Nothing really grabbed me today as a blog topic so I go to my old fallback: a snippet from a work in progress. This is an urban fantasy tentatively titled “Alchemy of Shadows”.
I pressed the doorbell. A musical chime sounded inside. The door opened and a wizened man, my client Nobuto Tanaka, stood facing me.
The man stood about five foot six and weighed maybe one hundred thirty pounds. Grey salted his short-cropped hair, neither thinning nor receding. He wore a dress shirt and slacks, tie loosened but not yet removed. Mirrored sunglasses perched on his nose and concealed his eyes.
I nodded, still looking at the sunglasses.
He must have noticed my stare. He waved in the direction of his face.
“Dilated. Eye doctor this morning. It’s why I was free to meet you. Please. Come in.” He stepped back.
I passed through the doorway into the lower level of a two floor apartment. A kitchen on my left opened into a dining and living area.
Tanaka pressed himself flat to the closet door to my right to allow me room to pass. I suspected the closet storage space extended underneath the stairs to my right that led up to the loft/bedroom.
Three torchiers illuminated the living and dining area and an LED bulb in a decorative ceiling fixture this short hallway. Heavy blackout curtains concealed the sliding doors that opened onto the balcony. A single futon and a small coffee table were the only other furniture visible.
“I don’t know what you expect from me,” I said as Tanaka closed the door behind me. Normally I work with remodlers, or even architects when people are building. If you’re just wanting decorating, I can give you the names of some good people who charge less than I…”
“No,” Tanaka’s voice came as little more than a whisper. “You’re the one we want.”
I froze, then slowly turned. “We?”
Tanaka reached out to a switch on the wall. His fingers slid down, flipping the toggle. The apartment went dark.
I backed away. By the dim light spilling around the edges of the blackout curtain I saw Tanaka remove the sunglasses. Two centuries earlier, or even one, I might have imagined the black pools that filled his eye sockets. Now I knew better.
Scientists say that darkness is simply the absence of light. It’s not a thing in itself. They are wrong. Oh, how they are wrong. Darkness extruded from Tanaka’s eyes, reached for me.
I scrambled backwards. One of the tendrils lashed out and struck my right hand. My hand went dead, frozen from elbow to fingertips. It did not hurt. The pain, I knew, would come later. If I lived that long.
Another tendril lashed. I fell backward in a roll, avoiding it, barely. Something tapped the sole of my left shoe. My foot went numb.
My roll brought me next to the coffee table, a lightweight decorative piece, not the solid wood of my own day. I grabbed it with my left hand and hurled it in Tanaka’s direction. That bought me enough time to push myself unsteadily to my feet. I could not feel my foot but it held my weight so long as I did not rely on it for balance.
My right arm still was not functioning, hanging as dead weight from the elbow down. With my left I removed my LED flashlight from its holder on my belt. I pressed the button on the end.
Tanaka, or the thing in his place, cackled.
“You belong to us now.”
I backed up another step, coming to a stop as my back pressed the curtains into the closed sliding door.
Reaching up, I took a firm grip on the curtain and dropped, bringing my full weight onto the fabric, onto the rod mounted above the door.
The rod tore loose from its mounting and the curtain cascaded around me. Light, the diffuse light of the afternoon sky, but light, flooded the room.
The thing screamed, throwing an arm over the space where Tanaka’s eyes would be. It retreated back into the shadows of the hallway.
I untangled myself from the curtains.
Light, welcome light, my one weapon against these creatures.
The creature cackled again. “You are trapped ‘Schmidt” and we are patient. You have assaulted me in my home. The police will come. And you will have nowhere to run when we come to take you at last.”
I looked left, then right. No exits. Up. The loft? No. I knew the floorplan of these apartments. I’d reviewed it before accepting Tanaka’s request for a consult. No exit up there.
Working behind me, I slid open the door. I backed onto the patio. Fire escape?
Mounting brackets but no ladder.
I glanced over the railing. Fourteen stories. That was a long way down.
“You have lost. You are ours at last.”
“Will you shut up?” I fumbled in the inside breast pocket of my jacket for my emergency vial. I held the cap in my teeth and spun the vial under it. Once it opened I spat out the cap and poured the liquid within the vial down my throat.
I turned and backed to the doorway. I dashed forward and leaped.
I got my good foot on the rail of the balcony.
I propelled myself out into space.
It takes just under three seconds to fall fourteen stories. You hit the ground at just under sixty five miles per hour. Even for me that could, probably would, be fatal. If I missed the pool. Even if I hit it, it would not be deep enough for what amounted to urban cliff diving.
Three seconds does not sound like much but it’s a long time when you are falling it. I twisted in the air. I hit the pool feet first. The water slowed me. Then I hit the bottom.
The bones in both legs shattered, tibia, fibula, femur, not to mention the splinters the impact made of the smaller bones in my feet. My left warm twisted, dislocating my shoulder. two ribs broke. One drove deep into my lungs. Just enough energy remained when my head struck the cement, face first, to break my nose and knock loose two teeth.
Then the elixer began to work. Bones realigned and knit. Torn muscle wove together. Marrow burned as it poured new blood cells into my veins. I stood, gasping. My right arm still hung limp, my left foot remained a nerveless lump at the end of my leg but of the damage from the fall, only the pain remained.
Coughing as my lungs expelled water, I staggered to the shallow end of the pool and rolled onto the deck.
Above, I could see people at windows and on balconies. Pointing. Shouting. There would be calls to for the police, for an ambulance. I had to get out of here.
I struggled to my feet and looked, spotting the gate. Limping heavily on my numb foot, I stumbled toward it.
Time for Johann Schmidt to disappear.
The shadows had found me again.