, man, he’s right there. How the hell do you miss …” He pauses, turns toward the backseat, and laughs. “Pass a couple back there, Shithead. She wants to give it a shot.”
You hear the sound of a window rolling down, and quicken your pace. The alleyway ahead leads into a jumbled warren of backstreets. You’ll duck in there, find a place to hide until they lose interest.
And then something slams into the side of your head. A burst of light erupts across your field of vision, obliterating everything else.
The world goes slack. A wave of nausea rises up your throat.
“Holy shit,” says the driver, his voice moving muddily through the tumult in your head. “Was that a full one?”
You sink to your knees, and fall forward.
“I think she killed him, man,” says passenger seat, sounding panicked now.
You can hear someone else in the background, a girl, screaming. “Asshole! Fucking piece of shit!” There’s none of the boys’ easy mockery in her voice. It’s just rage: unadulterated, focused, pure.
Dimly, you hear the engine roar, and then recede into the distance.
You slip away.
When you open your eyes, it’s quiet again. You lift your head off the sidewalk. Ellen lies supine in front of you, pawing frantically at the air, like a beetle flipped onto its back. “Where am I?” she gasps, her eyes wide with terror. “Where am I?”
In your childhood, when the endless looping thoughts that harried your waking life made it difficult to get out of bed, your mother would sometimes lie down beside you and put her arms around you. Pray, Andy, she whispered. His love is infinite. Pray for God’s mercy.
You never did, though. Your mother’s god was always a cipher: absent, or ineffectual, or uncaring. It seemed pointless to ask Him for anything.
You’ve never asked anything of the god that took Sarah from you, either. But a sudden anger grips you, scabrous and impotent, so you close your eyes, and picture the old Buick, and pray: Hurt them, you say. Hurt them, Lord.
Your lord is everywhere.
She’s the smog on a stifling summer afternoon. She’s the paint peeling off the facade of an abandoned building, the shatter of glass under a broken window, the moss growing in dank corners of forgotten alleyways. She’s the weeds sprouting out of cracks in the sidewalk, the rust blooming on disused handrails, the tide of cockroaches boiling out of a sewer grate.
She’s the bridge that buckles and fails.
She’s the river that waits below.
She revealed Herself to you slowly, at first. In the days following the disaster, you began to see Her in the pattern of raindrops on your windshield during downpours: a jagged oblong that reappeared, in exactly the same shape, no matter how many times your wipers swept it away.
Your saw her in the steam rising out of subway grates: shifting, translucent veils around an empty core.
She was in the shape of storm clouds, the shadows cast by the bare branches of winter trees, the flickering blue cavity at the core of a candleflame.
And she was in the spout that rose out of the still waters of the river to greet Sarah. You’ve watched that footage over and over again: the river accepted all the other cars that fell into it that day, but it wanted her. It reached up, and it took her.
When your lord began to speak to you, dark whispers in the middle of the night, you couldn’t understand what She was saying. But Her voice hissed into your body and lodged itself in your bones, and you carried it with you wherever you went. You couldn’t concentrate, or work, or sleep. A darkness yawned under your thoughts, swallowing them before they had a chance to form. In the evenings you lay alone in bed, listening to Alex crying in the next room, unable to summon the will to go to her.
And then finally, late one night, when the whispers would not abate, you slipped out of the house and drove to an old building in Southeast. It was a squat two-story affair, sandwiched between a movie theater and an abandoned cannery, and looked exactly as you remembered it: barred windows, sagging roof, broken steps leading up to a red door. You came here often, once, in the dark days before Sarah found you.
Your old dealer opened the door. The intervening years had thinned his hair and thickened the bags under his eyes, but he remembered you. “Andy,” he said, smiling. “Been a while.”
“It’s just this one time,” you muttered.
He laughed. “Ok, brother. Whatever you say.”
You peeked into Alex’s room when you got back home. She was sleeping soundly, curled around her mother’s favorite pillow. You went into your bedroom and locked the door, tied off your bicep, flicked the crook of your elbow until the vein emerged, and slid the needle in.
The oblivion rushed over you, obliterating everything it touched, and you knew at once that you were lost.
Amorphous bursts of light flicker in the corners of your eyes. You stink of beer. Your temples throb.
You struggle to your feet. The car’s gone. The night is quiet again. Ellen lies on her back, crying quietly.
You look up at the sky.
Tell me what you want, you say.
You study the stars. You wait.
If you want her, you have to tell me.
There’s no answer. Your lord wants you to guess at Her will. You must be complicit in Her desires, always.
But not this time. Not this time.
You kneel beside Ellen, and say: “Where does your daughter live?”
She looks at you, bewildered. Then a light dawns in her eyes and she reaches into the pocket of her shawl and draws out a key.
