Stricken
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Please seat yourself at our table, a fine meal we will prepare.
Eat quickly while you are able, for the house is saying

"Beware."

Lockwood Towers

June 1st, 2013

"…"


In the cluttered living room of Maevis Shine, the grandfather clock across from her threadbare dusty rose recliner strikes twelve. Midnight. The smaller clock in her kitchen chimes a melodic, nearly giggling song, fit for a music box. It is an old Irish tune.

Beside a bottle of sleeping pills with a prescription dating back only a month, she is asleep in her chair.

In the security office, Barry the security guard has taken Sarah's place. All of the screens that look down upon the corridors and surroundings of Lockwood Towers of him are as still as paintings. His head has tipped, crushing the loop of skin under his chin, the baseball cap that doesn't match his uniform resting over half of his face. He, too, is asleep in his chair.

The light on the desk turns off. Darkness seeps down the walls like liquid, like hot wet tar. Barry does not wake up. The security camera feeds flicker and choke on static. He does not see that the corridors are not empty when they resume.

* * *

Sarah uses a heavy-duty flashlight propped against a stack of abused reference books: The Police Tactical Life Saver, Advanced Patrol Tactics, Learning French. The stack makes an accidentally patriotic banner of red, white and blue. The light in the maintenance room was poor at best; now it's off completely, the pipes, rickety shelves, and supplies surrounding her as little more than uneven shadows. She sits at a wooden school-desk on the cement floor, appropriated long ago from an abandoned storage locker; she is far too tall for it, her legs too long, but she makes do with what she has to outfit her secondary little office. Office … is it an office if no one visits? If there are no filing cabinets? Not so much as a stapler?

She can't sleep, she couldn't stay in her apartment a second longer. She hunches over one such file without a cabinet, piecing together the mundane details: a husband cheating on his wife, that was the accusation, but the photographs Sarah's attached to the file show the man only lurking around town by himself. She glances to the card on the desk: S&F Investigations. "Ah, fuck it," she mumbles, flicking the card onto the floor with a fingernail.

Under a low shelf a deep, rumbling growl begins from an unseen throat.

* * *

The tenth floor may be quiet, but one of its occupants is incredibly restless. Cyrus had laid in bed for six hours without even the hint of sleep. And the more he couldn't sleep, the more his mind worked, focusing on the mystery of his colour-changing ceiling. He figured it was a cycle. He couldn't sleep so he thought, and because he thought he couldn't sleep. Or else he just couldn't sleep.

Which is why he sits crosslegged on his yoga mat in the middle of his living room floor. The ujayyi breath he practices can be heard within the room's space, an audible constriction of his throat as the air comes in and out. Clearing his head is everything. But even when it clears, sleep doesn't even threaten to come, here in the centre of the room.

Opening his eyes, he fails to fight the frown that edges his lips downward. There really is nothing to help him. His fingers pinch the bridge of his nose to fight the headache that's formed behind his eyes. It's not a good day. There's a hopelessness about his sleeplessness. He'd taken a few days off, but if he can't sleep through them, what's the point in the first place?

When he opens his eyes, the room is darker, and a faint, buzzing hum fills the air … no, not the air; it feels like it's coming from his own head. Perhaps it's that persistent headache, fine-tuned to his circulation.

Thrum thrum thrum thrum.

* * *

She lays her palm against the door while flicking the lock like she's practiced at entering a place silently. The clip-clop of her heels are all that passes the side corridor of the ground floor. Slipping inside, Rachel lets the door shut, its last breath nearly closing on a flutter of the elegant navy skirt. Muttering a curse that softens throughout its whole syllable, the overdressed college student shuffles a step in then flattens her palm again against the door, now shifting her weight to pull a leg up towards her reaching hand. If there were anyone in the corridor, she'd be flashing them right now. So, gratefully— she's alone.

Removing one oversized heel then the other, she crushes them against her lace-adorned breasts, pulling them — and the lace — away from a second to check that the object slipped snugly between her nipple and her built-in bra hasn't slithered loose.

There. Good.

