The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
Thursday January 26, 1995
The journey through the Heart of the Maelstrom had unmade Victor Kovach thought by raging thought. Now Tristam was alone, alone in the void between - the place where reality bent back upon itself. His soul and his memories were slowly returning, bit by bit and tatter by tatter. What little he had, he held on to with all his might. Somehow he could feel his body was nearby, its proximity helped him remember his name- Tristam Bloom. Other thoughts fell easily into place after that realization. He knew that he should have been destroyed, that the Maelstrom should have unmade him; part of him mourned the fact he had survived.
His flesh was close now; he could feel it tugging on him, urging him to return across the void between worlds. Something waited in that void for him, blocking his way. Something too large to have ever existed in the world of matter.
Presences towered over him, too immense and too numerous for Tristam to truly comprehend anything more than a swarm of gluttonous appetites and vast segmented eyes. The Monarchs roared setting his mind buzzing with promises and arrogance.
They told him the world was already theirs; their servants and sycophants made nations dance to their whims. The words “Twilight.” and “Hierophant.” bubbled through his mind.
Tristam wondered what he would have made of that offer a month ago, a year ago perhaps. Now he just laughed at how creatures so vast could be so petty. Tristam knew there was someone out there that had faith in him, somehow that made all the difference.
The Monarchs’ roar of displeasure twisted him inside out on a mental rack more cruel than any human torturer could conceive. The Monarchs vowed to pick his soul apart strand by strand.
At the heart of his pain, in its very still point something inside Tristam shifted; brushing against the wounds in his soul like a predatory animal brushes against the bars of its cage.
Tristam realized that there was one last thing he could do. One last gesture of defiance. After holding the Cold Inside at bay for so long it was easy to let go, to surrender himself to it. Tristam felt it billow out of him and take shape.
The Monarchs began to howl with alarm. Their clamoring sent shudders through each layer of reality.
Free of Its host the Cold Inside rose up, dwarfing the Monarchs. A handful of them attacked, swarming like locusts only to be burned by its algid corona and crumble into dust. Others Monarchs spat world-shattering magics at It, each blasphemous incantation shattered in mid-flight like figurines carved from ice.
The remaining Monarchs retreated, scrambling over one another in their terror. In moments they were gone back to the very fringes of the Maelstrom.
Tristam stared up at It, wondering at the shape It had taken. It was so nearly familiar, twisted and spindly with eyes that shimmered like blue fire. How long had he carried that inside him? What was It? What could It be?
And suddenly Tristam knew. Recognition set him screaming. He turned and fled back across the void between worlds, seeking his flesh through instinct and desperation alone.
It set after him.
Dropping through the clouds Tristam flew through the sky. The city was a maze of shadows marked by the occasional blasted building or toppled car. Tristam knew now he was being used, that perhaps he had always been used. How could he know now if any decision he’d ever made had truly been his own?
What was it his mother had said?
"When they took you out of me and said you weren’t breathing I prayed to God, Yahweh, Buddha, any god that might be listening to save you.”
Thick plumes of smoke were rising up from Troy, he passed through them, tried to lose him self in them. Why hadn’t his mother just let him die? Had she really ever had a choice?
Tristam urged himself to fly faster. The Cold Inside's shadow passed over him engulfing him.