You recognize the address on the keychain: Alex took ballet lessons in a studio nearby, many years ago. It’s across the river, on the other side of the city. The wrong way.
You look up at the sky again, then lean down and lift Ellen into your arms, and turn toward the river. It’s an hour’s walk, maybe longer, but you should be able to make it before dawn.
You’ve only gone a few blocks before the air begins to thicken. It crowds close, presses itself against your skin. You shut your mouth and hold your breath and clear your mind, but it’s pointless: She always finds a way in, slipping through your defenses like a whisper.
The first time your lord called to you, you followed Her will down a storm drain and through a series of dank sewer corridors until you came upon a young man. He sat in a shallow alcove, his back pressed against the curved brick wall, legs sticking straight out, chin resting on his chest, immersed to his hips in the dark water.
His head lolled toward you. He had dull eyes, a delicate upturned nose, high cheekbones, long lashes. A golden boy, you imagined, pampered and privileged and loved universally before he fell into the thresher of his circumstances.
You dragged him out of the alcove and flipped him over and pressed his face into the water.
He struggled, faintly: the body fighting reluctantly for a life it no longer had any interest in. It didn’t take long. He went still.
The calm that settled over you then was a revelation: the first reprieve you’d had since your lord first turned Her eye to you. You have obeyed all of Her commands ever since.
The buzzing in your mind is rising steadily toward a roar. You keep walking, leaning forward, struggling into the teeth of a hurricane.
The roar devolves into a flurry of shrieks, one after the other. Darkness eats away at the edges of your vision, winnowing your view of the world to a narrow tunnel.
Your lord has claimed this woman. She’s not yours to save.
And then: a sudden, sharp pain, like long needles grinding against your temples, piercing the bone, pushing steadily inward. You gasp and stagger sideways, drop to your knees. The shrieks merge into a single sound, piercing, ubiquitous. You ease Ellen to the ground, rest your elbows against the sidewalk, cradle your head in your hands.
The pain is blinding, everywhere. The world around you — the small sounds of the sleeping city, the moonlight, the old woman — all of it melts away and you are alone in a universe fitted exactly to your contours, inhabited by nothing but your body and your fear and your lord’s infinite rage.
You lift your head. The wall in front of you dimples and collapses inward and the darkness of that concavity is an open mouth and a black throat and the void in Sarah’s wake and the endless nights of your exile and the emptiness into which you long to disappear.
Forgive me, lord, you whisper. Forgive me.
You were always careful to lock your bedroom door. But on that night — the anniversary of Sarah’s death, one year to the day — you forgot. Alex came into the room just as you were sliding the needle out of your arm.
“What are you doing, Daddy?” she said, but the warm wash of peace was already tingling through your body. You lay down and closed your eyes, only dimly aware that she was climbing into bed beside you.
When you woke, curled around your paraphernalia, you felt her pressed against your back, breathing quietly, one arm flung over your side. Alone in the world, except for you.
Your lord’s voice was loud in your mind, penetrating even the fog of your receding high. It was time.
You slid to your feet, waited for the world to right itself, then lifted Alex out of bed. She put her arms around your neck and rested her head on your chest.
You carried her through the house and out to the car, past mounded heaps of trash, half-empty boxes of takeout food, drifts of unwashed laundry.
This is your last memory of your daughter: she’s sitting in the passenger seat, arms wrapped around her backpack, staring out the windshield. Her face is drawn, drained of color. You notice a wrinkle on her brow, running vertically from the bridge of her nose to the center of her forehead. She looks like her mother.
You put the car in park, but don’t turn it off. Across the street, the front door of your sister-in-law’s house swings open.
Alex turns to you. “When are you coming back, Daddy?”
“Tonight.” The lie comes easily. “We’ll order pizza, ok?”
She nods, and smiles. But the smile falters, rallies, falters again. She’s struggling to believe you. She wants more than anything to believe you.
Sarah’s sister steps out of the house, and walks hurriedly toward the car.
“Time to go, Honey,” you say.
She nods, opens the door, steps out, shrugs the backpack onto her shoulders. “I’ll see you tonight, Daddy,” she says, and closes the door. All you can see of her now is her head, framed by the passenger window. She looks so small.
“We’ll order pizza,” you say, again, just to say something, and put the car in gear and pull away from the curb, too fast, and lurch into the right lane.
When you look in the rearview mirror, she’s still there, standing in the middle of the road, dwindling into the distance.
You never saw her again.
This was the unforgivable sin: the one that made all the others possible.
Your lord’s mouth opened many months ago, on a cold February night, when a section of the street between Elm and Massachusetts collapsed, swallowing a line of parked cars.
You move quietly up to the yellow caution tape, but the cops who are supposed to be patrolling the block are gone, as usual. You’re not surprised. No one wants to be here.
