Pitter-patter, the raindrops fall. On this All Hallow's Eve, I sit in my armchair close to the roaring flame, trying to gather what little warmth circling about the empty rooms into my cloak. Footsteps jolt me awake from the twilight before slumber, fear coursing through my frail bones momentarily, before subsiding as I realize they were nothing more than the sound of raindrops dashing themselves against my window-pane. For a brief, terrifying second, I glimpsed the shadows upon the living-room wall grow long and wave to me, the flickering, dying light of the fireplace flame playing tricks upon my eyes. For a brief, terrifying second, I glimpse once again my two erstwhile companions. The two, unfortunate souls. I grow old, too old for nights like these, too old since life and youth had been taken away from me - that cold All Hallow's Eve…
"Another case for you, Inspector. It's urgent too, the messenger sounded mighty worried."
"Really now. Just as I was about to clock off for the evening."
An errant sigh escaped my lips as I pick up my hat, just moments ago hung upon the rack. Putting one arm through the sleeve of my trench-coat, I turn to Superintendent Chatmers and Gilroy, beckoning with a quick motion of my head.
"Well, lads, let's get busy. Death waits for nobody, and we can't have a killer loose on Halloween, can we now? God forbid, it might actually cause a scare."
Grumbling, Gilroy grabbed his own hat and coat, palming his badge into his inner pocket, and slinging on his holster. "Well, that'll be a bloody shame, won't it? At least there's some excitement in the neighborhood, me wife was complaining about how Halloween no longer gave her the chills."
Chatmers, who had cocked his revolver, and was adjusting his belt, replied with a jaunty grin, "Well, Gil, that's cos' she's used to seeing a terrifying cow-faced monster at home eating her food and sleeping in her bed everyday, as it is. I dare-say, after seeing you without pants, nothing scares her anymore."
"Shuddup, Chatmers, at least, I'll be going home tonight for a respectable dinner, not sleeping in some floozy's house and fu-"
"Alright, can it, you two. We've got a job to do."
I tried to hide a grin of my own, as the three of us stepped out of the station doors, into the cold, rainy afternoon.
The body was nowhere to be found. The blood, on the other hand, was everywhere. Across the street, from one end to another, it stained the grey cobblestones a deep carmine red, as if someone had opened a can of red paint and sprayed it across the ground. Passers-by and general busybodies stood about, watching the scene of the crime with much interest.
And crime it was, undoubtedly. After all, no freak accident of nature could have ensured that the lines of blood lay scattered across the floor in such straight patterns. It was almost as if the victim had been sliced multiple times with an unnaturally-sharp blade, so much so that although blood lay all about, none of it deviated from the sharp lines of crimson they created, save for the rain slowly washing them away, smudging the pattern. Chatmers whistled. "Poor bugger's dead for sure. You can't even find this much blood in a pig."
I knelt down beside the bloodstains, while Gilroy went about collecting samples. The newly-formed forensics division would want to check for any evidence of gunpowder - but I doubted it. The sprays of blood were too clean. Even a bladed weapon would have had a hard time creating such a cut, and subsequent blood-fall. Maybe one of those Eastern weapons that's been streaming in? It was said that they were sharp enough to cu-
"Say. What's that?" Gilroy cried as he pointed to the ground mere steps away from me. I whirled about, looking closely at the area - and then I noticed it. In that patch of ground, there was no rainfall. Looking up, I noticed that it was in the open, so it wasn't the rooftops. The rainfall simply… curled about that area. Almost into a discernible shape. Yet I couldn't exactly make out what it was, and attempting to do so, I began to move closer.
About two steps away, the patch of untouched air shifted, in a sudden motion. Taken aback, I drew myself to the left, away from its movement. That probably saved my life. I barely heard Chatmer’s cry for me to get away as the loud roar of his revolver echoed through the falling night, nor did I hear Gilroy’s shout of horror. All I could hear was the inhuman sound of footsteps, squelching against the rain-slick ground, as they slammed down in staccato towards me. I noticed, with mounting fear, that the untouched patch of air was now dangerously close, and behind it, was left a series of print marks, as if a boot had stepped in the thin layer of water above the ground, leaving behind a momentary mark. Yet even those prints were so strangely spaced, jumping from one side of the pavement to the other, that no human form could have managed that. It was almost as if the footprints were in tandem with the rainfall. Pitter-pattering onto the sidewalk.
