CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 License.
Matthew stands in the motel parking lot, staring into the pre-dawn mist.
He gave up on sleep hours ago: the news of the sale, his missing car, his relief at being out of the hospital and his unease over the memories of the sickness and the attack all contribute to what he can only describe as a restlessness of spirit. He spent hours lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. Now he’s given up even the pretense of sleep. He’s full of nervous energy and it will not be contained in the confines of his room.
He sets off toward Bridge Road, squinting slightly as streetlights refract light through the moisture hanging in the air, creating bizarre halos that cast dim shadows across the ground. His footsteps are muffled as he walks across the empty street. He hears no sound but the light tap of the soles of his boots on the pavement. The air is warm, but not oppressive–it would get worse when day breaks, but at the moment it’s almost pleasant.
He slips into an alley, walks past an old green dumpster, wrinkles his nose at the smell of garbage, and emerges onto Bridge Road. The street is empty, no cars on the street or even parked along the curb. All the buildings are dark, with the exception of a light over a front door here and there. Reaching the curb, he hesitates. He turns to the direction of the bridge. He toys with the idea of breaking his promise to Sheriff Dobbs and making his way back to the Manor, but the thought of trying to climb those gates is daunting. Finally he turns the other direction, making his way up the street toward the park. It would be an excellent place to watch the sun rise.
By the time he reaches the cross street that would take him to Sally’s diner he’s drenched in sweat. The buildings are dark, illuminated only dimly by the streetlights which are nearly useless in the mist. The halos surrounding each light fade quickly, diffusing blue through the vapor until everything else fades to silhouette. Dark blues surround lighter blues; gauzy blue shapes fade into blue shadow.
He’s tired, but physical activity feels good. Being able to put weight on his ankle feels good. He walks in silence, footsteps muffled in the air that feels somehow even thicker and more humid than it did minutes ago. The city feels as if it has been snatched out of time. Not, Matthew thinks, in the same way it had the night he saw the shining chapel. Then it seemed as if he were in a different time altogether: an earlier time, with cobblestone streets and old Victorian times. Now it feels like time has simply stopped, a moment preserved and suspended in blue amber.
The first light of dawn filters through the mist as he reaches the top of the hill that leads to Bridge Road Park. The furtive beginnings of morning thin the mist somewhat, lightening the darker blues and turning the lighter blues nearly white. Matthew sits on a bench and watches the dawn fight with the mist for supremacy of the sky. He sighs, content, as the air warms slightly. His eyes droop. All the nervous energy feels spent, his mind no longer races, and he wonders if the sheriff will arrest him for vagrancy if he falls asleep.
Matthew awakens to the echo of a sound he can’t remember. He sits upright, heart racing, searching his surroundings for any sign of anything at all. The mist is gone, but the sky is still mostly dark. The eastern edge of the sky has brightened, but the sun has yet to breach the horizon. The park is empty.
He stands, rubbing his neck to work the kink out, and listens. Everything is quiet. He paces around the bench, looking up and down Bridge Road, wondering what the sound had been and where it had come from. His gaze keeps drifting off in the direction of the bridge, but he can’t be certain.
An inhuman wail cuts through the morning stillness. He recognizes it immediately as what woke him up. He remembers that sound, the sound of the gray-clad thing that attacked him first at the manor, then in the hospital. The wail rises up in pitch, higher and higher, until it crests and breaks down into a guttural snarl.
It’s coming from the direction of the bridge, he thinks. It makes sense—a crowd of them gathered there, the night he scaled the gate and dropped into Daylight.
Moments later he hears an answering cry: the same inhuman wail, but from many voices and from many different directions. Matthew spins in place, trying to take in every direction at once. It wasn’t just Bridge Road. The voices are everywhere.
They’ve crossed the bridge. They’re in Daylight.
Again Matthew hears the first, lone wail, and again it breaks into a snarl, but this time the snarl erupts into a blood-curdling shriek of incoherent rage. It’s closer. It’s coming this way. He wants to run, but he continues to stand at the edge of the park, looking down the street, toward the direction of the sound. Each new shriek is another nail driven through his feet, fastening them to the ground. The sound grows stronger, an clearer, and soon he hears something else: shuffling footsteps scraping against asphalt.
Finally he sees it.
At the very end of his sight, where early morning shadows swallow up the details of the street, he sees a loping, shambling thing make its way up the middle of the road. it’s hunched over, almost on all fours, as it shuffles up Bridge Road with surprising speed. Occasionally it stops, raises its rag-covered head, and rage issues forth, each shriek angrier, more violent… more desperate.
The other cries increase in frequency as well—but they do not, Matthew realizes, devolve into fits of rage. They sound likes calls and responses, and it occurs to him that they may be communicating.
They’re calling out to each other. Working together.
And then, in a sudden flash of insight:
They’re looking for this one. It’s a search party.
