Saturday, March 12, 2005

:::Oracle Bones:::

When the call came, it woke Eric from a dream about monsters. His bad dreams were always about monsters. This time they had been pale, growling things that tore at his arms and legs. He sat up and wiped the sweat from his forehead. The electric blue numerals of his alarm clock read 2:00am. He was burning up. The sheets were soaked. He picked his glasses up off the bedside table and shoved them on, then turned to stare at the phone. It was still ringing. Frowning, he picked it up.

"Eric, it's Jordan." He nearly dropped the phone, his already warm face reddening.
"Uh...hi..." he finally said.
"Eric, wake up."
"I'm awake. What's going on?"
"We need you to come to the subway station on South Kramer Street."
"South Kramer Street, but you'll have to take a cab. It's shut down."
"The subway is shut down?"
"You'll have to come see for yourself."
"But why do you want me there?"
"There's something carved into the walls. It's some kind of old writing. We want you to take a look at."
"What kind of old writing?"
"Eric, if we knew that, why the hell would I be calling you?"
"Oh, uh yeah...Right...I'll be there in half an hour."

The surface streets were dark and quiet on the cab ride over. The air was heavy with mist that was almost a drizzle, and the lights at the intersections became fuzzy blurs of red, green, and yellow. The entrance to the subway looked deserted, and Eric spent half a minute trying to decide if he should just call the cab back and go home, but he stuffed his hands in his pockets, hunched his shoulders, and hurried forward.

It was darker in the tunnels than it should have been - some of the lights had gone out. He didn't see the man laying on the steps until he was almost stepping on him.

"Say man, do you have some change? I haven't eaten in two days - I'm just trying to get some food, you know?"
Eric knew he didn't have any change, but he checked his pockets anyway.
"I'm sorry man. I - I don't have any."
"I just want something to eat, man." He sat up, shifting closer to Eric, his face still too shadowed to see clearly. Eric resisted the urge to step back, telling himself to relax.
"It's been pretty wet lately, huh?" he said. The man didn't respond. He just stared at Eric, the sounds of his breathing like a raspy heartbeat in the stairway tunnel.
"Crazy weather!" Eric said with a feigned chuckle. His forehead was sweating. Just be calm, he told himself. This is just a guy who's down on his luck. Don't act scared.
The man leaned forward, slowly. His eyes were two dim points of green glow. Reflected light, Eric thought. It's not creepy. It's just reflected light.

"Hey Eric!" Jordan was waving to him from the bottom of the steps. "Hurry up. You're late!"
"I'm coming," he said, turning away from the man with relief and hurrying down the steps. The light was brighter at the bottom, and when he stepped into it he shivered as if he were shaking something off.

"This way," said Jordan, the police ID around her neck flashing in the light as she turned. She led the way past another officer and toward the subway platform. Eric snuck guilty glances at her ass as she walked, then attempted to distract himself by going over the stuff in his bag. It was mostly books that he had checked out from the university library for working on his thesis along with a magnifying glass, a little brush, and a penlight.

The subway platform was a mass of crime scene technicians. Jordan stopped just out of view of the rails and turned to him.
"I need to warn you about the crime scene. Have you eaten?"
"Uh, no. Not for about nine hours."
"Good. Things are pretty...disturbing...down on the rails. If you think you're going to throw up, use one of these." She handed him an orange plastic bag with "BIO WASTE" written in black on the side. Then she turned and stepped determinately forward. Eric stared down at the bag in his hand for a second, took a deep breath, and followed her.

The rails were partially submerged - only the tops were visible. There must have been water there already, Eric thought. There was water there already, and some blood got into the water and made it all look red. That can't all be blood, can it?
He took another step forward. There was a crunching sound. He checked the bottom of his shoe. There was something small and white stuck between the treads. He leaned down, balancing on one leg and trying to get a better look.
It was a tooth.

"Jordan. Jordan!" He felt dizzy. There was bile in the back of his throat. Jordan grabbed him before he lost his balance, steadying him with a strong hand on his shoulder. She leaned down and looked at his shoe.

"Hey, Raul," she yelled at one of the technicians. A tall man with hair gelled into an artistic interpretation of messy came over, gave Eric a pissed-off look, and started working. A short time later Jordan was guiding Eric further down the platform.

The wall on their left was done in white tiles interspersed with aquamarine. At the far end, someone had removed a whole section of the tiles exposing an area of cement about four feet in diameter, covered in hieroglyphics.

"Wow," said Eric. He leaned close enough to put his face a few inches from the wall. "These are Chinese."
"They don't look it," said Jordan, sounding annoyed. "I thought maybe they were Egyptian."
"It's an older form of Chinese. This is what they were writing on oracle bones back around 1350 B.C."
"What does it say?"
Eric studied them, scratching the back of his neck absently.
"Hey," she said.
"Uh, give me a minute."
"We don't have a minute! What does it say?" She grabbed a handful of his shirt at the shoulder and jerked him around to face her. He stared at her in surprise, his mouth dropping open. A green glow was reflecting off of her eyes from somewhere.
"I'm sorry, Jordan. I'm just a graduate student. I'll get the translation for you, but it will take me a couple of minutes."

