De Ja Vu
You have never been this way before, you are sure of that. In fact, you have never been in this part of town before. It is out of your way. You have no idea what makes you turn down this street and even less why you stop at this alley. Only one word ever comes to mind. Déjà vu. You stop in front of the alley, look to your left, and just know that you have seen it before. A strange part of town, stores you have never even heard of, but you know this alley. How you know it, you cannot say. Déjà vu. The sense that you have already done so before is so strong, that you turn and walk down the alley.
It is not bad, as alleys go. It is well lit, and clean for the most part. The tenants and business owners whose spaces open into the alley know that filth and shadows draw the seedier elements of the city. As this is a chic neighborhood, they keep their backyards picked up.
You walk down the alley, look around for a reason for your déjà vu. Within a dozen yards, the alley comes to an intersection. When you reach it, you feel drawn to the left branch. A few paces down the new path, a door to your left catches your eye and brings you up short. You look around. It and the doors in the vicinity are all the same; generic steel, purchased in bulk and installed by the builders at the same time. You could be drawn to any one of them. But, no, it is this door. It is surrounded by a brick wall, one of the older buildings on the block. Overwhelmed by the surety that you have done so before, many times in fact, you grasp the brushed steel knob in your left hand. This is important, though you cannot say why. You turn the knob to the left, again, important. You begin to see a pattern, even if you cannot understand it.
A low rumble from somewhere to your right arrests all movement. You hold your head still, you roll your eyes to the side, and try to spy the source of the sound but they are unable to move far enough. You move your head until you can see the end of the alley.
It is a dog. But it is unlike any dog you have ever seen. It is pure white, like bleached linen. Its ears are red. Not reddish brown like a normal dog’s coat. Not orange like a red headed person’s hair. The ears are red, crimson like they have been dipped in blood. Its eyes too, are red. And it is massive, far larger than any dog you have ever seen.
You see all of this oddity, and then dismiss it as inconsequential. Your attention is focused on the monster dog’s teeth. You can see them all, especially the razor sharp canines. You can see them because they are bared in a snarl. Drool drips on the cracked pavement where it sizzles and smokes. The gigantic canine crouches ready to spring. Its legs quiver with tension. Black claws dig into the pavement.
That place in your brain, that primal, instinctive, duck and cover when the predator comes close, spot buried deep in your modern conscious mind explodes to the forefront. Your muscles lock, your breath sticks in your throat. Your vision snaps into sharp focus as adrenaline floods your body. You see a rat scuttle behind a dumpster, a fly lands on the dog’s crimson ear. Sparks strike from the dog’s jet black teeth when it snaps them together. The dog’s teeth throw sparks! And they are black! And they throw sparks! What the hell is this thing?! your brain screams.
All thought vanishes from your mind, replaced by pure panic when the beast roars and launches itself toward you. You are frozen in place as you watch the monster dog close the distance. When you can finally move, you throw yourself against the door, your hand still twists the knob. It does not open. You are able to breathe now and you gasp and sob in terror, your eyes locked on the oncoming teeth. You risk a glimpse at the door. It opens out! You cry out and pull the door open. You fall through the doorway into the dark interior of the building and pull the door behind you. A sudden weight slams the door against your arm. You are propelled forward to the hard floor and the door shuts the rest of the way with a crash.
You lie on the floor, trying to catch your breath, to collect your wits. Neither is easy. It is pitch black which makes it impossible to get your bearings. You can still hear the monster as it growls and snarls and slams its body against the outside of the door which is somewhere to your left. You collect yourself enough to realize that the sound is echoing around you. From the sound of it the room, or whatever it is, is immense.
The room floods with light. You screw your eyes shut. A deep voice like a bass drum echoes through the room over the pounding on the door and makes you jump out of your skin.
