The calm that replaced the killing was deep and satisfying, framing the moment for easier recollection and washing the cries of the dying from the air. An unusually warm breeze made its way into the red rooms of the restaurant, where bodies lay in piles, and the distribution of spoiling blood and flesh made for a confusing portrait of the moments preceding the gathered ruin. I drew a deep breath and readied myself for reprisal as I opened the front door to the eatery and stepped outside. The city was almost fused with the night and seemed to grow out of the silence, as nothing remarked on the presence of a population, much less a population waiting to avenge its fallen citizens. The breeze continued to play within the calm, invisibly dancing across severed bodies and rolling in the scent of the dead. It also carried with it the smell of smoke. I looked to the north. The smolder of deepest red twirled in the distance, and a great column of smoke lifted into the night. They had set the barn aflame. They were burning my art.
My father stood beside me, wearing the dead flesh-eater. He directed his gaze to the distant fire and laughed like wet thunder, further destroying the face through which he spoke. “HAHAHA, SHE’S CALLING TO YOU, BOY! DON’T MAKE HER WAIT!” My father placed himself into my outstretched hand, and the corpse of the long dead cannibal collapsed to the ground. My forbearer’s laughter still traveled the night, rattling the windows of the silent city, and no doubt rattling the courage of the things that hid behind those windows. I would give them more than fear. Much more.
My art had always been dismantled, redistributed, cremated, buried—and its meaning was always feared, if not respected. But never had it been burned in spite. My hands turned white as they gripped my father, and for the first time I felt him retreat from the fire growing within me. I would give these wretched things to oblivion, beyond the whispers of myth—where even memory would never find them again.
I would not be baited like some dumb animal, so I bypassed the field leading to the barn and disappeared into the darkness—far beneath the silence, where the scurry of a draft can sound like a blast from hell—and I made my way into the caverns beneath the city. There were many entrances into the great hollows scattered all around me, beneath broken statues and secreted away into basements. I chose a yawning hole that opened up from the bottom of a dry creek bed. As I descended into the earth, I found the darkness to be old and untroubled by the sun, but it was stained by an unfathomable degeneration that caused it to flow sick and slow, as if it had become a corpse of its former self, having sheltered too much debauchery than was healthy. Yet its shortcomings were to my advantage, as the slothful pitch was slave to no one, and felt no obligation to alert the under-creatures to my presence.
As I traveled the spaces beneath the world I encountered entire caverns filled with machines designed for the preservation of dead bodies. Thick electrical cables unraveled from the devices, moving up the walls and disappearing into the many cracks of the ceiling. Other rooms were occupied by a more completely degenerated form of cannibal, a type which apparently had no place even among the filthy comforts of a ruined town, spilling over with mold and rot. They were ungainly things, mouth-heavy and blind, as nature had perfected for them a body that was meant only for hunting and gorging. Like plump vermin, overstuffed by a limitless hunger, they squirmed and croaked from the cave floors where they lay, belly-up and wet with gore. They wore only the blood of many meals upon their bodies, and were too full from their eating to feel the heat of my gaze as I looked upon them from hidden places. Their mindless indulgence was painfully offensive, but I did not wish to spill so much as a drop of my rage upon the unwholesome things, preferring to conserve my indignation for more deserving causes.
As I suspected, many of the caverns were not natural at all, but had been the products of carefully placed explosives. I could see piles of blackened stone distributed liberally around the mouths of freshly created caves. The new hollows seemed to travel in directions that would eventually bring them beneath nearby cities, one almost paralleling the route taken by the train I had recently ridden. It had become clear that not all of Miss Patience’s victims were killed by her own hand, though they were almost certainly collected on her behalf. Many times, as I skulked around and within the cannibal city, I heard the creatures refer to their “great and hungry mother under the earth.” I wondered at how long Miss Patience had been expanding her access to greater sources of food.
The caverns were every inch a maze, and it took me no small amount of time to navigate to my destination. At one point I encountered something that nearly stole the breath from me—a gigantic stone archway covered with beautiful reliefs and carvings, all of which depicted what I could only imagine were some kind of titanic alien beings, all of them thick with rot and filled with strange worms that wore crowns. The cavern beyond the archway was large enough to admit a city, and the darkness rushing from the mouth of that terrible entrance was of a type that had never known light. The structure was clearly not the work of the cannibals, as they were neither intelligent enough nor sufficiently ancient to have wrought such a magnificent thing. Also, and in direct proportion to the painful beauty of the archway, there was a hideous odor spilling from the cavern, as if the whole of the earth’s dead had been collected within to spoil and fester. If not for my strong constitution, I would have been most assuredly forced, retching, from the cliff where I stood. Undoubtedly, this was the passage whereby the inhuman clients of the cannibals came and went, and from the smell of things, they were repeat customers.
After I forced myself from the sight of the monstrous archway, I made my way through another collection of rambling tunnels, past crowds of lumbering dead-eaters and the mounds of corpses they ate from. I didn’t know if it was day or night when I finally came upon what I was after—I was just happy to see that the cannibals were in fact thoughtless enough to store their explosives in one central location.
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