A missing cat, a marital dispute, a leaky roof and one week after his encounter with the eccentric archeologist, Mark Maxwell is sitting at his desk doing a well-earned crossword puzzle. The news reported Doofus McGee and Dr. Tennyson back behind bars, but are silent on the rest of the gang.
The door to the outer office opens.
Stacey pokes her head in. “Hey, Mark, I’m going to lunch at Ching How across the street. Want anything? Oh, and some package came. And doesn’t your P.I. license expire today?”
It had slipped Mark’s mind; his license does expire today. He’s got the fee, thanks to that cat-lady heiress, but the license bureau in the Murray building downtown closes at 5.
Fortunately, downtown is fair walking distance; it’s closer than the University. It’s sunny today; a nice breeze off the bay, not a cloud in the sky. Mark takes the package and opens it as he walks.
The package is a small cardboard box, about 4 to 6 inches on a side, with some kind of scientific warning labels stuck to the sides. The return address is a place called Morningside Biochemical, in Wilmington, Delaware. Inside are six small bottles, carefully padded.
Mark doesn’t remember any recent medical cases. He puts the bottles back in the box, keeping them carefully padded, until he has time to find someone who knows about this sort of thing, and ask them about it. There’s an invoice stuck between the packing and the side of the box. It lists six different chemicals with dozen-syllable names.
Mark almost puts the paper back in the box without another look, but at the last moment something strikes him as strange about it. Two things, actually. One the one hand, there’s a handwritten message scrawled in pencil in the corner. On the other hand, the invoice doesn’t seem to be addressed to Mark. It’s addressed to one Dr. Konrad Lehr at the Temple Beth Shalom downtown.
The outside of the box is also addressed to Dr. Konrad Lehr at the same address.
The license bureau and the address on the scribbled note are both in the financial district, about six blocks apart. The Temple is near Central Park, about seven blocks from the other two locations. It’s a struggle, but paying the bills comes before mysteries. At least, for now. Mark continues to the licensing place.
The Murray building is a grand old skyscraper, maybe thirty stories tall. The small, vaulted lobby and the hallway to the bank of elevators are paneled in dark wood, with a chandelier hanging overhead. The license bureau is on the twentieth floor, for some reason. Though not as modern as some, the building is pleasant enough.
Except for today. The stench of garbage assaults Mark as he enters through the revolving doors. Standing—more like leaning—facing the wall across the from the reception desk is what is probably a man. He’s wearing what seems to be a large, hooded rain slicker over a ragged, possibly flea-infested tuxedo and is carrying a shoddy, stained umbrella. He smells like he’s spent a solid week in a restaurant dumpster, and it’s impossible to tell his hair color because of the grime. His face and eyes are sunken and starved-looking, and his crusted hands trail along the wall, leaving streaks behind.
“Hmph. Hmph.” He grunt/mumbles as he slowly moves along the wall, ear pressed to the paneling, keeping up an unintelligible commentary as he moves along. The two security guards and the receptionist seem to ignore him—or at least keep their eyes averted.
Mark walks up to him and say, “Hey. Mac. What’re you doing here?”
The man doesn’t seem to hear. He inches his way along with his ear pressed to the wall, muttering syllables slurred beyond recognition. On (phew!) closer inspection, beneath the layer of grime his face and hands seem to be scarred and blistered, as if he’d been splashed with boiling water or possibly acid.
Mark tries again, “Hey! I’m talking to you. Can you hear me?”
The unwashed gentleman continues to concentrate, as if he’s listening very intently to the wall, and either ignores Mark or can’t hear him. He keeps up his running unintelligible commentary.
Mark heads to the elevators. The elegant paneling is continued inside the express elevator, which he takes up to the twentieth floor. The licensing office isn’t hard to find, and the clerk examines his paperwork, takes the fee and stamps the approvals with a minimum of interest. Chore complete, Mark heads back down the elevator.
The doors open at the ground floor to reveal a young man, in his twenties, smoking a cigar and carrying a newspaper under his arm, and a little girl, probably about five years old, holding his hand. They stand aside as Mark gets out.
“Are we really going to the very top floor, Daddy?” The girl seems quite excited.
“Yes, sweetheart, the very top floor. We’ll be able to see the whole city from up there.”
The door closes on them and Mark heads out to the lobby.
As he steps into the lobby, several things happen in rapid succession.
First, all the lights in the lobby and the hallway abruptly flash and explode in a shower of sparks. The people milling about gasp in surprise. For a second, Mark can see nothing but the bright rectangles of sunlit street through the front doors of the building.
