Mage: The Gun Quarter
Four - Waking up
Eric woke with a start and a snort. His mouth tasted like an ashtray and his throat felt sore. He’d slept on Nan’s couch once again, keeping a watchful eye on the business of the street from the window. So far, nothing too crazy had happened. No riots, no fires, no fun of any sort.
From the comfort of the couch, he picked up the phone and dialed his friend Emma. It rang four times before she answered.
“’Allo?” Emma’s voice sounded faint and tired.
“Hi Em, how’s it going?” Eric tried to sound serious.
The phone was silent for a few moments.
“Blue? Oh … it’s … it’s tense. You?”
“Just keeping an eye on me Nan. Wondering if you needed my help today,” He said.
“Blue, can I let you go? Rory just walked in the door,” Emma said.
Before he could respond, the phone clicked and went dead. The tone buzzed in his ear for a moment. He frowned, hung up and let out a long sigh. Then he groaned, got off the couch and hit the washroom to brush his teeth and pee.
He listened for any sounds coming from the bedroom. Nothing. Nan was still sleeping. Sometimes, he would put tea on for her in the morning, especially if she slept in. When he finished brushing his teeth, he put his toothbrush back in the holder and returned to the kitchen.
He filled the kettle with water, put it onto the stove and set out a couple cups. He plunked some lumps of sugar into each cup, leaned back on the counter and permitted himself a long, dirty yawn.
It was then he noticed Nan left her angel ornament on the kitchen table, still wrapped with a bow. Eric pulled the knot in the twine loose and lifted the lid.
Inside, the statue was obscured by wrapping and tissue paper. He unpackaged the statue and set it upright on the table.
Now, in the light of in Nan’s kitchen, the statue seemed to fit in perfectly with her choice of décor, winged creatures, cutesy babies and the like.
The kettle rumbled softly after a minute or two, daring to make a gentle peep from its whistle spout. Eric turned around, picked up the kettle and portioned steaming water into the cups and set a tea bag into each.
He turned around and immediately noticed the statue was no longer in the middle of the table. The porcelain angel was standing near the edge of the table and stretching its porcelain wings. The sight of a moving statue startled Eric and he let out a gasp. The angel opened its mouth and revealed a set of needle-sharp teeth. Hatred filled its face, and its eyes took on a yellow glow. It hissed at him like a rabid cat.
“Huh-huh … holy shit!” Eric stammered.
The angel flapped its wings and leapt off the edge of the table at him, lunging with murderous intent. It promptly plunged to the floor and landed with a clatter. Its porcelain wings were not built for flying. Eric stumbled two steps to the side, backing away from the malicious, little creature.
It shook its head, reoriented itself onto Eric and skittered across the floor toward him, gnashing its teeth. He scrambled away from it, dodging little, alabaster fingers and a razor-sharp chomp. He hopped up on the counter and lifted his feet out of reach.
The angel tried to scramble up the side of the kitchen cabinets, scratching its fingers against the wood. It couldn’t gain any purchase, and remained stuck on the floor. Eric grabbed a cast iron skillet from the pile of dirty dishes in the sink and gripped it tight.
“Bloody little bastard,” Eric cursed it. He hurled the skillet at the angel. The pan smashed into the floor, missing it completely.
The angel regarded the pan with venomous disdain and let out another accusatory shriek. Its wings flapped and sharp claws sprouted from its fingertips. Eric pulled a chef’s knife from a wooden knife block and waggled the blade.
“Stay back, you!”
Eric felt a wave of terror overcome him. The knife in his hand slipped from his grip and fell onto the floor, lodging upright on its tip. The blade vibrated with a twang. Sweat beaded on Eric’s scalp and cheeks and dribbled down his temples. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest.
The angel looked up at him, then down at the blade, then back up to him and then scowled at the blade. It grasped the knife handle with both hands and struggled and strained, tugging upward on the handle, trying to pull it out of the floor.
Eric looked from side to side, desperate to find something else to throw at the little creature. It pressed its whole body against the dull edge of the blade, wrapped its arms around the handle and tried to hoist the knife up out of the floor like a lumberjack carrying a log. To Eric, the little creature began to seem less ominous and terrible. It couldn’t even pull a kitchen knife out of the floor.
With a sudden flash of insight and daring, Eric positioned his feet beneath himself into a squat and jumped from the counter to the floor. It was an attempt to put as much space between him and the angel. He scrambled to the couch and scooped up his blanket in his arms. As quick as he could, he turned to face the angel. It set upon him like a feral street dog, gnashing its teeth. Eric swept the blanket on top of it and picked up one of his boots.