I felt a cold breeze pass by my side, and threw myself backwards. Sharp, burning pain erupted in my right arm as the sleeve of my coat was torn, blood flowing fast from a razor-sharp cut across my forearm. More shots rang out as Gilroy drew his own sidearm, attempting to hit the menacing figure that was no more than an empty space. Yet they had no effect, the bullets not even impacting against the form, almost as if they were vanishing into thin air. I cried, my terror now utterly taking hold of me, as I rolled to my feet, sprinting across the street. An idea struck me, and I leapt onto the nearest carriage, avoiding the startled horses. I could hear the pitter-patter of the rain-steps rapidly drawing near, closer and closer.
With a quick hook, I knocked out the supports for the coach’s gas lamp, and wrenched it free with much effort. The pitter-patter was closer now, Chatmers and Gilroy were both shouting at me to run. Finally, I managed to open the lid to the lamp, and with a spin, tossed it straight at the patch of unmoving, yet fast-approaching, air.
The flames flared for a brief moment, spreading across the ground, and the empty space disappeared. All that was left was the burning fragments of the lamp, and the ominous pitter-patter of the nightly rainfall.
That night, upon returning to the station, I sat upon my chair and called upon the entire force. They were to scour the city and search for this elusive form, be it man or otherwise. If they did find it, they were not to engage, but bring back news of its whereabouts. I did not want to risk losing any men to the strangeness that was invading my city – on All Hallow's Eve.
My next clue came in the form of an old man, brought in from the street, dressed in rags. Another one of the homeless. Cradling a much-appreciated cup of tea from Gilroy, I faced this man in my office, listening to his words.
“I tol’ em’, see? I tol’ em’ about them devils, but nobody ever took my wor’s for trut’. Don’cha see? They preh’ on us. They will not stop. No’ for as long as we are about. Beneath of homes, they gath’r, waiting. Waiting. And taking us, on’ by one, until ther’ be none left.”
Gilroy shook his head. “Madness. He’s been driven mad by life on the streets.”
Chatmers, standing by the side of the room with his arms folded, indicated otherwise. “In times of darkness, let the blind man be the guide. In times of madness, let the madman lead the way. What else do we got?”
I looked at the two of them with a meaningful glance, wanting silence, before turning back to the raving old man. “Sir. Do you have any idea where these ‘devils’ of yours reside?”
“It ain’ no use. No use at all. We’ be all dead.”
“Under our feet, the’ be crawlin’. Everywhere. In the pitter-patter beneaf’ the city, they’ be crawlin’.”
“No use… no use…”
The lunatic stared into his hands, mute momentarily. Mad as he was, I couldn’t help but feel a slight shiver leap down my spine. The events of the afternoon could hardly be explained by conventional means. A leap of faith may be in order.
The chance came soon enough. After the old man had left, the three of us had sat about the station, killing time as we waited for reports to come in. Then, a sweating, elderly officer barged in through the front, shouting. “Quick! Quick! One of our own, sirs! He’s dead!”
Leaping off our chairs, we gathered our coats. I strapped in my pistol, grabbing a gas lantern off the shelf. Gilroy and Chatmers both sported heavier armaments: Gilroy slinging across his waist a shotgun, while Chatmers cradled his hunting rifle. We set off, into the dark night. Midnight had long since gone, but the damnable rain continued, well into the early hours of Halloween.
This time, the bloodstains were still fresh. Confusing as they were, they faced a specific direction, headed down the empty street, in the middle. On the ground, covered in life-blood, lay an officer’s helmet, and a broken nightstick. The nightstick had been cut across the middle, at an angle, a clean, surgical cut. We moved down the street, all of us silent.
The bloodstains led to a manhole cover, some distance down. They seeped into the iron, draining away into the darkness below. Back-up had still not arrived. With trembling hands, I reached down, and lifted the cover, heaving it aside with some considerable effort. Steam roiled out from the open sewers, and inside, I could hear the rushing sound of drain-waters, as the rain poured into the city below.