Now on stockings, she creeps, in a way overly familiar with the dark of the back way into the building, letting a tire sink into her face, though it does so behind a layer of graceful— tasteful— make-up: smokey eyes and 24-hour lip-liner. Sleep sounds like a lure, a stupid tease… that she wants so, so, so, so much.

It's hard to be 'on' when you're drifting off into your $30.95 mizo soup.

Clip-clop.

The echo of her heels slithers down the corridor after they've already been slipped from her feet, several beats too late.

Clip

clop

clip…

* * *

Further down the corridor, closer to the lobby, Andrew Friendly lies awake in his new bed, staring at the brightly lit ceiling — most of the lights in his apartment are on — and being tormented by the distant sounds of footsteps in the hallway, muffled groaning in the apartment above him, and his own mind. That, more than anything.

Laying on top of his sheets in the same pyjamas he greeted his adorable kind-of-neighbour Lucy in days ago, he's coated in sweat, his eyelids half open, trapped in that hazy, hallucinatory state that seizes you moments before dreams, almost asleep but, frustratingly, not.

He's been almost asleep for days.

A cold chill strikes Drew out of the blue and his air is sucked in like a drowning victim seconds before being pulled out of the deep-freeze of a river. Shaking it off, as best he can — not well at all — he rolls out of bed, a leg getting caught in a snaking sheet, tripping partly on one foot into the short hallway outside his room that turns, on a dime, into the washroom. The only light that isn't on. He reaches a hand inside — testing the waters — and flicks the switch as fast as humanly possible. A grown man afraid of the dark.

The light doesn't work.

After a moment to flick the switch seven times over in a near panic, the rest of the lights follow suit.

One by one. The hallway. The bedroom. The living room. The kitchen. Dark.

* * *

The lights in the first floor corridor spasm.

…clop…

"Jesus." It's enough to make Rachel, tense in self-consciousness jump then press an immediate hand to her mouth to stifle the already expelled noise. Shit… echoes in her brain instead as she stands there, waiting for some door to open and some cranky neighbor to see her there, all breasts and bare-feet.

A floorboard creaks within a home and stops.

Silence.

No one occupies the corridor; if someone spies out their door at her, they do so from the privacy of their own apartments. A dozen peepholes feel as though they're directed at her.

The lights stabilize, all but the one nearest Rachel's door. It flickers on and off, on and off, faintly alive with the crack and pop of a faulty bulb.

Beckoning.

* * *

The sound is perceived as little more than a hallucination— Cyrus' mind is playing tricks on him again, it seems. The heel of his hand presses firmly into his forehead as he stretches across the mat and clamps his eyes shut, refocusing his attention to his breath. In and out. In and out. The only solace for those with disquieted minds is focus, and so he tries with all of his might. Not that such efforts will bring sleep, but perhaps it will, at least bleed into some symbolic respite.

His white tank top, damp with perspiration, clings to his skin as his eyes tightly find whatever place they can. Meanwhile, the skin of his hand has begun to whiten with the pressure he exerts onto his own body.

There truly is no rest for the wicked.

Breathe in and out.

In and out.

Thrum and thrum.

Thrum thrum thrum.

The shadows in every corner of the room begin to trickle in closer to the center, expanding, travelling, deepening in their darkness. The yoga mat becomes a rectangle seeming to float in endless black. The air is thick with it, roiling, whirling energy in the dark; if Cyrus opened his eyes, he wouldn't be able to see his own hand a few inches from his face if he moved it. Breathing it in does not feel so cloistered, however; the oxygen feels thinner and thinner, coaxing his breath to become less and less … a slow, barely perceptible change …

His muscles start to relax.

His head is at once heavy and light, as if it could drift away from the weak tether of his spine.

Is it sleep?

The fuzzy, warm prospect of slumber romances him, tickling the edge of his consciousness, trying to lure him into giving in after holding out for so long: just let go.

The sensation pulls a little harder, a hazy fishhook tugging at his core, give in, only giving in feels distinctly like it means plummeting over an edge. Nightmares he hasn't had yet taunt on the outskirts of his brain.

Give in, fall in, and they will take hold. Rest, and rest wickedly.