The pounding ceases. Your ears ring in the sudden silence. The echoes are slower to fade. You open your eyes. The room is more than immense. It is monolithic. The walls are vague smears of gray in the distance. When you look up, there is nothing to see but blackness that stretches beyond the reach of the light that comes from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Your heart pounds in your chest at the monstrous enormity of it all. There is something about it that triggers that primal spot in your brain anew. Not as panic this time, but as soul crushing, bone numbing fear.
Then you see the owner of the voice and feel as though you will melt into a puddle on the floor. It is not human. Not by any stretch of the imagination. It is a gigantic…mass. Four thick legs the size of priomordial tree trunks support its body. Four enormous wings arch from its back. Two of the wings are spread apart from its body. Their trailing edges rest on the ground. The wingtips come very close to touching the distant walls on either side. The other two wings are stretched above its body, their tips lost to sight in the murky darkness above. You cannot see a face or even a head. The creature is covered in what looks at first like round scales until you see several hundred of them blink. You realize that they are eyes, thousands of them. They are everywhere, even on its wings and legs. The eyes do not move in unison or in any pattern that you can determine but in random undulations that make your stomach turn. The creature is large enough to fill your vision but when you move your hand to wipe at your face, the new perspective shows you that it is more than halfway across the room from you.
A section of the eyes, in the area where its face should be, pulsates and the voice echoes through the room again, this time directed at you.
“What do you here, Son of Dust?” When you do not answer, “What do you here, Son of Dust”, this time with a tone of impatience.
You open your dry mouth to answer, cough, lick your lips and try again.
“I came through the door,” you say.
The mass of eyes ripples in what you feel sure is annoyance. You jump up and back away until your back is pressed against the wall. The monstrosity is moving towards you. Its legs rise and fall, and despite the creature’s size it makes no sound as it advances. Panic claws its way up your throat and brings your stomach with it. You open your mouth to scream, and then stop, puzzled. You can see that although the eye covered mass, the ‘milliclops’, is no doubt coming closer, it is not getting any bigger. If anything, it is getting smaller. As it comes closer you can see that it is also changing shape. By the time it has approached within ten yards, it is only a few inches taller than you, and has assumed a more human shape. But to compare it to a human would be to compare a tiger to a house cat. It has the same basic features, but there is no doubt that it is not human.
The only eyes on its body now are two on its face and the ones that cover its four wings, on the inside and outside, which it has retained. Two wings are now draped over its broad shoulders to hang in front of its body like a robe. The two remaining wings hang down its back, for all the world like a regal cape of highest office. It closes the distance on thick legs that end in stumps, not feet, and stops a few paces from you. Its gray face is flat with the barest hint of features, its violet eyes being the most prominent. All of them are more than twice the size of a human’s and the pupils are vertical slits like a cat. Something reminiscent of light green hair but that more closely resembles lichen or Spanish moss hangs past its shoulders. There is no nose and the mouth is like a crack in stone. The colors blend together like a multicolored bird seen through a rain streaked window. At the same time the sense of power and danger radiates from it in waves, not at all diminished from what it had been while in its previous shape. It is beautiful and dangerous at the same time, a predator in its environment, a meal within its sights.
It opens its flat line of a mouth. The booming voice issues forth, its volume diminished somewhat with the size of its owner, but still a power runs through it that causes you to have to concentrate on your bladder control. It enunciates. “What do you here, Son of Dust?”
You see irritation in its eyes at having to repeat itself. It will not tolerate another delay in a response that satisfies its question. You struggle to organize your scattered thoughts into a coherent answer.
“I don’t know. I had this feeling.”
It blinks, all of its eyes at once. "Feeling.”
“Yes, I felt strong deja vu and I followed it.”
The creature blinks again “Follow." It booms and turns and walks away.
It takes several moments before you realize that it had not been repeating what you said. It had given a command and expected it to be obeyed. A glance over your shoulder reveals that the door by which you entered is no longer there. Facing forward again you see that the walls of the enormous room are now not so far apart. Where before you were sure there had been a wall in the distance, a very wide hallway now stretches far beyond to the vanishing point, the winged being stumping away. You hurry after it.