“Are you sure about this? Should we wait for backup?” Gilroy asked, nervousness causing a slight tremble in his normally stoic voice.
Chatmers shook his head. “There’s still a chance that our officer may be alive. This may be the only lead we’ve got. We have to follow, before the trail gets cold.”
I nodded my assent. Turning to Gilroy, I tried to flash a smile that I hoped seemed brave. “What, scared of rats, Gilroy?”
Chatmers chimed in. “I’m sure your smell will drive ‘em away, no problem there.”
Gilroy grunted, cocking his shotgun. “Very funny. Let’s stop talking and keep moving.” With that, he began to climb the ladder downwards, into the murky darkness below.
It was as if we had climbed a ladder into hell. The roar of the water was so loud that we could barely hear each other’s steps down the ladder, the steam and humidity of the trapped heat causing us to erupt in sweat. By the time we reached the bottom rungs, we were already drenched.
We had barely moved a short distance, following errant bloodstains, before I saw the victim. I will never forget it. I will never forget the sight of the poor rookie, dripping a trail of blood as the body was dragged across the floor, seemingly by nothing. The crumpled form shifted erratically, a few steps every few moments, scraping across the floor as the still-shining belt buckle across the corpse’s waist scratched the granite.
The body stopped for a moment. As if it sensed us. Then, it began to move again, at a much faster pace, skipping across the ground like a doll with all its strings but one cut. We shouted, ordering the corpse to halt its macabre dance, and gave chase. Shots from my pistol rang out across the sewers, echoing down the tunnels. We ran for a long, long time, and soon I knew not where we were. Then, finally, a turn left, up two flights of stairs, still chasing the body bumping across the uneven steps, down the tunnel and turning right and across left and – We walked into a hall.
A hall of horrors.
We all stopped then, unable to move, to comprehend in our small minds what exactly we had stumbled upon. It was as if a morbid hospital, with rows and rows of standing glass coffins lining the ground. Each was misted over with the humidity, but I could still barely sense movement within. Moans echoed through the hall, a few screams were heard, and I realized with mind-shattering terror, that this hall seemed to be endless. It stretched far beyond what could have been possible in this god-forsaken mausoleum, into the distance. The ceiling could not be seen; the walls stretched into the darkness above us three tiny figures.
I took a few hesitant steps towards the nearest glass coffin, naming it in my head so simply because the shapes resembled those found in funerals. Yet they were made of glass, misted over in the steam, a dull blue glow that was the only source of light in the hall emanating from these coffins. I wiped the misted glass, peering inside.
A hand smashed against the glass, from the inside, with a sickening thump. It streamed blood, black barbs catching it from all sides; even it seemed, from within. A scream rang out with such feeling that I was stunned, but even that barely contained the revulsion I felt as I peered in. A body, desiccated, almost nothing more than skin and bones, with a few stray strands of hair, stood within, with barely any space to move. It was hooked all over by strange metal barbs, through the ears, the neck, spikes pushed out through the eyes, and it bled all over, a deep dark red. By all means, it should have been dead. By God, I wished it had been dead. But it was not. It was the corpse from before, brought to unholy life. It continued to move and squirm, moan and writhe in the confines of the glass coffin, unable to die, trapped in a terrible mockery of life.
Madness took me then, and I screamed. I smashed the butt of my pistol against the glass, hoping to shatter it, free the poor soul within. It didn’t even scratch. I began to gibber, explaining to myself again and again that this had a perfectly rational explanation, that the man was actually dead, that the world had not just turned itself inside out. I continued banging against the glass, until my hand was finally halted by the firm grip of Gilroy. Chatmers was retching into a corner, unable to stand the sight, the idea of such a torture. Gilroy himself, ashen-faced, trembled as he held me, but it allowed me to calm down. I extricated myself from his grasp, not trusting myself to words, and leaned against another coffin, catching my breath.
Then I heard it. Again. Pitter-patter, raindrops falling inside the dry hall. Footsteps, from before, staccato rhythms tapping themselves out in the echoing hall. Leaping back, I felt the presence of forms moving closer and closer. Gilroy roared as he cocked his shotgun, and began spraying indiscriminate blasts into the darkness.