She deflated, releasing his shirt, and looking away for a second.
"I feel weird - like I've got a hangover but my head doesn't hurt. Sorry, Eric." She met his eyes. The green was gone, leaving a hazel color that Eric kind of liked.
"Don't worry about it," he said. He realized that a couple of the crime scene technicians were watching them and felt his face heating up, so he turned back to examine the wall.
"You said they used to write like this on bone?" Jordan asked.
"Yeah," he said without turning around. "They would write a question on the bone and heat it until it cracked. Then they would read the cracks to tell the future."
"This wall isn't all of it," she said. "We also found some bones with the same writing scratched on them."

Before Eric could respond, the lights overhead went out.
"Shit," said Jordan. "A power failure - just what we need." A couple of flashlights switched on around the platform.
"Let me see that light," said a voice.
"Get your own."
"It's bad enough they cut our pay, but then they can't even keep the fucking lights on," said someone else.
"Ow! Watch it!"
"I can't because you're hogging the flashlight!"
"Don't step there!" said someone else. "You're gonna contaminate it!"
"What the hell's going on with you people?" shouted Jordan.
"You want the flashlight? Here!" There was a cracking sound and a thump. Green pinpoints of light winked in the darkness.
"I mean, how do they expect crime to go down if they cut our fucking funding?"
"Don't shove me!"
"It would serve them right if we went on a fucking rampage. Then they'd wish that they'd paid us more!"
"Have some more flashlight!"
"I said, don't step there!"

Sounds of scuffling broke out in the dark. Eric didn't move. All around the platform he could see the glow of twin green points of light. His palms were sweating. He felt someone grab his shoulder and he jumped.
"What's happening?" said Jordan, her face near his ear.
"I don't know."
"Everyone's going nuts in here. It's that hangover feeling - it's getting worse. Even I feel like I want to hit someone."
Eric peered in her direction, but there was no green glow.
"Ahh!" There was a scream and then a raspy sort of growl.
"Jordan, I - I think maybe we should get out of here."
"Oh, did you hear that?" said a masculine voice nearby. "The little genius boy is scared. He wants to go home."
"Get back, Raul," said Jordan.
"Cause you got a thing for him, right? We all know it's true. You think he's better than me, huh? Because he's getting his fucking PhD?"
"I'm not gonna warn you again! Back off!"
Two green eyes appeared in front of them. There was a snarl, and Eric was shoved back hard against the wall. He heard a smacking sound, then again and again, and then a thump.

"You okay?" said Jordan.
"Yeah." He felt her hand under his arm, pulling him to his feet. Around them the sounds had changed from shouts to grunts and screams. They walked quickly in the direction that Eric had come in from, giving a wide berth to the sounds coming out of the darkness. When they reached the stairs they broke into a run.
"Hey!" someone shouted after them, their voice sounding deep and gravelly.

They burst onto the street, panting and looking around.
"This way!" Jordan shouted, pulling him toward a parked car. "Get in! No - wait!" She looked back at the entrance to the subway. "Stay here!"
"What? Where are you going?"
She didn't say anything. She just leaped into the driver's seat, and slammed the door shut. The engine of the car roared to life. There was a responding roar from the entrance of the subway. Eric turned and saw several pairs of green eyes glowing from the stairs. He looked back at the car and could see Jordan strapping on her seatbelt. The car leapt forward, peeling away from the curb and lining up with the subway entrance. The headlights cut on, blasting white light into the top of the stairway.
"Sh-shit!" said Eric. Snarling in the glare of the headlights were four of the crime scene technicians. There was blood on their faces around their mouths, and they held long bones like clubs. A fifth figure stepped out in front of the rest. He stood up straighter than the others, and his eyes glowed brighter than theirs, the green glow visible even in the beam of the headlights. It was the homeless man Eric had passed on the stairs before.

The car jumped the curb and flew down the stairway, bowling over the creatures in its path and
disappearing from Eric's view. The sounds of crunching metal and breaking glass exploded back up to the street. Eric ran to the stairs.
"Jordan!" he called.
The car had flipped about half way down and was wedged across the stairway, blocking it off. He ran down to it, struggling to see in the dim light. The passenger's side was wedged into the ceiling, and the roof of the car was facing him. The windshield had burst, and there was glass everywhere. He could see Jordan, still strapped in place by the seatbelt and unmoving.
He reached in and unlocked the seatbelt, amazed that it hadn't jammed. She fell forward. He grabbed her then struggled to pull her out. A broken piece of glass caught on her leg and she cried out, opening her eyes.
"Eric." She gripped his arms and crawled forward, pulling herself up once her legs had cleared the windshield. They climbed back up the stairs, leaning together for support. When they reached the top they turned and looked back at the wrecked car blocking the subway.
"They'll move through the tunnels," said Jordan.
"We have to warn people," said Eric.
"Come on," she said.
The two of them turned and walked away down the misty street.

posted by D @ 1:11 PM |

I love stories - especially speculative fiction, and I named this blog Brief Glimpses of Somewhere Else because I think of each story as a window into another world.

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