It's a bit like going from swimming to drowning, isn't it. The experience is only a nightmarish struggle for a for a few moments and then he can drift in peace.

The urge to give in is great, but the edges of darkness make their imprint. Like all those unsettled by days of insomnia, the allure is there, present. Desperation reaches its limits. But something doesn't feel quite right. Something feels 'off'. And so he tries to sit up, to remove the nightmarish black that haunts his conciousness. Yet no movement comes. He tries to call out, to wake up his brain and remove the darkness. But his words never find life.

And so he lays there, waiting and watching, and trying not to let the darkness consume every part of him. The fight is hard.

But the object— the longing for peace is too great. The struggle against sleep seems to end.

Peace.

Peace comes with a price.

He hears a voice. It's wordless, at first. It's the nonsensical chatter of a thousand mundane memories, a thousand more dreams and nightmares pulling him in, buzzing at his subconscious like a thousand little hallucinated flies. The room seems full of people, a whole crowd talking; simultaneous, it's nothing but oppressive darkness seeming to surround him.

He can see it. The dark creeping in, holding danger in its very particles.

He can see every particle. Every sparkling molecule in the air.

He can see a vague glint of his furniture, struck by a silvery light that manages to sneak in through the window and penetrate the dark.

His eyes aren't open.

Are they?

* * *

"Jesus Christ, Ferdinand." Sarah hauls a black and white cat from under the storage shelf: the ominous source of the growling. The critter's eyes flash yellow, big and alarmed in the dark maintenance room. He grumbles a little warning deep from inside his soft belly. His human friend looks him concernedly in the face: a handsome little feline mug with a black spot over one eye and a long black glob of black under his nose, making him look like a mustachioed gentleman. It's hard to take him seriously.

Yet his growling is working its way under her skin; a gentle cat, he's only taken to growling at nothing recently, an altogether disturbing phenomenon.

Ferdinand's eyes are pointed up past Sarah's shoulder, behind her. The hairs on the back of her neck and arms prickle up. "You wanna go home? I'll take you home, ya big loser."

A trickling sensation works its way down her spine, feeling distinctly like a bead of sweat she knows isn't there— she's suddenly quite chilled. The oppressive sensation of someone standing behind her is intense: gut instinct. No — no, she's just freaking out because the cat is being a weirdo and looking at shit that doesn't exit. "You know, I read once that you guys can make yourselves trip out whenever you want. Fuckin' cats— " Said with love.

But the trickle tickle on her skin changes course and she could have sworn she felt her shirt move. The white fabric jostles. Fingers climbing up her back one by one, pressing into her skin—

A shrill chime pierces the room — her phone ringing from where it's lodged in her back pocket. Her back arches violently and Ferdinand stages a revolt, leaping with every ounce of cat-like acrobatic violence out of her arms. "Mother f— !" She goes stumbling ahead, grabbing her wrist where claws more than grazed it; her hand's sticky when she grabs her phone, fingerprinting the purple case with blood, whirling around for good measure to face the nothing that is behind her. "Hello? … Mrs. Dee! I was uh— " Damnit, he got her good; there's two distinct gashes on her wrist. "Just looking over your case file now… hey, it's late, is everything al— ah— oh— okay… I'll be right up."

Disconnecting and staring at the back-end of the maintenance room, Sarah sighs heavily and prepares to leave her 'office'.

All she wants to do is go to sleep.

She glances down; she's bleeding on the S&F Investigations card.

* * *

Cyrus feels as though he's being washed away on a wave, swaying, rocked by a maternal lullaby; his body is hungry for rest.

Body…

What body.

He can't feel anything.

But he can think.

The buzzing voices channel into one. It's his own, inner voice, turned on him without permission from his addled brain; so close to sleep, or is he dreaming already; at once, it also seems to be crafted of the thrum thrum thrum thrum that now fills his ears, indistinguishable from his pulse. Thrum thrum

In

side

what's

in

side

He tries to force his eyes open. If his eyes aren't already, that is. And he struggles to move. Not that it works. The silver light on his furniture prompts him to make noise again, from the back of his throat, but evidently it's a fruitless endeavour. The fight against whatever presses inside almost makes him feel nauseated. If people can feel nauseated when sleeping— if he is sleeping. In a way it almost seems like something in between dreaming and awake…

The darkness rises off the floor like lifting fog.