Second, a series of loud bangs, squeals of metal on metal, and frightened shrieks as the elevators lose power, drop, and abruptly stop as the automatic brakes come on. The security guards rush toward the elevators as the receptionist picks up the phone.
Third, a muttering voice says, in a very matter-of-fact way, “No. Wrong. No no no.” Mark sees the ragged shape of a man silhouetted against the front doors, making his way to the exit.
Fourth, a muffled child’s voice, edging into panic. “Daddy, wake up! Daddy! It’s on fire! Wake up!”
Mark: “Great. Two things happening at once again. Let’s see what I can do about this elevator.”
Spirit: No. We must stop the perpetrator.
Mark: “What? And leave these people to die here?”
Spirit: Our task isn’t to save lives. Our task is to thwart evil.
Mark: “I can’t do that! We have to help them!”
Spirit: And what can you do here, that others cannot? Can you freeze fire? Can you rip open elevator doors?
Mark: “I’ve got to try something!”
From the sounds of the elevator brakes and the voice of the girl, Mark estimates that the elevator is stuck between the ground floor and the second floor. The elevator is not visible, since the outer doors are closed.
The security guards and a couple onlookers are gathered around, trying to figure out how to get into the elevator.
“Hurry! They’re in trouble!” one of the watchers yells helpfully.
Mark gets a grip on the doors and pull. The doors are jammed.
“That’s no good!,” shouts a guard. “We’ve got to get to the roof of the elevator car, to the emergency hatch! The doors lock between floors!”
“Don’t we need some kind of wrench to get the roof hatch open?”
“Try the super’s closet!”
“In the basement? There’s no time!”
“Hurry!” One of the security guards runs off, presumably to the stairs.
Mark mutters, “This wasn’t in the job description. I wonder how many people I met trapped in fiery elevators before I got chosen?” He hears the girl crying hysterically behind the doors. He hurries up the stairs to the 2nd floor, where the elevator door is also shut. There he hears crying and the hint of a crackle. There’s no one else on the second floor.
Hardly visible in the dark hallway, Mark’s aspect changes, to dark gray and black, like live shadows. Red eyes blink on in the shadows of his face. With a grunt, he manages to crumple the doors enough to get through.
The area behind the door seems to be a single shaft containing four elevators in a row. It is dark in here, but he can see cracks and spots of light from the emergency lights in one or two nearby elevator cars. There are ladders on the wall of the shaft to his left and right.
The space directly in front of Mark is empty, the car lost in the darkness above. But to his left an elevator car is stuck between the first and second stories, so that the top of the car is about five feet above the level of the floor he’s standing on. The girl’s crying is coming from that car, louder now that he is in the elevator shaft. Mark realizes as an afterthought that she’s in the express elevator, which doesn’t have a door on this floor. He opened the door to the local elevator that runs alongside it.
Mark climbs the ladder to his left to the top of the car. He finds a flat plate about where he expects the emergency exit to be. It’s bolted down, probably to keep people from climbing out and hurting themselves.
He punches through the plate, and peel most of it back. A cloud of smoke billows up from the inside of the elevator, momentarily blinding and choking him.
On the floor of the elevator he sees the little girl sitting huddled in one corner. The limp body of her father lies near her, looking like it’s been dragged to that position and bleeding from a head wound. In the other corner, a scattered newspaper burns, the flames spreading up the wooden paneling.
She stops crying, and looks up at Mark. Then she screams in terror.
Mark mutters to himself. “Great. Kids. Of course she’ll scream at me.”
“Hush, child; I’m here to help.” Mark jumps down into the elevator.
“You stay away from my daddy!”
Mark beats the flames with his coat, succeeding in helping them spread up the lacquered wood wall. Turning from the flames, he grabs the child and leaps up to the roof of the elevator. “Daddy!” she screams. Quickly Mark leaves her in the 2nd floor hall and returns for her father. It’s not as easy, but he manages to extricate him from the elevator too.
Back in the dark hallway, the girl calms down as Mark lays the man on the carpet. “Jeepers, mister, you saved us! Thanks!” The man groans a little and brings his hand to his forehead. “Ow! What happened?”
“There’s a fire in the elevator. It would be best to leave the building.” Mark leaves, taking his coat, which is remarkably unburnt. He activates the fire alarm, and bells clang throughout the building.
“Hey!” calls the man. “Who are you?” He staggers to his feet, following Mark, holding his daughter’s hand, limping slowly toward the stairs.