You shift Ellen in your arms, duck under the tape and move to the edge of the abyss. It stretches across the whole of what was once 14th street, from the rowhouses behind you to the line of storefronts on the other side. It looks like a forgotten canal, hastily dug and then abandoned, its walls sloping down into darkness. A lone tree perches on the opposite edge, its rootball half-exposed, tilting vertiginously into the darkness.
It’s quiet here: the profound hush of long-deserted places. Sounds cut off abruptly, as if snatched out of the air and spirited away. The gravity is different, too. It feels like something is grasping at you. There’s desire in the way it roots you to the earth. You can feel its pull, wherever you are in the city.
The newspapers called it the 14th Street Sinkhole, because they lacked the imagination to call it anything else. And they kept calling it a sinkhole as it grew, implacably and unpredictably: sometimes nibbling at the near sidewalk, sometimes lunging toward the opposite end of the street. In one of its more sudden expansions, it took a cement truck that had parked too close, along with the men sitting inside.
The mayor ordered the street evacuated, and then the whole block. Every few weeks he trots out a new set of experts for the cameras: geologists, civil engineers, structural engineers, seismologists. They’ve poured cement and boulders and rocks and gravel into the breach. They’ve done soil studies, taken bedrock samples, brought in LIDAR planes to search for faults in the area.
None of it helped. Your lord will close Her mouth when She’s ready. Not before.
Ellen eases her eyes open, twists her head slowly right, then left. She looks at you. “This isn’t Jenny’s neighborhood.”
You shake your head.
“Oh,” she says, a soft sound, barely audible. Something new creeps into her eyes, shouldering the confusion aside: sadness, maybe, or resignation, or fear. Or all of those things. Or none of them. You can’t tell.
“Are you going to hurt me?” she says.
It would be easier to lie, but you can’t bring yourself to say anything at all.
“Why?” she says.
In the beginning, you thought your lord was mad. There was no pattern to Her hunger: one night you claimed a drunk dozing in the lee of a cardboard box, the next a man in a suit slipping out of a gleaming glass building. She’s led you into people’s houses, made you stand at the foot of their beds for hours on end, watching them sleep, and then led you silently out. She’s made you walk the street for days, helplessly, until you collapsed.
You told yourself that there was a reason for all of this, but it wasn’t for you to know. That your lord’s will was ineffable. That you weren’t meant to understand.
But you know the truth now: there is no plan, no reason, no sense, no order. You don’t understand because there’s nothing to understand. Your lord is an instrument of the thoughtless nihilism coiled at the heart of the universe, as much its servant as you.
Ellen reaches up and touches your shoulder, and says it again: “Why, Andy?”
“I don’t know,” you say, a sob rising in your throat, and drop her into the abyss.
She falls, arms splayed out at her sides, rotating slowly: once, twice, three times. On the last revolution, your eyes meet. The ambiguity in her gaze is gone, now. All you see is terror.
And then she strikes a sharp promontory bulging out of the side of the abyss and bounces away, spinning into the darkness.
You stand staring down into your lord’s mouth, and wait for the peace to wash over you.
But it doesn’t. It doesn’t come.
The darkness stirs. There’s something there, embedded in its folds, bulging against the fabric of the night.
And then a crash shatters the silence, followed immediately by the shriek of crumpling metal, the tinkle of shattered glass.
You spin around, looking back into the city. A car horn is wailing: a high, sustained cry, coming from somewhere behind you. Somewhere close.
You feel the mouth relax its pull.
Your lord isn’t finished with you yet.
You duck under the caution tape and move toward the sound, peering into the shadows. Something like panic grips your chest. In your mind, Ellen dwindles into the abyss, over and over again, her eyes locked on yours.
And then the horn cuts off, abruptly. You stop, at a loss.
A cat steps out of a doorway, studies you, then turns the twin beacons of its eyes down 15th street. You follow her gaze. Lines of parked cars, a flickering streetlamp, a rusting mailbox. Nothing more. When you look back, the cat’s gone.
You turn onto 15th.
A cold breeze is blowing now. Shadows flit across the road, shuddering branches and moonlight chiaroscuro.
The street ends at a line of close-packed storefronts. The sign above a narrow cobbler’s shop reads Shoes Repaired Here, in bright red letters, with an arrow pointing down at the door. But it’s come loose from its moorings and slipped sideways, so that the arrow is pointing to the left.
You turn left.
Where are you taking me? you say, but the only answer is a formless whisper, hollow and distant, like wind blowing through the corridors of an abandoned house.
You come to a place where the moonlight slants between two buildings, casting a white, luminous stripe across your path. It leads to the foot of a narrow staircase hewed into the side of an overpass.