What happens when darkness moves off and no light is cast? What lies beneath the haze of black in absence of light or dark?

Cyrus can't see through the layer of darkness anyway: it's coming up to meet him.

Up…

The darkness doesn't just surround him, it takes him. It pulls him: that sensation of being forcefully rended into unconsciousness again, only he's not unconscious, is he, he's feeling all of it, tugged and lifted from the seat of his soul—

in

side

Up…

He was on the floor. He is on the floor.

He's also above the floor. A whirligig gaze dizzily situates his sights on himself: asleep on the yoga mat in his apartment. He's looking down on his body from outside of it.

* * *

Sarah's inelegant thud-thud-thud as she races up the stairs comes to an abrupt halt when she decides she doesn't need the exercise that badly and swerves for the second floor elevator entrance. She dropped off the misbehaving Ferdinand at home, but only stayed long enough to grab a tissue for her clawed wrist; she ineptly presses the bloodstained crumple to her pet-induced injury while she makes for the elevator.

The residents of the second floor are particularly restless tonight. Moans, groans and cries follow her all the way down the hall.

"Not tonight," she mumbles. "Call fuckin' Barry."

She situates herself inside the elevator, thankfully empty, and presses 10.

* * *

Up

Cyrus can feel the rollercoaster tickle of a sudden equilibrium rush in his stomach, although his stomach, by all accounts, is down there, and he's not. Phantom sensations. Phantom stomach. Phantom limbs, phantom eyes. He is himself not unlike a phantom now, rising toward the ceiling.

A black haze comes and goes in front of his eyes — or floating mind's eye — as the shadows lift him higher and higher. He's bound to crush into the ceiling at any second. The clean ceiling where the black shape used to be.

The feeling in his phantom stomach is nearly nauseating, even without a stomach there to empty its contents. His eyes narrow and try to focus on his own body beneath, but the focus is fuzzy. Hazy like the rest of his consciousness. Is this happening? The question lingers in the forefront of his mind.

He tries to turn his gaze to peer at the ceiling, to catch a glimpse of the white above him. His mind races as he tries to will himself back to his own body, yet, in a way, he has a vague appreciation for the distance. Distance from himself. From the lip service. From the lies. Distance.

He can feel a tether, an invisible force connecting him to the body he's left. The pull down is not nearly so strong as the forceful pull out of it, however, and the slightest drift of his mind saps its strength. Distance wins. The black haze and the nearing ceiling whirl murkily together until he cannot see his apartment at all; nothing is recognizable; Cyrus has found himself in a grey vortex where rising up feels a lot like falling. There are no directions.

* * *

Sarah touches the inner handle to the roof access door and a static shock races up her already clawed wrist, eliciting a soft series of murmured curses that are, at this point, half-hearted. Her head swims with an uncommon dizziness. Lack of sleep, she thinks; maybe not enough exercise. She needs to do more cardio.

An uncommon nervousness also hits the woman as she hesitates opening the door. Mrs. Dee was insistent that they meet up here; she sounded nearly crazed on the phone, fear on the edge of fury. For all Sarah could gather, however, Mr. Dee was altogether pleasant and behaving, contrary to his wife's secret accusations, unless he was a lot more sly than Sarah gave him credit for.

Maybe she's just a crap investigator.

She opens the door with one solid whoosh into the pleasant night air.

* * *

Cyrus is formless, he is shapeless.

A sudden inky burst spreads out in front of his sights, filling his impossible vision with midnight blue and beautiful twinkling lights. The sky, tall and unending. The half-lit city of Hickoryville, spread out beneath ten stories and then some. It's all slightly tilted and blurry, in the process of coming into focus … a vivid, deeper, more alive focus than he could have seen with his naked eye. There's the stars again, closer than ever before. There's the Blessed Mary Church of the Immaculate Conception, far off, its steeple visible above the town. There's main street, aglow with distant store-fronts. There's his work-place looking like a toy house, and the highway out of town with blinking headlights and taillights lazily moving along it, the pools of dark that must be the forests, the empty steel mill and old factories.

