The cop grabbed my collar when I reached for the door handle. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m going down there.”
“Are you nuts? That thing–whatever the hell it is–it’s killed three people. Tore them to pieces. Almost killed my partner too. Just touched his arm and now it’s gangrene. Doctors say he’s going to lose it.”
It wasn’t gangrene. It was worse. If his partner was lucky, that would be all he’d lose. Sometimes, the infection spread faster than the docs could cut it away.
“We should lock the doors and burn this house to the ground,” said the cop.
“Fire won’t kill it,” I replied. “Nothing will.”
“Bury it under a hundred tons of concrete then. Just leave it the hell alone.”
“We could do that. Or you can let go of me, and I’ll handle the situation.
This kind of problem is my job.”
He released me. “You’re crazy, man.”
I most definitely was, but in my line of work, it helped to be crazy.
Ordinary people went about their ordinary lives, and it was my task to keep it that way.
“You want my gun?” he asked.
“Appreciate the gesture, but like I said, it won’t die.”
It was human nature to fear things like this. That was my real talent. Not magic powers. Not an ability to hit a bull’s eye at fifty paces. Not a great study of occult mysteries (though I knew more than most people would ever want to know). Just a level head and healthy touch of madness.
As soon as I was through the door, the cop slammed it shut and locked me in. The dim basement lighting cast shadows everywhere. The thing was probably hiding in one of them. Or it was behind the boiler. Or it was invisible, right in front of me.
I sat at the bottom of the stairs and waited for it to show itself. A couple of pieces of shredded cloth and meat not far away lay not too far away. All that was left of the thing’s victims. Contact between matter from radically different realities was nasty business. It was fifteen minutes before the shadow appeared in the corner of the room.
“Hello,” I said in words it could understand. It wasn’t a language as much as an attitude.
“You. Speak.” Its voice was like a spider crawling through my brain. “How?”
“Not important,” I replied. “What is important is that you have to go.”
The thing slithered forward. To describe it was impossible, so I won’t even try. “Where? How?”
“You must’ve fallen between worlds. It happens.”
“You. Stink.” It recoiled into the dark, where I couldn’t see it. “This. Stinks. This. Place. This. Foulness.” It stammered, struggling to find a word that it had never needed before.
“That’d be death,” I said. “We’re used to it here.”
I shrugged. “It’s how we’re made. We’re dying, one day at a time, one moment at a time, but it’s a constant thing. So we learn to ignore it.”
“You’d have to be one of us to understand.”
Its terror was palpable. Its pity was overwhelming. It saw us as meat with delusions of grandeur. Rotting from the day we were born in a world falling apart around us. For something eternal, there could be no greater horror than this world.
“Home?” It pleaded. “Must. Home.”
I smiled, even knowing it couldn’t understand the expression. It must have found the flesh and blood monstrosity sitting before it as nothing short of repellent.
“That’s something I can help you with.”
The hole wasn’t hard to find when you knew how to look. The thing could’ve done it on its own if it hadn’t been so terrified. All I did was calm it down so that it could. The thing didn’t pause to thank me as it returned whence it came. I didn’t take it personally.
If the tear hadn’t closed up after it, I might’ve been tempted to follow, even knowing the world beyond would destroy me moments after I walked through. But a world without dying things walking around like it was perfectly ordinary . . .
It might’ve been worth it to glimpse it for just a moment.