The shadows drip from Mark’s form as he descends the empty stairwell. “Great,” he thinks. “With my luck, the building will burn down and I’ll lose my license.”
The people in the lower story have cleared out because of the alarm, more are passing through from the other stairways. “Keep walking, folks, you’re going to be fine,” says one of the security guards. “Power outage, and a fire! That’s all we need,” he mutters. There’s a janitor there, too, he’s talking on a phone from the wall to panicky people stuck in elevators. In the confusion Mark makes his way out to the sidewalk.
It’s a beautiful afternoon. A fire engine screams in from around a corner. The smelly man in the raincoat is nowhere to be seen.
Mark finds his package, still in a coat pocket. Somehow, after using the coat to try to put out a fire, the package is fine and the coat doesn’t even look or smell singed at all. He pockets the invoice (with the chemical names) and the written address, and heads to the temple, wary that this doctor might be involved with some secret organization, and that the chemicals might be intended for nefarious purposes.
The Temple Beth Shalom is a walled compound taking up an entire city block in the park district. A few trees are visible over the walls, as if much of the inside are taken up with landscaped lawns. Mark hears a fountain playing inside over the traffic.
A half-circle driveway, gated but currently open, leads to the main entrance, surmounted by the image of a menorah and Hebrew letters. Inside is a spacious, ornate lobby. The lobby extends off to the left, and at the far left doors open into what looks something like a church but is probably a synagogue. To the right is a receptionist’s desk, currently attended by a middle-aged lady with glasses, in front of a door. Another wide set of wooden double doors (closed) stand straight across the lobby from the main entrance.
“May I help you?” asks the receptionist. From her attitude, there are probably one or two other things she’d rather be doing than helping visiting Gentiles.
“Yeah; is there a …” Mark looks at the package again. “… a Dr. Konrad Lehr here?” I got a package of his by mistake."
The lady suddenly looks more interested. She quickly leafs through some papers on her desk.
“Mr. Maxwell, I presume?” she says, reading from one of the papers. She doesn’t wait for an answer. “Right this way. He’s expecting you.”
She comes out from behind the desk to the large double doors across the lobby. She pulls out a key and unlocks them, then opens them and motions for Mark to follow. Mark follows, puzzled that he was expected. And that she knew his name.
Behind the doors is a fairly large, rectangular, well-groomed courtyard or quad completely surrounded by the porches of low buildings. A few taller buildings rise in the background; gymnasiums or dormitories or classrooms, maybe. On the near side of the courtyard is a large, splashy fountain. On the far side is a medium sized ash tree. Walkways criss-cross the green, and there are benches arranged along the walks, around the fountain, and around the tree. The effect is quite peaceful.
A few people sit on the benches or walk calmly along. Half of them seem to either be nurses or wear institutional pajamas and robes. Mark admires the compound. They must have some wealthy sponsors in these tough times. But is this a temple or a hospital?
The receptionist leads Mark to a man wearing black. He’s sitting cross-legged on a walkway that circles the tree, apparently meditating. His clothes are loose and bound with a cloth belt. He’s wearing a yarmulke on his balding head and has a very thick beard and the long, curling sideburns of a Hasidic Jew.
“Mr. Maxwell is here, Doctor Lehr,” says the receptionist.
“Excellent!” Dr Lehr has a deep, resonant voice [like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof] and merry, twinkling eyes. He stands with a smooth grace. “Welcome, Mr. Maxwell, to Temple Beth Shalom.” Dr Lehr is somewhat shorter than average, somewhat stouter, and inordinately cheerful.
“You were expecting me? You were expecting me to get a package meant for you, and that I would come by personally to hand it over?” Mark asks. After a short pause, he says, “This is one of those things, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Dr Lehr replies. "It is as you say. One of those things. You and I travel among some of the same gates, as it were.
“I knew you were going to come today. I knew you’d bring a package. I have no idea what the package might contain, or where it might be from. And I must admit, I have been looking forward to meeting our newest associate.
“But I forget my manners. I, as you know, am the Rabbi Dr Konrad Lehr, one of the administrators of the Temple, and a teacher. I also move in certain, let us say, obscure circles. And you, as I know, are Mark Maxwell, Private Detective and recent initiate. Now don’t worry, no one can hear us, and we Keepers keep each other’s secrets. But I find that it is good to have people to talk to about these things. To many secrets drives one mad.
“And perhaps I can get a look at that package.”
Mark hands over the package. “Here. It’s got chemicals in it.”
Dr Lehr examines the package. “Excellent! I ordered these chemicals for a patient. I wonder why it came to you?”
