Chapter 1 - Humanity Sucks
The long and roaming roads about Mareth and the surrounding areas of the north always welcomed the weary, the wandering and those looking to either lose themselves or lose everything else. The mountainous woodlands, stretching from horizon to horizon betwixt the stony jagged peaks never judged or questioned their passers-by. One could drive their car through these endless woods for days and come across only a handful of fellow wanderers, or so it used to be.
Near three weeks after leaving Mareth, Aiden wandered these roads still. The house in the Mareth suburbs, Aiden assumed the Aldrast Coven’s matriarch had reclaimed that, it was her grandfathers after all. Aiden didn’t care, he abandoned it to them gladly. No answers had come forth anywhere about there, not that he would find any trace of his vanished life in these trees but at least they offered some refuge from the insanity that apparently lurked out there, floating through the universe in every vast dimension, peering down at the earth with either apathy or lust. It was maddening to think about, yet a chore to ignore.
For three weeks now, news report after news report poured over and over as the world clamoured to find some explanation for the ‘mass hallucination’ or ‘celestial illusion’ the entire planet witnessed, ending just as suddenly as it started. Aiden did his best to ignore it, what would benefit the ant by contemplating the boot hovering over it? Could it even begin to comprehend it? and would the boot even truly have any interest in the ants it passed on its journey, striding the vastest expanses of the mind in a single step?
Aiden turned his music louder.
The sun lit trees rolled passed as birdsong and warmth filled the air outside Aiden’s lowered windows. For three weeks now he had searched and for three weeks he had failed to produce any new information. None of his vanished family had managed to contact him, nor him them. No missing person’s reports had been filed for any of his family nor strange unrecognised people pleading to the authorities for help. Aiden had found nothing.
Still, a town approached ahead. Somewhere would be a cheap café with wifi. What else could he do?
“How is that a penalty!”
The bald headed musclebound man, somewhere in his early thirties roared at the football match on the tv. The room was quiet beside him and his friend, in matching jersey, loudly nodding his agreement as they stood knee deep in cheap beer cans, pouring on the volume to ensure everyone around knew about it.
“The thing is with these men,” The professor continued “That they’ve no idea what they’re doing, right! You don’t put a defender out there with a striker when, right, they just going to… They’re bloody idiots!” His drunken slurring really sold his detailed strategy.
At a table across the room, in polite silence like everyone else in the youth hostel, Aiden sat with his laptop. Logging into his social media, he had received no messages. He had a few contact requests but they were obviously fake scam bots. In a moment of doubt he even added a few, only to be proven right.
He did his usual rounds, the police websites, the social media, even news outlets both big and small, anything where missing persons could appear and nothing. He might as well stare at the sky blue walls or modern ‘cool’ furniture about him for all the answers he would get.
He gave in. Closing his laptop, stuffing it into his bag and slinging it over his shoulder, he took his coffee mug back to the kitchen, just past the roaring athletes who “could have gone pro once, but didn’t”, just like half the country.
“So are you worker or tourist?”
The voice of the woman from reception, still warm and welcoming reached out over the shining metal surfaces and near spotless floor, surprising and deeply uncommon in communal kitchens. A friendly sort, at least she seemed so as Aiden checked in, managing to get him the last bed in town.
“Just wondering what brings you to Hugresvale.”
Aiden glanced over her. Working here, she seemed to be the daughter of the sole owner and manager of this place, barely out of her teens with mousy hair and a muscular frame yet a whole round friendly and welcoming demeanour. Helpful in her profession, he supposed.
“Just an escape, I suppose” was Aiden’s eventual answer.
“Well, you must be here for the hiking then. Get a lot of that in the warmer months.”
She shuffled about the kitchen, cleaning up after the lazy who wouldn’t themselves, seemingly talking more for her sake than his.
“Other times most people only come here for work, either loggers or the refuse plant. Though at the minute everyone’s booked up for the Helmi festival, you going to that?”