The eyes on its wings are looking everywhere, always moving. You cannot look at them without feeling queasy. You look around at the walls to settle your stomach. There is nothing much to see. At this distance, the walls appear featureless. You look at the floor. It is covered in fine lines scribing odd shapes and patterns. Some appears to be writing, though in no language that you can recognize. Most of it looks like pictures but not of anything that you can look at for long if you want to retain what little sanity you have left. You look up. Far above you, so distant that the edges are blurred, shapes glide without a sound in the murk, some as large as your guide's original size. Some seem to be closer to the size and shape of a man. Some have four wings, others have two or even six.
You look down just in time to avoid running into a pair of eye covered wings. The thing has stopped. There is a wall in front of you where before there had been an infinite hallway. The winged being traces a sigil on the wall with its finger. The sigil begins to glow, the glow expands and then fades leaving an opening. Beyond there is only blackness.
"Enter," the creature intones.
"What is in there?" you ask. Your voice only shakes a little.
It ruffles its wings in irritation. "Enter.”
You steel yourself. “Look, I’m not going any farther until you tell me what’s going on. And I sure as hell am not going into that…”
A sword made out of flame appears in its hand. Power radiates from your guide in waves. It does not raise the sword but its voice brooks no further argument. “Enter.”
You face the opening, draw a deep breath and step through. The emptiness, the blackness that you saw through the opening is replaced by a light so bright that you have to blink hard to clear your vision. You are in a large library, the kind that would be found in a rich Victiorian era home. Shelves full of books and statuary line two of the dark wood paneled walls. A rolling ladder stands attached to a rail that runs the length of the shelves. The rail curves around the corner and continues to the end of the second wall. Turning around, you see an enormous painting of a door hanging on the wall. The door in the painting is large and ornate, arched and framed in a stone wall that is thick with green leafy vines. A heavy lock dangles from a massive chain that hangs across the door. You can see no other door in the room.
The fourth wall which is on your left contains several large windows. The sunlight is what had blinded you when you first entered. The library sits on a grassy hilltop. Below, trees cover the land for a mile, right up to the edge of a large body of water. Beyond the water, on the horizon stretches a range of snow covered mountains, blue with the haze of distance. You walk with hesitation to the windows, circling a little to go around the large desk and narrow high backed chair that sits facing the windows. From this vantage, you can see a manicured lawn, with short hedges and colorful flower beds. The trees start abruptly at the very edge of the garden. Even with the wider view, there is nothing but empty wilderness to either side. The library and garden outside could very well have been dropped into this place from the sky.
“Not quite,” a voice says, making you start. “But close.”
You spin around. A man sits in the chair at the desk, hands resting on the arms, looking for all the world as if he has been sitting there the whole time.
Maybe he was, you think. No a voice in your head tells you. The chair is not wide enough to have hidden him. The man in the chair smirks but says nothing.
“Who are you? you ask the man. “Where are we?”
The man smiles again and stands up, his movements gentle, as if not to frighten you. “Both excellent questions, however, neither has a simple answer.” He adjusts the cuffs of his knee length Victorian style coat and says with a shallow bow, “You may call me Alastor." With a gesture to the room, “Please be welcome in my home.” His lip curls at the word. His bow deepens, his shoulder length hair falls to cover his face. His hands are spread wide to take in the entire room.
You take the opportunity to study your strange host. In addition to his Victorian coat, he wears soft black leather shoes, pleated slacks a vest with a watch chain hanging across the front. A white shirt is held together at the collar by a silk tie with a gold pin.
You look out the window at the vast wilderness.
"What is this place?" you ask.
"This is an in-between place. Neither here nor there, a 'no man's land', so to speak."
"And the...things, outside?"
That twist of scorn touches Alastor’s lips again. It shifts to a grin. "Seraphs. They are the protectors...keepers...of this place." He seems to be searching for words. "They...guard the doorways in and out of this place. They and some others."
You shiver. "You mean that hound from hell."