You move to the stairs, and begin to climb. You can smell the reek of something burnt, now, metal and gasoline, smoke and oil. Above, just visible in the dimness, three fingers curl over the lip of the topmost step.
A young man sprawls at the head of the staircase, one hand clutching the step. The side of his face is pressed against the sidewalk, in a widening pool of blood. A vivid stripe of of acne runs down his cheek. His eye is open, staring glassily at nothing.
There’s a car across the street, wrapped around the splintered remains of a telephone pole. An old Buick, long and boxy. Smoke rises from its hood. Its windshield is shattered.
Hurt them, Lord, you said.
You step over the boy and follow the trail of his blood to the open passenger door and lean inside. Beer bottles are scattered in the well of the seat. The driver’s head is slumped against the wheel. There isn’t much left of his face: a jumble of glass and bone and blood.
You peer into the back seat, but the girl isn’t there. She had the good sense to abandon them, you think, with a surge of relief you don’t quite understand.
But then your eyes go to the hole in the windshield. You imagine her shooting forward, crashing through the glass, arcing away, and your heart sinks.
You pull your head out of the car and follow the path of that imagined trajectory. And she’s there, at the end of it, crumpled in the middle of the overpass, her limbs twisted beneath her.
The thing hidden in the silence stirs.
You study your memory of the girl’s silhouette, looking out at you from the back seat: the shape of her head, the color of her eyes, the jut of her chin. Her voice, distended with rage.
And then you know why your lord has brought you here.
Hurt them, you said.
You walk toward the girl, measuring every step. The hollow wind in your mind falls away. Everything is silence.
You reach the center of the overpass, crouch down, put your hand on her shoulder. Turn her over.
The top of your daughter’s head is caked with blood. Her nose is spread flat against her face. Her eyes are closed. Blood seeps out the corner of her mouth and snakes down her cheek.
The breath goes out of your body.
You sink to your knees, and close your eyes.
This is how your lord answers your prayers.
I’ll see you tonight, Daddy, said Alex, her face alive with hope.
There’s a dream you have.
You’re walking up the path to your sister-in-law’s house, freshly bathed, wearing new clothes. You pause to collect yourself, smooth your hair back, and knock. A young woman opens the door. She hesitates, confused, and then breaks into a wide smile.
You can hear her in your mind: “Daddy?” Her voice is deeper, thickened with age, and just as you remember it.
You’ve prayed for this dream to come true. You’ve lifted your head to your mother’s god and beseeched Him.
He never answered. Perhaps He never heard.
But your lord did.
“Daddy?” says Alex, again. Her voice is slurred now, and strained, and breathless. There’s pain in it.
You open your eyes. Alex’s chest is rising and falling. One of her eyes is swollen shut, but the other is open. She’s looking at you.
“Daddy,” she says. “Is that you?”
You haven’t cried since Sarah’s funeral: standing at the edge of her grave, all those years ago, holding Alex’s hand, weeping helplessly. But you’re crying now, and the agony of it is indistinguishable from the joy.
“It’s me, Alex,” you sob. “It’s me.”
And then the thing hidden in the night clambers out into the world, and screams.
The sound is a maelstrom, the chitinous roar of a locust swarm, the endless crash of collapsing buildings. It fills the night, blots out the world.
You lean down to gather Alex in your arms, and look wildly around for a place to hide.
And then you hear your lord’s voice, parting the din like a hurled spear, sinking deep into your mind.
Bring her to me, She says.
You let go of your daughter, and lunge away.
Bring her to me, says your lord.
You can feel Her digging into your thoughts, dismantling them, one by one. Turning them against you.
Alex lifts her head. “Daddy,” she says. “Don’t go.”
You crabwalk backwards, turn, stagger to your feet. Lurch past the smoking car. Trip over the dead boy, crawl on hands and knees to the staircase, and then launch yourself over the top step and tumble down to the street below.
You come to rest on your back, arms splayed, staring up at the sky.
BRING HER TO ME, screams your lord.
You stand and lurch past the cobbler’s shop and turn onto 15th, dragging your broken leg behind you.
The cat emerges from the shadows, hissing.
Pain burns down your body, leaving outposts of agony behind it. Faintly, beyond the ubiquitous din of your lord’s rage, you can hear yourself screaming.
You have no strength left by the time you reach the mouth. You crawl under the caution tape, belly and knees and elbows, reach out, grab the lip of the abyss, and drag yourself to the edge.
Obey me, screams your lord.
You look down into the implacable emptiness of Her mouth, and pull yourself forward, inch by inch, until your shoulders are hanging over the edge, and then your chest, and then your belly, and then, with one last heave
and the darkness rushes toward you
and you spread your arms
and you close your eyes
and you fall
— END —