“I thought you could tell me.”
""I suppose the delivery service made an error. It must happen from time to time. In any case, it is here now. I am anxious to see if they will bring Soloman back to his senses, poor man. I am afraid I relate to his plight rather too well. Still, there is still much we can try to reach him.
“His is a tragic tale, but a good one to know. Would you like to see him?”
“I guess. If you think it’s worth the time.”
Mark also says, “So do you know anyone who’d be after some ancient Egyptian thingamajig?”
“Hmm. Perhaps you refer to the break-in at the University? The ancient Egyptians were quite advanced in the esoteric arts; some of the most ordinary artifacts we find today are the remains of highly powerful and dangerous arcana. But who can tell unless one has the skill and knowledge to unlock their sealed power? I have examined the University collection in the past. Most of it is second rate pottery shards and shaped neolithic tools, as common as any collection might have. The Natural History Museum collection is of much better quality. Dr Tennyson seemed to think he knew something, but I found him quite secretive about it, and, frankly, as encyclopedic as his knowledge of archeology is, he does not have the signs of someone with true talent.
“Now that you mention it, you may be on to something. Perhaps someone is using his knowledge and access. But who? The known local Gifted are accounted for. We must be vigilant.”
“Yeah, that’s the story, isn’t it. ‘Be vigilant,’ but not knowing for who or what.”
Dr Lehr leads Mark to a gate on one side of the courtyard. The gate is locked. An orderly opens the gate from inside and bows, in an odd, oriental fashion, as they pass through. There is a short outdoor lane, then another door. Dr Lehr knocks, and the door is opened from within by another orderly.
“The Temple Beth Shalom is a synagogue, and a school for children and for religious studies. But it is more. It is also, among other things, a hospital where we try to bring healing and comfort to shattered minds.
“Which brings us to Guy Salomon. Here we are.”
Dr Lehr stops at a locked room. A man in a doctor’s coat is approaching from the far side.
“Dr Samuels. How is he?”
“The same.” Dr Samuels is tall and balding, with wire-rimmed glasses and a preoccupied demeanor.
“This is Mr Maxwell, an associate. I have the chemicals. Shall we try them?”
Dr Samuels looks at Mark appraisingly. “Any friend of Dr Lehr’s is welcome here. We have tried everything else. I hope it will do no harm.” He unlocks the door.
Inside is a small hospital room that smells of animal. One wall is lined with stacked animal cages, containing mice, weasels, birds, and a few other assorted small animals. Another wall has a bench with dusty chemical apparatus arranged neatly on it. Another wall has a window, draped against the afternoon sun. Below is a bed, and on the bed a man, curled with his knees to his chest. There is an ugly scar running from his forehead to his temple.
“Le gardien, le gardien,” the man mutters, rocking a little.
“This is Dr Guy Salomon, Mr Maxwell,” Dr Samuels says. “A Frenchman, one of the premier animal biologists of our time—or he once was. He disappeared during a conference in Austria a few years ago, but was found last April in Belgium before it was overrun, delirious and badly hurt. We suspect he was tortured. His family sent him to us, both because he is Jewish and to get him as far from his trauma as possible. He does not respond, either to drugs or electroshock. He looks at the animals occasionally, but does little else. Apparently he was traumatized by what he calls ‘the guard’.”
“I looked up his research,” says Dr Lehr, “and I hope that by presenting him with something familiar we can begin to reach him. We shall see if that is the case.”
Dr Lehr removes one of the vials from the box and shows it to the man cowering on the bed.
The man stops muttering. He looks at the vial, and his eyes slowly widen.
“He’s interested,” whispers Dr Samuels. “Fascinating. Thank you, Dr Lehr. I can take it from here.” He crouches down by the bed. “This is for you, Dr Salomon. But first you need to eat.”
Dr Lehr ushers Mark out of the room. He face clouds over with hardly-repressed anger.
“I did not show you Dr Salomon only as a curiosity, though he is an interesting case. I believe, as do most of us, that Dr Salomon has been in the hands of the Nazis these last years, and his condition is their responsibility. The world has finally seen that Hitler will make war on who he pleases, and only our oceans protect the United States. But as you have seen, he has special hatred for Jews and other races he feels are ‘sub-human’. The news of atrocities perpetrated on them—on us—is no idle rumor; in fact, I believe we will not know the full scope of his malice unless somehow his entire empire is laid bare. His armies are fearsome, but those are not his only weapons. And the evil almost certainly does not spawn entirely from the mere man Hitler. Be on watch!
