The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
Thursday January 26, 1995
The stars began to recede. The blackness that consumed them spread across the horizon and then seeping down towards the earth. Rumbling noises, like the echo of an earthquake, filled the air. To an ordinary person it might have looked like nothing more than the low moving clouds that accompany a thunderstorm but Zeth knew better. He knew what this was. Dark shapes began to drift down from the churning black; he knew that if just one of those ebon tendrils brushed against him he would be consumed utterly. Had the Monarchs ever been so close before? He seen the festering wastelands the Monarchs left in their wake. Once long ago when he had become stranded on one of the Husk Worlds that had fallen prey to the Monarchs appetites. How long ago had that been? It had been after Khe Sanh, he was sure of that much if nothing else. Trapped for years between the Verge and the ever growing Barrens, he’d had to create an identity for himself but no matter where he went, no matter what he did he always seemed to be retreating from the nightmares that the Monarchs had spawned.
Had he met the Hanged Man before then? Or was it after? Zeth couldn’t be sure, when you ran with Jason Magwier your sense of time tended to get fuzzy.
From his hiding spot Zeth had a perfect view of the Imperial. He watched the impossible shadows oozing up and down over the upper levels of the abandoned hotel. Zeth whispered, “Magwier, where are you?”
And then Zeth saw him, plummeting from the building’s topmost floor. The ebon tendrils grasped at the falling shape but somehow kept missing; always a few seconds too late or a few feet too short.
“Jason!” Abandoning the safety of his position and any notion of caution, Zeth ran out to him. He knew no ordinary man could live from a fall like that but there might be something he could do. There had to be.
Then again, if the Monarchs truly had reached this world, it might be just as well if Magwier were dead. Zeth wondered morbidly what he would do if he reached his friend only to find him half-alive. Would it be better to try and save him or to quickly end it all for the both of them? The weight of the things Zeth had always wanted to tell the man hung heavy in his chest; there had never been the right time, they had always been busy with one adventure or another.
When he reached the spot where he’d seen Magwier come crashing down, he found nothing. Not even a bloodstain. Not even a fresh crack in the asphalt. The shadowy tendrils were making their way down the building, moving towards him with single minded and purpose. Zeth doubled back to his hiding spot, all the time wondering where he could run to escape the end of the world.