The infuriated angel thrashed about, trying to free itself from its fuzzy restraint, but resistance proved useless. Eric smashed his boot down onto the lump in the blanket, whacking the angel as hard as he could. It squawked and snarled. One slam wasn’t satisfactory enough for Eric, so he kept smashing the angel as hard as he could until the lump stopped moving.
He panted and tried to catch his breath before he wacked the lump under the blanket again. It crunched and crunched, getting smaller with each swing of the boot. Eric noticed the taste of metal in his mouth. His whole body vibrated with exhilaration.
Gingerly, he lifted the blanket and took a peek underneath. The angel was no more – in its place were shards of porcelain and dust.
A shuffling sound came from his Nan’s bedroom.
“Eric, what’s all that racket?” Her voice was muffled through the closed door.
He knew he had to think fast.
“Nan, I was going to cook breakfast but I made a hash of it,” Eric called out.
He hurriedly grabbed a dustpan and broom and swept all the broken porcelain pieces up. He poured them into the shoebox and set the lid on top. Quickly, he wrapped the twine around the box and tied a sloppy slipknot, the same style knot he used to tie his boots, and wrapped some scotch tape around all of it four times just to be safe.
Eric picked up the skillet and the knife, dumped them into the sink with a clatter and looked to the teacups. Steam still curled gently from the water, the tea bags quietly soaking. He sighed.
“I have tea ready, but you’ll have to wait on the rest, I’ve got to go,” he shouted at his Nan’s bedroom door.
Eric picked up the phone and dialed Rory again. The phone rang and rang but no one picked up. Fear crept into the corners of his mind.
“I know he told me to stay indoors, but I don’t care, this is some crazy shit,” Eric muttered, “And now I’m talking to myself!? I’m going mad!”
Eric put on a denim jacket and his trusty Doc Martins. He tucked the shoebox under his arm and walked out the front door.
Outside, Eric walked down the empty streets of Birmingham, headed for the Gun Quarter. No one was about. The streets were usually never this quiet. It gave him an odd and unseemly sensation of fear, bordering on dread. As he walked past an alley there came a clatter from the rubbish bins. Eric peered into the shadows briefly and saw a pair of eyes glowing, watching him with predatory malice.
A chill crept up Eric’s spine, causing the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end. He clutched the shoebox tightly with both arms. The glowing eyes bobbed up and down, stalking toward him from the darkness. Suddenly the owner of the glowing eyes rushed at him, charging the box. It was a feral cat, scraggly and mangy. It unleashed a set of claws and latched onto his arm, digging in and biting him.
Eric dropped the box on the ground with a clatter. The corner ripped open and chunks of porcelain came crashing about. The cat dug in with determination as Eric shook his arm back and forth. Its claws expertly pierced the denim sleeve, anchoring within in flesh and fabric. Blood oozed into sleeve, making it dark and wet. Shaking the cat made things considerably worse.
The next thing he noticed was the odour; the cat smelled as if it’d been rooting and sleeping in a dumpster its whole life, the aroma was offensive and putrid.
“Fackin’ minge, lil’ bastard,” Eric cursed the cat.
He grabbed it round the neck and squeezed as hard as he could to choke it out. Unfortunately, his fingers descended through fur and rotted flesh, meeting soggy bones and maggots. The body of the cat separated from the neck.
An angry cat head continued to chomp into his arm and the decapitated torso clung to his sleeve via stained, yellowed claws.
Eric freaked out, drew his hand back, shook off wet bits of flesh from between his fingers and plucked the claws from his jacket until the headless cat torso fell to the ground. The head of cat still clung to his arm.
Its eyes glowed yellow and it gave a singular, defiant bite into his arm. Its teeth were a row of tiny, sharp needles, just like the porcelain angel. The bite rent soft tissue and scraped against bone.
He gingerly tried to pull the head off, but when he touched its ears and gripped the skull in the palm of his hand, it bit down even harder.
Full of terror and fighting back tears, he began to gallop down the street toward Woody’s flat. Desperate and afraid, he knew he needed something like pliers or a crowbar smash the head off of him.
It didn’t occur to Eric to scream in terror. He didn’t freeze up. He stomped down the street another block with the head of the cat attached to his arm. At the intersection, he noticed an empty, double-decker city bus.
The doors were wide open and it was bereft of passengers and a driver.
“Uncle Mick drove bus… never shuddup ‘bout it,” Eric muttered. Then an idea sparked into his consciousness.
Eric ran up to the open doors and spied a compartment nestled underneath the driver’s seat. He immediately knew what it was and used his cat-free arm to open the compartment and pull out a black box. He flipped the latch holding the box shut and revealed an assortment of tools, including a hammer.