“But there I go again with my vague warnings.” He seems to regain some of his good humor. “Let me see if I can clarify them somewhat.”
They return to the courtyard. Dr Lehr goes back toward the tree, and seems to be meditating in front of it.
“Ah,” he says to Mark. “You have seen a man twice, and will see him twice more: once at the place of power, once astride his mount. The fourth time you see him, he will speak to you. You will not meet a fifth time.” He begins to turn pale. “If you survive, it will be as one washed ashore from a shipwreck. If you do not…”
Mark notices one of the leaves of the tree. It was green, but swiftly turns brown from the edges inward, then black, as if invisible flames were consuming it. The black leaf falls.
Dr Lehr picks it up, visibly shaking. “I’ve never seen it do that before. I suggest you survive. For all our sakes.”
“That was supposed to clarify things?”
“All the world is reflected in the Axis Mundi,” says Dr Lehr. “This makes it difficult to pick out specifics. However, the man it speaks of seems to be a quarry you are seeking; you have already learned the location to which he is going and will find him there, late tonight. He has lost his…” He seems puzzled. “Umbrella? Must be a metaphor for some kind of ward or shield—but the loss makes him vulnerable to…a giant bucket?”
Mark thinks, “Axis … axis … where have I heard that before? I don’t like that word, but why not? Can’t put my finger on it.”
Dr Lehr continues. “Does any of that mean anything to you? Are you seeking someone?”
“Not really. I met a weird guy earlier today a couple of times; I’m not really looking for him. And that bucket thing; maybe your ‘axis’ has been watching that movie from last year too much.”
“Movie? What?…oh. Oh yes. ‘Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.’ Heh heh. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. But the symbols of the Axis are often strange. Half the time I have no idea what they might mean until they come to pass. I think you’d be astonished at how often I perceive mushrooms among the leaves.”
“Mushrooms? Uh, okay …”
“You see? I have no idea. Doubtless it will become clear in time.
“Well, perhaps if you go about your normal activities the meaning will become clear. There is a hazard in seeing the future, what seems to be a kind of principle of uncertainty: the more people who know about about a future event and the more that is known about it, the less likely it is to actually come to pass. Thus the unobserved future is virtually predetermined, but peeling back the veil introduces some doubt. And if there is too much doubt, you won’t get a prophecy at all, thus prophecy by its very nature must be vague to some extent. But I prattle.”
The courtyard clock chimes. “Oy, is it that late already. Mr Maxwell, it’s been a genuine pleasure to speak with you. Please come and see me whenever you have a mind to. I must prepare for class. If there is anything I can quickly try to answer for you? Otherwise I must bid you au revoir. And mind; a minor convergence occurs tonight. Be on…never mind.”
Mark makes a polite withdrawal and heads back into downtown, puzzling a bit over the scrawl on the chemical invoice. It seems to be an address, 635 North Elm, one that nags at the back of his memory. The MII could be the Roman numeral 1002, or M11 could be some strange room designation, or someone could have written IIIII in a hurry. It’s hard to say.
As he reaches the end of the 700 block of North Elm Avenue, he remembers what was strange about the address.
The 600 block of North Elm Avenue is taken up in its entirety by a single building. Back in the ‘Teens, 635 was a 5 floor brownstone, with a laundry on the bottom floor. The owner, one Sigmund Weaver, bought out the other buildings one by one until he owned the whole block. Then he leveled the block in the 30’s and rebuilt in his own unique style. After which he promptly died, officially of a household accident, but rumors persist that it was spontaneous combustion.
The Weaver Building has four square towers, one on each corner of the block, each a respectable office building in its own right, with enough space between adjacent towers for a wide, ground-level ramp leading toward the center. At the center of the block, wider than the towers and uniting them into one structure, a skyscraper rivaling the tallest in the city stabs into the sky. The towers and the skyscraper taper slightly as they rise, giving the unsettling illusion of even greater height.
The entire building is made of white stone. Carved gargoyles line the borders of the roofs of the outer towers, and presumably the topmost roof, though it’s hard to see from the street. People walk by on their various errands, some turning in where the stone lions guard the inner ramps to enter the main tower.
It’s always been a strange place. Lately Mark has been finding reasons to avoid it. Today it seems suffused with a palpable, quiescent malice, like an ungodly egg, hard, and echoing with the struggles of the terror yearning to break out.
Something is going to happen here, soon.
A nearby church bell rings 5 o’clock. The people go unconcerned about their business, many heading back to their homes and families.