And below him, the flat roof of Lockwood Towers.

Phantom hands long to rub at phantom(?) eyes, but movement is the most evasive mistress. The longing to return to Lockwood Towers slips away at the strange wonder of it all. There's something beautiful about the makeup of everything beneath— of having the ability to truly fly. If anything, not seeing his body is even more freeing. It allows him to forget, or at least, to easily ignore his own immaterial status. Instead he can merely observe and consider everything offered by the earth below. It's a release. Or, perhaps, more accurately, an embrace of the freedom such things offer.

He's free to observe — and observe, there, the shape of a person moving to and fro on the roof. The figure wears a blue robe, and each step seems measured, performing a steady ritual that involves pacing to and from the edge of the roof. A puff of blonde hair surrounds her head, a frizzy halo.

The door to the roof opens. The creak the hinges make is far away, nothing but a distant blip. His sights, however, are sharpening by the second; so sharp that the physical world can't keep up with this beautiful new vision of form and time. The lady on the roof leaves a faint trail of frames of herself behind her that shimmer and fade and start anew.

Another figure. Long dark hair, her tanktop a shock of white. Tops of heads without faces. They meet and pause. Their voices rise up as though through a watery filter, garbled and soft.

* * *

" — you haven't done your job right, then! I'm telling you what I saw!" Mrs. Dee practically stomps one of her slippered feet. Only some ten years older than Sarah, the part-time P.I. wagers she'd be prettier if her face wasn't so soured by her disposition (she's one to talk) and if she was reminded that the 90s have passed. Is that a perm?

If Sarah doesn't focus on the meaningless details, she's going to explode at the person who is supposed to be her client. Her facade of professionalism is already only a few seconds from cracking like the china vases she's always been too skeptical to own. Because she breaks everything. "Mrs. Dee," she rises her hands, holding in her sigh and, therefore, her breath, until she can formulate a calm response. "I'm telling you what I saw." Almost calm. "I can't be held responsible for what you see goin' on in your own apartment."

"You're a security guard, too! You should have very well seen her traipsing down the hall— "

"I'm not able to watch the monitors 24/7— "

"You should be! I paid you!"

Barely!

Sarah tries to recall if she had this thrumming headache before she walked onto the roof.

"Why don't you tell me what you saw, and maybe we can start work on finding out who this chick who your husband is stupid enough to bang in his own apartment is," Sarah straight-shoots, forgetting her filter. She's immediately faced with the offended gaping maw of Mrs. Dee and holds a hand to her temple, preparing to apologize.

"I'm— ! I'm— ! You know what, you're right, he's an idiot. What was he thinking! Sarah," with mounting insistence, Mrs. Dee clutches her shoulders and clings, leaning in with a glazed, intense look in her eye that Sarah doesn't particularly like the look of. She goes stiffer than Mrs. Dee's retro-red false nails.

* * *

Th r um

Cyrus can observe the two figures, one clutching the other with impending intent, something raw and unhinged about the secretive roof meeting.

T h r r r r r rr

The air is growing unsettled. The shadows naturally cast on the roof twitch and tremor.

Thrum thrum thrum

Hisses snake past Cyrus's phantom ears.

In truth, the darkness never left. It carried him and then it waited.

It's here.

The whole world seems to stretch out before him and he still can't get away.

Cyrus' phantom eyes narrow at the rooftop encounter, his thoughts rolling over and over unsure of what he's seeing and why he's seeing it, let alone how. The darkness enveloping him can't comfort whatever he's looking at. Like the ghost of Christmases yet to come, the mystery of its silence and rules accompanying it leave him in want.

Of more.

Deep seated desire to understand draws him to pull away from the clinging darkness. What blackness consumes his being? His very soul? His phantom body tenses against it like a child recoiling at its rabid pet. Where some semblance of wonderful distance had bade a strange armistice, the treaty is broken. And Cyrus fights. Mentally he tugs against what contains him.

