This is the second part of a story – read Part 1 first (if you want).
I am relieved to find the old apartment building still standing in the light. The street lights flicker and strobe as I walk towards it and I will them to remain lit. They do. My hand hardly shakes at all as I fit the key into the lock. The shadows rush out past me; I feel their passing against my skin. They flee to join the night and the bleakness that infests it.
The flat is dark and empty. But still mine. Not much more than a round table and a bed. It is clean and the cupboards not as pitifully bare as I left them, so my boss must have had it maintained; he always feared I would need to return. Night falls heavily outside, the darkness reaching up to pull the blanket over itself. I draw the curtains to keep it out.
Dreams torment my sleep. Being here brings all my memories of the last time back in a flood. It is one of those awful dreams where I dream of waking and am still asleep. It takes me back to the last time I was here: before I banished myself my role was to adjudicate in the election. I wake in the narrow wooden bed and the light is plowing through the air above me, painting ghosts and nightmare figures on the scarred wallpaper. Breakfast is a nauseating lurch across the flat and back, puppeteered by the dream. My mind seems intent on replaying the details I have cast aside; the ashen taste of cereal, the sourness of milk. My clothes do not fit properly.
The door slams behind me, beating an echo into the air which travels before me. The distance between the flat and the office goes by in long stutters of treacle slowness and flashing speed. The city had not gone bad then, but it was surely on the way. Even by daylight the streets were subdued, the people reclusive. Just a month earlier the last music hall had burned to the ground and the football stadium had closed. We no longer wanted to associate with others. Quiet bars, and oddly, the libraries had even had a resurgence of interest. The shadow of imminent violence hangs over everything.
I pass the staring faces that watch me as I walk down the roads to the office. They had relocated the government offices underground after the murder sprees started. Bloody, awful affairs that ended hundreds of lives. Shop workers, wives, teachers, electricians. There seemed to be no pattern until we looked at where they lived or worked. “Frequency of contact” was the official conclusion, and it held true for all the later events. It was as if we’d hit the maximum number of people we could see and still care about and yet society just kept pushing more in our faces. There was that, and something more.
I was recruited when I survived the Beynemouth Slaughter. That was when I discovered the kind of threat I, and those like me are. We can talk about good and evil, light and dark and get all philosophical about what makes a woman good or evil, we can euphemise as much as we like. It doesn’t change the facts, only hides that some of us revel in the violence and in the darkness. Our existence made it worse – people already hated being near each other but we thrived on it, instigated it. If we’d known we were doing it, if I’d known that was what I was doing… well. I didn’t, and in our ignorance we hit a critical mass of hate and fear in the City, and made it real.
Evil became a presence, and people succumbed to it. The community purges which followed as religious and political leaders, as well as the damaged people already waiting for an opportunity, incited further fear, spreading the darkness and ensuring that blood was spilled. I could feel it, almost smell the hatred in the air. I’d never really felt alive before. I attended a rally where I found myself shouting and shaking my fists. The darkness moved with me, like streamers from my fingertips and I cast it over the crowd with my words.
The Beynemouth Slaughter that followed tore a hole in our world, a place for the bleak consuming hate to live and fester like a gash in our City. The agency was formed shortly afterward and I was one of its first agents. Cedric knew what I was, had picked me out of the photographs of the riots and turmoil. I was scared and repentant. I’d relished the sensations that surrounded me as men bludgeoned each other to death, loved watching the dark blossoming from the mob. But I saw that it lingered, saw it become part of the city. I watched it grow, felt it grow and stretch, distort and gnaw at everything. Despite my lust for it I realised that it was destructive. I’m not a bad person, just an evil one. That’s what my boss helped me to understand.
Part 3 coming soon…