Aiden had seen the posters all about the hostel, it did look interesting, music, food, drink, whatnot. It could be a fun distraction if nothing else.
“Yeah, maybe. How much were tickets?”
“All the pre-entry stuff will be sold up now but you can pay on the door, twenty it was.”
Maybe it could be worth it? For now Aiden simply retired to bed. In the shared room he made sure to lock his bag up and fasten it to the leg of his bed. There was one person already asleep on the bed above him, so he treaded quietly. The two bunks across the room remained uninhabited. Whoever they were, Aiden hoped they’d sleep soon.
Laying in his bed, he couldn’t help but have his mind reel back over recent events. That accursed book was finally contained, apparently no problem of his anymore. The slip of paper with Lys’s number on sat rattling around the glovebox of his car, he couldn’t bring himself to contact them, not after that last night and certainly not after Anya.
Her powers, whatever otherworldly form her familiar had begun to take alongside her, the Cannibal of Mareth’s spirit, it all seemed so ridiculous and impossible, yet to feel those claws, talons and teeth tearing his flesh every time his eyes shut cemented his reality.
Sleep could not come soon enough yet Aiden lay awake for several hours, sleep defiantly remaining just beyond reach as he hung in a daze, forced to ponder more on the monsters within his skull. A gentle breeze rolled in through the open window as he lay listening to the occupant of the bed above snoring away. In the distance, out in the street, he heard the unmistakable sounds of a drunken row.
Groaning, he pulled the blanket further up above his shoulders, as if that would somehow deflect the shouting as it grew closer and closer then, to his dread, the hostel’s front door beneath opened and slammed shut.
Aiden quickly looked to his phone and with a groan. It was half past one in the morning. The arguing voices, loud and obnoxious, seemed to be climbing the stairway.
Are they serious!
The bed above had stopped snoring, Aiden doubted anyone in the hostel was now as he glanced over to the beds opposite. They were still empty.
Oh, god no!
With the swipe of a key-card the door opened. In stepped the two football geniuses and a third man.
“Look, I don’t care! Here’s my bed! I’m going to bed! Get lost!”
“No, I want an answer from you and you’re not giving me one!”
“You’re not supposed to be in here mate! Look at these two here you’re waking up!”
“I don’t care you prick! You owe me...!”
Aiden’s thoughts instantly turned to his gun, but it was locked away in his car. Probably a good thing. The bed above spoke up before he did.
“Hey, I don’t care what you’re arguing about. Just get out!”
Adding to the frenzied yelling, of course, reduced the frenzied yelling as much as trying to smother a flame with dry kindling would. The window to the room was open and fairly large. Another thought flared in Aiden’s mind to try and kick the stranger through it, should the opportunity present itself. The more the argument went on the more tempted he became to simply attack the prick and force him through it. They were only one floor up, he’d probably survive.
“What the hell is this!”
More frenzied yelling as the hostel’s manager arrived to quell the flames with his mighty petrol. Finally, and violently, the football fans managed to wrestle and throw the stranger out of the room, locking the door behind him. The muffled row between the manager and this man continued but mercifully moved back down the stairs and out the building, with the manager presumably locking this man out in a similar fashion.
“Sorry lads” The bald genius turned to the occupied bunks. “Sorry for that, he just started mouthing off to me about…”
“I don’t care,” Aiden interrupted, weakly pointing to the empty bunks. “It’s fine, let’s just get some sleep.”
Arms out, the man shot him a deeply offended look.
“Do you not want to know what that was about?”
“No, I don’t. I just want to sleep.”
Aiden shrunk back into his bed. Baldy seemingly accepted this until the man outside heard them through the window.
“Hey!” he shouted up, before a huge thud split through the room. All four of the room’s occupants looked to the now present crack spread across the window. Baldy ran straight to it, letting out a torrent of curse words as the stranger ran down the street, his thrown rock apparently having won him the intellectual debate.
Aiden slunk back down into his bed. Maybe he didn’t need sleep after all.