Try hard enough and ye will be rewarded. He veers, drifting down closer to the roof at an odd dizzying angle. It's less like the freedom of flight and more like fighting and fighting through invisible sludge with only the most tenuous control over his direction.

The darkness does not stop him; it follows him toward the figures on the roof.

Maybe it's watching them, too.

The blonde-haloed face comes into sight, her crow's feet high-definition, the glare of emotion in her brown eyes shining, imploring and angry. It's only the surface. She's about to crack.

The security guard that was in his house only recently, her features come into clarity as well, outlined by a defensive ferocity. She shouts; it's just noise.

Shadows roil around the dim rooftop, licking at their feet. They don't notice. They can't see. They're seemingly trapped in this singularly human engagement that Cyrus has risen above.

* * *

"You'll help me, right? I'll destroy her. Him, too! You'll find out everything, like you said, you'll find the proof this time—"

"Lady! You already frickin' saw them together, what more do you want— " Sarah wrenches back, shoving Mrs. Dee's hands off her, one after the other. The other woman was clinging so tight, half-moon nail marks leave purpling impressions on her arms.

"You don't get it, do you! I need to destroy him before he destroys me," Mrs. Dee insists, her voice rising and taking on a sickened pitch, too high, too fast, keening unevenly.

"Whoa, listen, I'm strictly reconnaissance only, I don't get involved in anyone's shit— " The second Sarah raises her hands in a clear display of exempt herself, Mrs. Dee grabs them, curling down her fingers, clutching her knuckles. For a moment, Sarah just stares.

"I heard him, did I tell you I heard him on the phone, planning against me, he wanted to poison me so I'd die before I ever found out, the water, the water is poison, but you know what, I'm not an ignorant bitch anymore!"

"Oh my god, have you lost your mind? Get your hands off me!" Reactive, Sarah pushes into the tangled grip. The other woman stumbles, only to spring right back. She doesn't stop; Sarah's activated a boomerang and now she has to shuffle back herself to avoid her odd client's odder behaviour. Her shoes — lazy flip-flops — scuff on the roof uneasily.

For all of Mrs. Dee's focus on Sarah, her eyes are so intense they've gone beyond seeing just what's in front of her. "Please, please, I have to get him before he gets me!" Hot tears, undecided between tempestuous emotions of mania, stream down Mrs. Dee's pale cheeks. "Why won't you help me?"

"Because I'm not the fucking police?!" Sarah shouts, incredulous— an expression that hardly has time to form before the other woman shoves her shoulders bodily and her bare heels knock hard against the rise at the edge of the roof.

* * *

Alarms ring helplessly across Cyrus' consciousness. STOP! he struggles to speak. Not that non-bodies can make noise. He fights hard to get closer. Maybe maybe phantom arms can catch bodies. Maybe they can stop this madness. Maybe his own flight is intended to save rather than observe.

Against the darkness he presses downward. He desires to save the guard. He fights against the form behind him. Phantom bodies can't do much but maybe he can press her back up.

* * *

Sarah's balance veers wildly out of her control. It feels as though her center of gravity is flung over the side of the building. Just as her stomach plummets, she catches herself after a dangerous sway back, prevented from plummeting herself.

Mrs. Dee is just a sparkling blur in front of her eyes, a sudden rush of dizziness and faintness obscuring her vision in white spots and making head head swim. Straight into a wall of spikes, it feels like, a stabbing headache trying to obliterate her sights even more. "Fff— ff— uh— " She stumbles toward the shadow that must be Mrs. Dee, trying to force her away, away from the edge. STOP, echoes in her mind. Each echo is another twinge of pain. "STOP!" she shouts herself, launching at the crazed figure who's got her wrists again, who's squeezing, pushing— "Stop!"

"All I wanted was for you to be there for me— "

* * *

Shadows swirl in front of Cyrus. One second the security guard is nearly toppling over Lockwood Towers. The next she's leaping at the harried blonde woman. The next is shadow. The next is nothing. Motion. Shouting. The more he tries to do something, the hazier he seems to become.

Distantly, a blip. A door opening.

Struggling. Him, them.