Eric lay his arm down on the floor of the bus, sitting in the doorframe, legs dangling into the street. He grimaced at the dead kitty head and held a white-knuckle grip on the hammer. He motioned up and down twice with the hammer, getting his bearings for the blow so he wouldn’t accidentally smash his arm.
Down it came, smashing into the decomposing skull into pieces. The bones and brains splattered unceremoniously, destroying the skull. Eric flipped the hammer around, so the claw was facing forward. He used the hammer’s claw to scrape at the remaining jaw and remove the teeth. Luckily, his jacket prevented the teeth from getting too deep, he was able to remove all the bits and pieces of tooth and bone from his arm.
Gingerly, he examined the wounds in his arm through the holes in his jacket and shirt. It looked bloody and awful, with bits of meat and tissue ripped into shreds.
“Och… I’m gunna need a rabies shot … or tetanus shot … or both!”
Eric laid down in his back in the aisle of the bus; sweating and shivering from the ordeal. His heart pounded in his chest and he felt exhausted, out of breath. Silently, he resolved to quit smoking so much and try harder in gym class.
It was there, in the empty bus in the middle of the street, a pair of hands grabbed onto his leg and tried to pull him out into the street. Eric slid a couple centimetres, but the person grabbing him wasn’t too strong, at least not strong enough to drag him off the bus.
“Fuck off, mate,” Without looking, Eric kicked his boot at the person, tagging them with the tip of his Doc Martin. The hands let go of his leg.
Was it the driver, come to reclaim his bus? Eric pondered.
Eric sat up to confront the stranger who grabs random young men who lay in abandoned busses in the middle of the day.
A scruffy, filthy child stood before him, dressed in stained, formalwear. It was a little boy, no more than six-years-old, with pale skin and messy, black hair cut the same way as the Beatles did on their first album. The boys’ suit looked to be discoloured and stained with the moisture and detritus of decomposition. His fingertips were pale blue.
Eric didn’t know why he noticed the pale blue finger tips, perhaps it was because they were grabbing his leg again and making a second attempt to drag him off the bus. The little boy reeked of rotten meat and formaldehyde.
Not to be outdone or surprised by another ghoulish horror, Eric had had enough. He grabbed the hammer at his side and smashed the little boy in the face as hard as he could. The claw of the hammer pierced the little boy’s skull and lodged in his forehead.
The boy stumbled backward and fell down on his bum, hammer still hanging from his head. Slowly, with difficulty, he rolled over and pushed himself back up to standing. The handle of the hammer obscured his vision, but he glared at Eric anyway, reached up, grasped the hammer by the handle and pulled it free from his head with a sickening noise that reminded Eric of the time he finger-fucked a cantaloupe at the corner store to tease the shopkeeper during a robbery. He’d smashed that melon into the kebab display. It’d made a glorious mess.
Bits of black and blue brain matter oozed from the hole in the boys’ skull. He stared at Eric, his face twisted in hatred and aggression.
Eric delivered a giant kick with the flat of his boot, right into the little boys’ chest, causing his head and arms to whiplash in the opposite direction, flopping like a ragdoll onto the asphalt.
Eric scooted backward into the bus, scrambled up into the driver’s seat and pulled the steel cylindrical armature connected to the doors, trying to close them and keep the boy locked outside. Eric strained, favouring his wounded arm and wincing with his efforts. The bus doors closed with a gliding shunt.
The little boy scowled at Eric from outside the doors. He pressed his face against the glass and smashed his fists on the door. His dead, milky eyes began to glow yellow.
“Fuck you,” Eric shouted, “Creepy lil’ cunt.”
Eric turned the switch on the ignition and brought the engine to life. It roared with rude health when Eric fluttered his foot on the accelerator. He engaged the clutch and the bus lurched forward a few feet before he slammed on the brakes, causing everything to rock and squeal in a herky-jerky motion. It was strictly amateur.
“Shit,” Eric muttered with embarrassment.
The little boy reappeared at the door, smashing his hands against the glass with fervor. Eric wrapped his hands around the steering wheel and stepped on the gas once more, turning toward the boy. The little boy was immediately knocked down and carried under the bus, causing a slight shudder in the floor as the rear wheels rolled over him.
Eric peered through the side mirrors, grimaced, put the bus in reverse and ran the little boy over a second time – just to be sure. Then, he put the bus into the forward gear accelerated down the street.
“I gotta get to Woody,” Eric said, to no one in particular.
Art Valentine stood in the middle of the street. He’d dressed for battle in his gleaming, knightly armour and had Excalibur drawn at the ready. He looked every bit the part of valour and the sun seemed to shine brighter for him, giving him a radiant, warm presence.