Alastor flinches, but nods. "An apt description. He is Cerberon. He guards many of the doors from the outside." Alastor squints. "You came through one of the Hound’s doors, and made it past him alive and in one piece." He sounds impressed. And something else. Eager? His mood changes so quickly that you cannot be sure you did not imagine it.
"You must be hungry after your ordeal. Please," Alastor invites, "share a meal with me." When you hesitate, "I would welcome the company. It has been a long time since I have had someone for dinner."
You look where Alastor is indicating and see a table with two chairs that you had not noticed before. Or maybe it had not been there before. You are starting to not be surprised by anything in this place. You seat yourselves at the table. Alastor waits for you to sit before he sits himself and lays a linen napkin across his lap. You find your own napkin and do the same. Alastor gestures to the spread.
The table is filled with all manner of food, food that would not be out of place in an old story about feasts and elegant dinner parties. Whole birds sitting on vegetables. Salads and meat pies. A decanter, is it called a decanter? of a deep red wine sits in the middle of the table, within easy reach of both of you. In fact, the table is small enough for Alastor to pour your wine for you, which he does, making every move almost a dance. Alastor sees that you are uncertain as to what to do and makes suggestions. He even serves you what he thinks you would like, without making you feel stupid for not knowing. Instead, you feel that Alastor is sharing his favorites and is nervous that you might not like them.
Alastor is a generous and most gracious host. But you are beginning to feel a little uncomfortable about the way Alastor is watching you as you eat. Alastor looks...hungry is the only word you can think of to describe it. Your host eats as readily as you do and yet it seems mechanical, as if he is going through the motions without getting any enjoyment or satisfaction from the food.
These thoughts go through your mind and then are dismissed in the warm buzz of good food and wine. You reach for the decanter. It is empty. You do not even remember drinking that much. Oh, well.
You sit back with a contented sigh.
Alastor smiles and stands up. "Time for dessert," he says.
Something in the way Alastor says it forces its way through the fuzz that fills your head and sends a distant chill up your spine. You lurch to your feet as Alastor comes toward you. The table is no longer between you and him, but your attention is riveted on Alastor's eyes. The predatory gleam is back, stronger than before and no mistaking it this time, with no restraint or pretense to mask it. Alastor reaches out with his claws, where did those come from? your brain screams. Run! But your glutted, inebriated body betrays you and you stand in place and let Alastor take your face in his talons. Your vision is filled by Alastor's mouth, which has opened as though his head is hinged at his ears and is now gaping wide, a black void of swirling lights like stars, the edges rimmed by jagged triangular teeth. Something shifts inside you and you feel your self falling, even as your feet are planted on the floor. Your mind screams at you to run, fight, move an eyelid but you are frozen. Still you are falling toward that void, a ship being pulled into a black hole, inexorably dragged to a crushing death.
The pull ceases, you fall back into yourself. Your body is your own once more. You open your mouth and scream, a blood curdling scream that goes on and on. You have no idea where you are. A man is being pushed away from you by another man. No, not a man, a demon with a roaring vortex for a mouth and hooked claws for fingers, reaching out for you. The man who holds the monster back is tall. Six wings spread from his shoulders. The wings are covered with hundreds of violet eyes with cat-like pupils. An angel, you think. The angel pushes the monster against the wall, draws a sign in the air with his hand and steps back. The monster remains against the wall.
The angel turns around to face you, and your screams, which had begun to diminish at the prospect of being rescued, resume in full force. The 'angel' is as frightening as the demon. Approximations of human features are only made more horrifying by their simultaneous similarity to and extreme difference from the real thing. It steps towards you, blunt finger outstretched. Once again you are rooted on the spot as you watch your doom approach. The monster touches your forehead, right between your eyes and...
You have never been this way before, you are sure of that. In fact, you have never been in this part of town before. It is out of your way. You have no idea what makes you turn down this street and even less why you stop at this alley. Only one word ever comes to mind. Déjà vu.