The city of Willard, a strange and abandoned place, was home to the Wasting Houses—structures where once its entire population was interred for suffering from a mysterious madness. No one knows precisely (or even approximately) the cause for the madness that once drowned the city of Willard, but whatever the source, be it supernal or supernatural, its effects cannot be denied their place within the canon of the supremely strange—and if I may say so, the supremely wonderful.
I approached the city like a moth drawing upon the sun, foolish and fascinated. I could feel dangers seething beneath the ground like glowing coals fresh from a fire, just begging to burn. Yet I didn’t—couldn’t –care. Here was the truest freedom—early proof of a world tread upon by dreams. You see, madness is the one darkness the light cannot kill. It screws up its face in utter defiance. It’s a nightmare that survives waking, wandering upon bruised feet through the fever heat of blistering white banality. And much like old shadows, madness is often reposed within ancient places, locked up and forgotten, tended only by the wisps of ghosts and whirls of dust. However, it should be noted that madness is only considered such due to the broad consensus of the mad, each suffering equally from delusion. In their superior numbers and broken wisdom, they have concluded that their madness is the one true reality. Poor fools, all.
The place, if indeed it qualified as merely a thing with geographical specificity, slowly became a silhouette against the darkening sky. I could almost hear the din of battle unfolding between the concluding rays of the day and the mad city’s refusal to be revealed by something so paltry as light. Standing so close to Willard, I could appreciate a palpable undercurrent of residual madness, sweeping those with appropriate sensitivities into the gravity of secret words, inviting them to take on the burden of forgotten lunatics, to convey a flourish upon the monument to madness. Yet brick and mortar is not my medium of choice, so I declined the invitation. At least for the moment. I rounded a final bend and at last, Willard came into focus.
The city was a material outline of a lunatic’s thought process. It seemed desperate to capture within stone and wood the quicksilver shapes of a madman's fancy. Houses, gardens, fountains, clock towers and churches rose and fell into and around each other, forming metropolitan entities that seemed to stir—as if the momentum of insanity had yet to exhaust itself despite the absence of the broken minds that had once called it down from the sky as truly as lightning rods.
The road I followed into the city ended at many an empty residence. The remains of kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms punctuated the distance of my paved path as it transformed into other, more secret paths—tendrils that slithered around thickets and beneath graveyards, through black tunnels and silent crypts. Willard, to be certain, was a great sloughed-off skin that madness had once worn with such pride and glory, rendering even the sun dim by means of its terrible brilliance.
I entered Willard in darkness—as was necessary from a hunter’s perspective, to say nothing of that of an outré artist. It was a notoriously strange place filled with the material and quite possibly immaterial articulations of insanity—of men and women who went from raising the walls of their city to being imprisoned by them. Due to the immensity of the population of lunatics it was determined that their mad city would become a makeshift sanitarium. Almost all those interred within the city died here. It was for that very reason I resolved to make my temporary home in the bowels of an abandoned asylum, the same kind of dwelling that once suffered its insane tenants to waste away to the dry whites of their bones. I had hoped to taste a little bit of the madness that might have seeped into the crumbling walls and cracked floors. For no artist is an island—I needed my inspiration, and madness is the greatest muse of all.
I decided to sleep through the remainder of the night and start fresh the following evening. Rats sought me out during my rest, a few even curling up with me. I was thankful for their warmth. I wondered at the number of their ancestors that might have been made fat and happy on a diet of neglected insane, sleeping off their feasts in filthy nests lined with the bones of the mad. I even ate one of my small sleeping companions, so as to share in the human darkness that may have once nourished its family line. After finishing my tiny meal, I rose in search of grander prey.
As I stalked the city, I encountered a great Wasting House that rose and stretched far beyond the scope of any other building I had encountered. It looked more like a castle fit for the king of the mad, for the architectural embellishments affected to its construction made me doubt the completeness of its location within this world. The structure, like all art, was an enemy of solid reality—it seemed to shiver beneath the normalizing dullness of the common sky that crushed in around its silhouette, trying to deny its otherworldly pedigree.
I passed beyond the doors of the structure, eager to know the strangeness pent within. Yet there was nothing strange at all, only a great diffusion of riven corpses. The slaughter resembled the revenge of children, earnest and impulsive. Clearly, my next opponent had not done this, as his tastes ran to the overly neat and tidy. This was someone or something else.
I felt the eyes of a hunter fall upon me. A woman’s voice filled with poison and honey floated into the room. “I’ve been eager to see you again, Donald. You’ve no idea how often we’ve crossed paths, or how many times I’ve dreamed of you. The end of the game is drawing near, pulling us together. Our place in the sky is practically assured. And yet, I wonder if you’re as ready as you should be.”
Steel glinted in the darkness, grinning and gliding toward me. My sister smiled back. Sparks exploded over countless corpses, hissing where they fell into pools of cold blood. Our blades unlocked, pinwheeling light throwing shadows across the dead. She quickly receded into the darkness, accepting its embrace. She knew the night as completely as I did—she was gone in an instant. The air tugged at me from her swift departure.
Yet I could still hear her, laughing like the distant sea.
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