The creature stops, circles, body tense. Each distant cry makes it flinch, as if the sound were sharp and burrowing into its flesh. At the end of each cry it rallies, crying out in reply, each time ending its own wail in an inhuman snarl that sounds not just angry, but defiant.
It reaches the top of the Bridge Road Park hill, and Matthew can do nothing but watch, fascinated, as it continues shrieking its defiance to its unseen pursuers. Finally it draws itself up to its full height, throws its arms up to the sky, and bellows with such rage that Matthew shakes from the power of its voice.
And then, from the top of the Bridge Road Park hill, it looks across the park and sees him.
For a moment all is silent. The creatures stares at Matthew contemplatively, and Matthew, scarcely able to breathe, stares back. The moment passes, and the creature utters another cry—this time almost a cry of triumph—and races up the hill toward him. At that moment the strange paralysis that had held him in place leaves him; Matthew utters a strangled cry of his own, turns, and runs.
He races away from the park, vaulting over one of the benches and landing on the sidewalk encircling it. Bridge Road continues on, going deeper into Daylight. He starts running in that direction, but as he runs he remembers the chase at the Manor: these creatures, whatever they are, are faster than him. He won’t be able to run away.
He spins in time to see it close on him, a blur of gray cloth streaming behind as wizened arms stretch toward him. Matthew clenches his fists. In a moment it’s on him, grabbing at him, and Matthew fights back, yelling at the top of his lungs as he swings wildly with both fists.
Matthew is not an experienced fighter: the few fights he’s been in have never ended well. Desperation fuels his strength, however, and in this moment desperate strength works. He strikes the creature in its twisted, gnarled face, knocking it to one side. Immediately Matthew kicks at it with all his strength. Matthew hears it grunt in pain as his foot connects with its stomach, hears the breath leave its body, and hears it gasping for air. He kicks again, and again, not letting up for a moment.
And then the advantage passes: Matthew’s kick goes wide, the creature grabs his foot, and pulls. Matthew has just enough time to swear before he’s knocked to the ground, and the moment he hits the ground the creature is on top of him, grabbing at his arms, forcing them to his side. Matthew looks up into its face. The paper-thin skin twists into a snarl, razor-like teeth bared. It’s eyes are blue, sharp, and hard. They radiate malice, madness, and a desperate, unending pain.
It leans in. Matthew turns his face away, struggling harder. The creature growls, frustrated, releasing one of Matthew’s arms to grab his face. Matthew strikes the creature with his free arm, but to no effect: it’s lips part, face drawing closer to his own.
Out of the corner of his eye Matthew sees a flash of gray. Something strikes the creature from the side and it topples over, releasing Matthew as it grapples with another gray-clad figure. Inhuman cries fill the air around him, and in seconds there are many creatures, all descending on the first, surrounding it, immobilizing it, forcing it to the ground.
He scrambles back a few feet, then unsatisfied with the speed he simply starts rolling, trying to put as much distance as he can between himself and whatever is going on. Eventually he hits something—a trash can—and he sits up, watching carefully.
The creature that attacked him is strong, even among its own kind; it’s surrounded by six others, but fights with such force that he thinks it has a chance of breaking free. it shrieks, rage tinted now with desperation, as the others try to force it to the ground. The others are no longer calling out, but begin to murmur softly in a low, soothing tone.
The trapped creature shrieks in rage one final time, then gives up, going limp. To Matthew’s surprise, it begins to cry—great, wracking sobs of grief. The others around it bow their heads lower, leaning over it, whispering to it. One places its hand on the creature’s head in a way that reminds Matthew of a parent comforting a small child.
Matthew doesn’t dare move, afraid to draw notice. The sobbing continues for some time. The others remain huddled around it, murmuring, occasionally reaching out in comfort. Eventually the creature at the center draws a deep, ragged breath and falls silent. It shudders, begins to writhe, gripped in the throes of a violent seizure… and then, quickly, the seizure passes by and it lies still. The others release it. It never moves again.
The other creatures bow their heads in silence, staring down at the body of the creature they had, a second before, worked so hard to restrain. Then, one by one, they lift their heads, look up into the sky, and call out in a voice that Matthew no longer thinks of as inhuman, or strange. It is simply sad. Other gray-clad figures appear in the distance, some climbing up the hill on Bridge Road, others coming from deeper in the city, all joining the grieving circle, standing around them, heads bowed.
The ones in the center—the ones who had originally struggled with it, and held it down—lifted the body of the dead one, hoisting it over their heads, and begin to walk down Bridge Road, toward the river, toward the bridge. The others fall in line behind them, heads still bowed, making no noise. Matthew risks climbing to his feet, but the gray-clad creatures pay him no attention at all as they walk on, slowly fading from view.
Matthew is still standing, staring at the spot where the creature died, as the sun breaks through the horizon.