Peter Vicarel was alone. He was no more alone than the rest of humanity, given the complete disintegration of the society that had existed just day’s prior, but he felt completely alone. It was an aloneness that was born on the seeing of things that weren’t supposed to be seen. All of it had been prophesied by his housekeeper. She had warned him to take great care when the change came; she’d implored him to help the Rabbi. Above all she had shrilled about nameless streets; like the street he was now facing.
All services where gone and the city was lit by pockets of red and yellow flame as fires burnt unattended across the lurid landscape. Right here, on the corner of some forgotten part of the run-down industrial precinct, he could have been the last man alive. Except for the monsters he was chasing, he had seen no one else. They had ripped the box from his arms; as the Rabbi lay dead at his feet with his head almost severed and his chest ripped open. It was her plea that had him now chasing these things, chasing them into the nameless streets that she had begged him to fear.
He stood at the corner. He could turn and run. Who would blame him, who was left to blame him? As if to add to the point, a distant scream filled the night like a dark fog and caused his flesh to creep like the devil had touched his heart. It was time to make a decision.
Nameless streets had been a major part of Vicarel’s life. Since the early days, at least the days he could remember, he had been shoved from pillar to post; from one caring yet remote family to another. Streets and places, all identifiable he supposed, but nameless just the same.
Even the years spent in Jesuit study had a namelessness about it, to such a point that he often pondered whether he was really Vicarel at all. He thought the warning could have fitted into the “chicken soup, can’t hurt” category. Given Mrs Fischl’s Jewishness, such dire warnings tended to leave her lips with almost every event she felt she needed to comment on.
“Peter,” she would say, “if you don’t look after your shoes, you’ll catch cold and die”. So absolute were her warnings, so black and white, that the current one could have been taken with the same grains of salt that Vicarel had been using with his land-lady since his arrival at the school those months before.
Now, dressed in the subdued black cassock of the order, he stood on the corner with things calling and stalking in the near and far distance. He considered that perhaps, just perhaps, this was a little closer to the mark. Rabbi Tillermann had thrust the box into his arms. His eyes had burnt with a light that he now knew was a fear so deeply seated it was self-sustaining.
The riots were as bad as any experienced since before the Crash; minorities the target of the senseless violence that could not be quelled. The synagogue was burning, as was half the town, and considering the significance of most of the artifacts that the Rabbi had shown Peter that Sabbath he had visited the old man’s chambers, the worth of this particular box was apparent without it ever having been said. It was worth dying for.
The old man had pushed the thing into his arms. “Peter, with your life guard this! Take it to your God! Now! Hide it safe, protect its sanctity” and he died. Just like that, at Peter’s feet. Mrs Fischl was crying hysterically, her warnings solid in his ears.
The box had been ripped from him as he stared at the scene, disbelief his weakness for those few seconds and total refusal to acknowledge the creatures that had followed the old man through the door and into the hall; evil grinning demigods of some Flemish Master’s worst nightmare. Pushing and pulling at everything and none the least Peter and the box; murdering the old man as if on a whim.
Mrs Fischl screamed to him “Peter, you must rescue The Scroll, it is all there is stopping the fabric from ripping completely. Go! Now!“
He had done just that, followed the gaggle of things, imps, demons; whatever they may be. He had run with a speed he was sure he would never find again, into the night made red from the fires burning in the distance, the night sounds those of faraway screams and noises that he knew he should fear. He had to save a box, which he now knew contained a scroll, from things that he still could not believe he had seen.
With the blacktop disappearing into the darkness, like the debit column on some ethereal balance sheet, he stood at the corner, hesitant to take a step away from the sanctuary of the then and there. Christ in heaven, he found that he just wasn’t sure whether the God he had committed himself to was really there. He hesitated for a moment; then walked forward.