Rory Cooper stood alongside him, scruffy and unwashed. His beard was matted with sweat and dirt, face anointed with a red, bloody handprint. In stark contrast to the shining and valorous Excalibur, Rory’s Warhammer was dull and marred with evidence of previous battles.
Nicholas Black stood on the sidewalk in a freshly pressed suit, smoking a cigarette and looking quite bored. His hair was perfectly coifed and a silk pocket square poked up from his breast pocket.
“I don’t see it,” Art squinted.
“Me neither,” Rory said.
“It’s harder seeing things when you’ve cut out one of your eyes,” Nick deadpanned to Rory.
Previously, Rory cut out his eye and cast it into the Well of Mimir at the roots of the World Tree. The experience left him transformed in unknowable ways, connecting him to the universe and thrusting him into another realm of being. It also left him disfigured and wearing an eye patch.
Rory stared at Nick without any hint of amusement.
“I’m sorry, are you glaring at me or are you just opening your eye really wide to see better?” Nick smirked.
Rory tightened his grip on the hammer, causing his knuckles to turn white. He took half a step toward Nick and readied an insult. He opened his mouth to speak but Nick interrupted him-
“Woah big guy, I’m just kidding around,” Nick threw up his hands in surrender.
The ground rumbled beneath their feet, similar to a small earthquake or railcars smashing into one another at the rail yards. Everyone snapped to attention and readied themselves for action. Nick pulled out his cellphone and dialed a number. It rang only for a moment.
“Hi Sarah, can you give us any help here? Do you see anything on the cameras?”
Her voice came through the phone loud and clear. “There are massive distortions in the umbra. I can see ripples flowing outward, like splashes in a kiddy pool, but I don’t actually ‘see’ anything,” Sarah said.
“Hold on, let me try to triangulate the position based on the mathematical model I use to find the coordinates of Earthquakes. If you can’t see the creature, at the very least, you should be able to know you’re in its general vicinity,” She said.
A building down the street erupted, spraying brick and glass into the street. Then, a car seemed to rise up into the air and flip over, sliding toward the Misfits on its hood, spraying sparks. The screech of metal on brick and asphalt pierced their ears.
Rory, Art and Nick stared into the rubble and saw nothing.
“Rory, shall we begin?” Art pointed at sigils drawn in chalk on the ground.
Both men gathered at the edge of the sigils and began to chant.
“Teacht i radharc. Díle mo radhairc. Nochtadh radhairc. Radharc a fheiceáil,” They chanted ancient words of power and gave their energy into the circle.
Art opened a small, glass vial and poured a shimmering yellow liquid onto the sigils. The ground began to sparkle and glow like molten lava.
“It’s right in front of you,” Sarah said, “Less than fifty feet, and closing the distance.”
As Rory and Art’s ritual completed, their eyes began to glow yellow. They imbued themselves with an otherworldy vision, capable of seeing beyond regular space and time. Art stumbled back, his nose bleeding under the strain of it all.
The ground rumbled once again. Suddenly, their spell penetrated the glamour impeding their vision. The world-eating, humanity-ending monster came into view. It looked like a fifteen foot tall squid with multiple tentacles for arms and the body and legs of a human man.
Its eyes glowered with inky, endless black and its skin rippled and wriggled, shifting between multiple colours as it walked, like liquid camouflage.
It stared right at them and they stared back at it.
Suddenly, multiple tentacles shot up into the air and wiggled. The creature let out an ear-shattering screech, sending harrowing chills down Art and Rory’s spines. It lumbered toward Rory and prepared to grab at him with its tentacles, intending to tear him limb from limb.
Art readied his sword. Rory readied his war hammer.
Without warning, a double-decker city bus smashed into the creature, dragging it down the street, tangling tentacles up in the tires, ripping limbs off and crushing the legs and torso beneath the wheels and frame. It carried the beast more than thirty feet before coming to a stop. Smoke and steam began to rise from the engine compartment in the front.
The crushed torso of the monster twitched for a moment and then collapsed. The tentacles quivered for another few seconds. Rory and Art stood dumbfounded. Nick lit hung up his phone and lit another cigarette.
From the wreckage of the bus, the side doors opened. Out stepped Eric Mason, clutching his arm and covered in blood. He completely ignored the monster he’d hit with the bus, oblivious he’d hit anything. The creature’s glamour was still in effect.
He walked toward Art and Rory with a confused look on his face and stumbled as he stepped over tentacle, rubble, glass and twisted metal. Eric had unknowingly, slain the beast.
“You guys are not gunna believe the day I’ve had!”