Mark thinks, “Great. A spooky building. And I probably have to go in, with no back-up.”
Mark remembers that 635 was about in the middle of the block, in the gap between two of the towers along Elm. There’s nothing left of the old brownstone.
Mark walks between the Elm Avenue stone lions, up the gently sloping ramp between two of the towers and toward the main doors. The ramp, paved with polished granite, looks impressive but not unusual. Near as he can tell, he is now standing where the laundry used to be, probably among the racks of cleaned clothing behind the counter ready for pickup. The old building probably went deeper into the block than the ramp now goes, as far as the alley that used to cut through the center of the block.
It’s noticeably chillier now than just a few moments ago, though the sun is still out. There doesn’t seem to be a breeze. The air is still—unusually still, for an Atlantic seaport. It isn’t uncomfortably cold, but feels more like October than June. Mark wanders back and forth for a bit, to see if there’s a certain spot where the chilliness starts and/or ends. The chilliness seems uniform across the ramp, and out onto the sidewalk. Mark doesn’t notice any warmer areas; it could be this way across the whole city. Passersby seem to notice the change in the temperature, putting their hands in their pockets and hurrying just a little bit.
Mark mutters, “Stupid magical chillification.”
Mark glances around, notices nobody around, and aligns the Spirit Sign’s circles and they flash red. Mark’s eyes glow to match.
The very walls of the building are saturated with a dispersed, latent evil, frozen but waiting for the time or conditions to wake.
Mark starts to smell a faint stench in the still air, and it begins to grow. It smells like garbage and decay, vomit and offal.
Some thing catches Mark’s attention. He turns away from the door toward the street.
If a car were slowly approaching on Elm Avenue, one would see the wall and the lion to one’s left lit up by its headlights, and the illuminated part of the wall would be increasing in brightness as the car, hidden by the tower to your right, drew near. Mark doesn’t see reflected light, but does see reflected evil, and it is less like the beam of a headlight than the glow of a torch, as bright or brighter than any headlight would be. The reflected patch of evil on the wall is more intense than Mark has ever seen from any being, and its purity is uncolored by any rage, fear, greed, cowardice, arrogance or negligence. It is as if an unprecedentedly intense source of plain and simple evil were walking along the sidewalk toward the bottom of the Elm Avenue ramp, and only its reflected aura is visible. So far.
It occurs to Mark that he has never noticed a source of evil strong enough to reflect off a surface before. Still, he hasn’t been at this very long.
The temperature continues to drop. Wisps of mist appear and vanish, to appear again in the chilled air.
Hoo boy. I gotta look into this, don’t I? I’ll regret if I don’t, I know. The only problem is, I’ll regret it if I do, too.
Mark deactivates the Spirit Sign and casually walks down the ramp between towers, out to the sidewalk by Elm Avenue. The smell of decay gets worse.
Coming down the street, about halfway to the corner of 7th and Elm, is a man wearing a large, filthy rain slicker over a ragged and rotting tuxedo, carrying an umbrella. It seems to be the same person Mark saw in the Murray building, though he’s filthy enough that he probably couldn’t identify him from a (clean) photo. The stench is hard to mistake, though.
“Hrm. Hrm.” He mutters incoherently as he walks past, talking to himself in a speech that consists primarily of consonants. As Mark turns around to tail him, the man seems to have vanished. Then Mark realizes he probably just turned up the ramp toward the Weaver building entrance. Sure enough, when Mark returns to the foot of the ramp he sees him walking toward the doors, trailing his hand along the side of the building (leaving a smudge). The man stops, and leans against the wall, seemingly listening.
There aren’t any other people about, not on this block. A mist is coming up though, so one can’t see much farther down the street. The streets aren’t usually this deserted at quarter after 5 in the afternoon.
Mark shifts form, blending at the edges slightly into the mist. He approaches the man. The mist seems to thicken.
The stinking man is still muttering. “Hrm. Hrm. Yes. Good. Hrm.” He pulls away from the wall.
Mark announces himself. “What are you doing in this place? Speak up!” The man doesn’t respond and starts walking toward the door. Mark reaches for his shoulder.
Suddenly, like a striking snake, the man turns and glares at Mark. His eyes are far more bloodshot than any you’ve ever seen, as if rimmed with fire, and the swollen red veins of his eyes are also visible in his eye sockets and cheeks. The irises are blood red. The pupils…ferocious lights rage within, a world of hate. The eyes seem to expand, swallowing Mark, the street, the building, the city, the world, creating a hell of fear and pain in its place…