Darkness. It's pulling him again.

* * *

Caught off guard by the strength that rockets back at her, Sarah catches sight the enraged face of Mrs. Dee through her marred vision and it strikes fear into her pounding heart: it's the face of someone who has completely lost their grasp on reality.

"You can't do your job?! You're in it with him! You're all against me!" Mrs. Dee shrieks, the voice of a banshee. "I'm gonna destroy you too!"

She's paranoid.

"Jesu — " Sarah can barely breathe out a single curse word. She swallows and reels to her right, unbalanced. What is happening— "Get away from me!" She rushes the woman again. Normally, she's strong, herself — she's trained her body to be powerful and quick on the draw but she feels as weak as a lamb as she feels her hands strike into the other figure's shoulders. She blinks, her world spinning and silvery and buzzing around the edges. She hears pounding feet, shrieking, growling, hissing, the snarling of her cat from earlier that evening, that's not happening now

"Oh my god!" Mrs. Dee's banshee wail has degraded into a mewl, her manic eyes wide and fearful and hurt. "What are you doing— ? Sarah!"

Confusion washes over her. She feels like she's going to faint— like she's going to careen over the edge of the building for real. Her head is screeching.

Th r u mm

Mrs. Dee is screaming. "I'm going to smash your head open, you useless bitch!"

Th r u mmmm

"Sarah…?"

Th r u mmm

Blackness closes in around her vision. She feels the woman slam into her and grabs the frizzy curls in her fist before her balance is struck entirely.

She sees the blonde halo whiz down toward the edge of the roof

down

down

get away from me

STOP!

* * *

One sound makes it distinctly through the roiling, hazy, rending chaos of indistinct, moving bodies and shadows to Cyrus.

C R A C K.

* * *

Sarah sees the pale, distraught face of Mrs. Wanda Dee smash into the sharp, concrete edge of the barrier before the drop-off. The neatly trimmed front yard and walkway leading to the front door of Lockwood Towers is spread dizzyingly beneath her — when did she fall on her knees? — and for one strange moment, she finds herself looking at the view instead of the red trail distinctly beginning to ooze from Mrs. Dee's skull.

Clarity comes back like a punch in the face.

She scrambles backward several uncoordinated paces, falling beside the rooftop herb garden, her palms scraping behind her.

Just as fast, her headache ravages her own skull. She tries to look at what she did and blackness takes over; so does migraine-level nausea. She twists and heaves.

Did she just kill Mrs. Dee?

* * *

Even to the hazing sight of Cyrus, floating outside of it all, the blood now beginning to pool onto the ledge is particularly… real.

He can see the body. It is a body. It's not moving. He can see Sarah. She's sitting on the roof, her legs sprawled, her torso twisted to the side, her hair in her face, blood on her hands.

And he can see the hand of a man, gripping the hair of Mrs. Dee.

Crouched over her, his face— middle-aged, unkempt, black-framed glasses — is contorted with vicious sentiment.

A part of him longs to scream. To shout. To try to communicate what has just happened. But then, does he even know? Is this even happening? Did Sarah kill Mrs. Dee or did something else happen?

Drowsily, Cyrus tries to focus. His mind's eye attempts to hone in, to clear itself. But the summoning, the door. It calls. And the fight leaves him weak. His knees feel weak. The man crouched over Mrs. Dee earns a skeptical gaze (not that he can see it), as Cyrus actually tries to face the blackness surrounding him. What is going on? his brain fires. Whatever his escort is, he mentally bids it to fill in blanks. Is this happening? he tries to address it again. What is happening?

But then blackness can't communicate. Can it?

He's struck with a deafening THHHRRRUUUUUMMMMMMM in response.

A scuff and garbled pound-pound-pound vibrates through his senses; sandaled feet are just barely visible running through the blackness that surrounds him, Sarah high-tailing it as fast as she can from the —

Scene of the crime?

THHHRRRUUUUUMMMMMMM

His whole being vibrates with the sound; more than a sound; a feeling. It's sound, it's scent, taste, touch, and it feels as though it's capable of tearing his soul asunder.

It pulls down

down

down— !

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