One must have caught a water pipe, because in a moment, the entire room was filled with spraying water. Then we saw the figures, moving slowly, jerking across the room towards us. They were countless, numbering in the thousands, and they moved with a deathly purpose, the shotgun pellets vanishing as they approached the figures. We turned to run.
We ran down darkened corridors, and heard the pitter-patter of the forms giving chase. Down winding staircases and up water-slick ramps, we ran for our lives, screaming, shouting, making noise to remind ourselves that we were still alive. It was not long, before we came to a gate, rusted shut, trapping us. Turning about, Chatmers began firing with his hunting rifle, to no avail. The pitter-patter grew louder and louder. Gilroy worked the gate, whimpering beneath his breath, before he finally managed to shift the gears of the mechanism. With a great screech, the gate swung open, Gilroy pushing down upon the nearby lever with all his might.
“Go! You know what to tell Marie.”
“Just shut it and go!”
With a nod to my brave Superintendent’s actions, I ducked through the opening, Chatmers following suit.
“Gilroy! You can still make it! Come on!” Chatmers held onto the gate, attempting to keep it open despite the grinding mechanism. Gilroy leapt towards the opening. Yet, mid-leap, he stopped, as if held back by an unseen force. Then, he crashed to the ground, mere steps away from the gate. It smashed shut, with a definite clang, Chatmers barely avoiding losing his hands as he leapt back.
In the distance, held aloft by empty space, floated towards us another one of the glass coffins. It was empty. Within it, we saw the writhing forms of the barbs, hungering, seeking for life to attach itself to. It drew closer and closer. And Gilroy was dragged, slowly, painfully into it. Soon, only his upper body could be seen in the darkness, the rest having been entrapped in the open glass coffin.
Chatmers took aim, and fired. A quick lancing shot flew through the air, and burst open Gilroy’s head like a ripe melon. Better a quick, merciful death than the un-life we had just seen. I pulled at Chatmers, and we both scampered down the dark corridor, looking to escape the tunnels.
We came upon a flight of stairs leading up. Leaping them two steps at a time, we had almost reached the top, when I heard an ominous rumble, mixing in with the constant pitter-patter behind us. The masonry, unable to take the strain after centuries of disuse, gave way beneath my feet, and I plunged down into the darkness.
Chatmers turned and cried down to me, “NO!”
I picked myself up, constantly aware of the footsteps behind me, and shouted back up. “I’m fine! Keep going! Run!”
Turning about, I faced the empty tunnel before me, echoing with the increasing pitter-patter. To my right, I spied a tunnel leading upwards, perhaps even to freedom. It was my only chance. With a great swing, I flung my gas lamp towards the area before me, causing a slight flower of flame to erupt in the darkness, before dying out. Plunged into total pitch black, I turned and ran down the corridor, legs burning with the effort. I ran for hours, down winding corridors, unable to even remember if I was running in the right direction, just running away from the horrors behind me, and the hall full of the eternally trapped.
I broke into sunlight, smashing aside the manhole cover. The sound of carriages reached my ear like beautiful music, as I lay on my side, across the cobblestones, heaving and retching, almost blacking out there and then. I heard the sound of an officer ringing his bell as he noticed me, and I realized, with a jolt – I had made it.
Chatmers had not. We never found him. Nor did we ever find the figures again, or the Hall of Horrors, as we had that Halloween day.
A particularly loud peal of thunder shook me from the half-dream, half-memory. At this age, I could barely remember the details, yet I still remembered the face of Gilroy all too well, just before he had been shot – in mercy. I remembered the face of the trapped person, the one whose coffin I had peered into, the despair, the sheer despair of the un-life.
And I remembered Chatmer’s face. Particularly well, in fact, for as I looked up, I stared into it, (there - outside my window!) just as I had remembered. In the rain outside my window, across from the armchair, there he stood, in a glass coffin. Terror took me, as I saw his writhing, struggling form, smashing weakly against the unbroken glass. To his left, in another coffin, was Gilroy, head somehow still intact, scratching feebly against the glass. And to his right – stood an empty coffin. Waiting. In the dimming darkness of All Hallow's Eve, the clock struck midnight, and I once again heard, interspersed with the ringing grandfather toll, something I had not heard for years.
Pitter-patter. Step. Step.