Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Writing, by Dan Tillinger

The Writing
A police investigator interrogates a mysterious man, who tells him a chilling story about the strange fate that befell the city of Brno.

Throughout my years with the police, I have been present at many interrogations. I have seen my share of deranged psychopaths, be it either bloodthirsty maniacs or cold-hearted monsters, who have calculated their every step. And still, none of them managed to send shivers down my spine as much as that man. The sole witness of the Brno incident.
He was a man around thirty. When they brought him in, what immediately caught my attention was his face. It was half-covered in tattoos of strange symbols, which extended all the way under his shirt. Now, it wasn't the first time I've seen someone with a tattoo on their face, but that time... I remember there was something odd about it. Like the tattoos didn't really belong on the man. He was wearing simple jeans and a dark red sweatshirt, and overall he looked like an example of what one would call an 'orderly citizen'. He just seemed like he wouldn't do such a thing.
But what really made me feel uncomfortable around him were his eyes. I shall never forget those bloodshot eyes that always seemed to look somewhere in the distance, as if they were searching for something I couldn't see. The eyes that had seen something that no man ever should have.
I nodded at the officer who brought the witness to the room. He nodded back and left. I shifted my attention towards the witness. He was standing by the door, looking around, inspecting the room. He seemed to be murmuring to himself, as his lips were slightly moving.
"Please, have a seat," I told him. The man didn't respond. He kept on scanning the room, not minding me at all. His gaze slid lazily past me as if I wasn't even there. "Excuse me," I said, this time more loudly. Still no response. Now I could hear a distinguishable sound of his quiet mumbling, although I couldn't make out the words.
My patience had been running out. I shouted at the man. "Hey!"
Finally, the man turned his head towards me, and our eyes met for the first time.
I think I will never forget that blank, empty stare he gave me back then. It was as if he was looking at me, and at the same time he wasn't. It left me petrified. I couldn't take my eyes off. I found myself drowning in these bloody wells, and I could not swim up to the surface. And then, suddenly, something inside the man snapped. His gaze really focused on me and the trance my body was in disappeared.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said, a little bewildered. "What did you say?"
"I- I told you to have a seat," I stuttered. I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "I'd like to ask you a few questions," I said, a lot calmer now.
The man did as he was told. He pulled up a chair and sat down. He looked rather tense, but that was only natural, considering his whereabouts. The man looked me in the eyes and said:  "I suppose it's gonna be a little bit more than a few questions, ain't it?"
I ignored his comment. "First, what's your name? When fhey found you, you didn't have any identification documents on you and your fingerprints aren't in the database."
"My name... I can't remember."
"Excuse me? I don't understand. Do you have some sort of amnesia?" Only then did I realize that the man was carving something into the table with his fingernails, all the while looking at me and all around. I decided to make him stop. "Could you stop doing that?"
The man stopped examining  the corner and immediately turned towards me. "Stop doing what?"
"This." I pointed at his hands. "Damaging the table."
The man looked down at his hands. His eyes widened with shock. He immediately put his hands off the table and looked away. With his hands gone, I could see that what he carved there was a symbol similar to the ones on his face.
"What does it mean?" I asked the man.
The man looked back at the symbol. "I don't know," He answered and then, he whispered: "Nobody knew..."
He stayed silent for a moment before he looked at me once again and in a slow, absent voice that made me feel uncomfortable for some reason, he said: "No, I don't have an amnesia. I was born in Brno in 1989. I had two brothers, both older. My mother was an elementary school teacher and my father worked as an electrotechnician. I dislike curry and and cats. My name is..." He paused and closed his eyes, thinking. "It's Richard. Richard Javora."
"Okay, Richard. Let's get to the point. You" A sudden wave of fear washed over me. When I looked at Richard, I saw that he was mumbling again, staring into the table. I'm not sure why, but he was creeping me out. It was like there'd been a strange aura surrounding him, that was making me feel uncomfortable.
"Hey," I said. Nothing. "Hey!!" I repeated, this time more loudly, but Richard still gave no response.
I stood up and walked over to him. He was scratching the table again. His nails were already getting bloody. It was just as I was about to shake his shoulder, when I managed to make out two words.
"...behind him..."
I froze. Shivers ran down my spine and it took a lot for me not to turn around. I could feel sweat running down my back. For a second, I didn't move. Then, finally, I grabbed Richard and shook him. His head shot up immediately and turned in my direction.
"What's going on?" He asked.
I couldn't stand it any longer. "What's going on? A whole city disappeared overnight and all that's been found was you, that's what's going on!!" My voice was shaking a bit at the end there. I calmed down. I went back to my chair and sat down. "I'm sorry. It's just that where the city of Brno stood yesterday, today is but a plain. How could that be possible?"
Then, without any instruction, all by himself, Richard started talking.
"It all started about five months ago," His voice was calm and although it was quiet, I could hear perfectly clearly what was he saying. But at the same time, there was an upsetting tone in it, almost as if he was afraid of something. "sometime at the beginning of March."
"It's April now," I noted. I didn't have to be a mathematician to know that something was off here.
But Richard continued on. "One day, someone painted a strange symbol on the front wall of the New City Hall. Nobody paid any mind to it, there's been plenty of graffiti throughout the whole city after all. After a few days, the symbol was painted over. But the very next day, even more symbols were painted on the wall; now they started to look like some kind of writing.
It was at this time the people first started to take notice of the writing. With each passing day, its size was increasing and finally, the police started to look for whoever was doing it. However, they were completely clueless. By then, the writing was several meters long and took up a large portion of the front wall."
"How come the police had no clue? There must have been surveillance cameras in the area," I interrupted him.
"Yes, there were. There was a problem with the footage, though. In the end, the cameras didn't tell them a thing. So they set patrols in the hope of catching the culprit at the scene of crime. Without success. And the next day the writing was not only even larger, but a part of it was also painted on the sidewalk.
"How's that possible?" Even though Richard's story sounded unreal, I just couldn't dismiss it as a madman's testimony. I felt that there was something to it.
Richard simply continued. "However, two officers claimed to have seen the person, who was behind the graffiti. They said that on their patrol, a figure suddenly appeared next to the writing. They said"
Richard suddenly stopped. He was staring into the table and I could see his fists were clenched tight. He was breathing heavily and shaking slightly.
I was unsure of what to do. Richard seemed to be in a shock of some sort and I refused to get even an inch closer to him. I could hear him whispering no over and over again. I figured he was at the brink of another trance.
 "Richard?" I said rather hesitantly.
I was expecting him to ignore me, but instead, he continued talking, at first slowly, with gritted teeth, but getting calmer as he went on.
"They said... It looked like a very tall man, over two and a half meters. He had dark skin and thin, slender limbs. He was wearing a wooden mask so large it covered not just his face, but also partly his chest. It was lined with many feathers, leaves and straws, that hung over his shoulders and back. It had large rectangular eyeholes brought out by a wide white border around them. The mask had no visible mouth. The growth rings were forming unusual patterns. But its most distinctive feature was a broad long beak pointing downwards, which took up almost half of the mask.
According to the two guards, the man then approached the writing and put a hand on it. Suddenly, the writing began to glow with a pale green light, as well as the eyes of the mask. And the writing began to grow.
The guards said that they called to the man and came after him. But when they got closer, the masked man turned towards them, and, in that moment, the wooden mask itself smiled. After that, they both fainted, and when they woke up, the mysterious man was gone."
"What happened next?" I found myself leaning towards Richard. I desperately wanted to hear more.
I shook my head. That can't be real. How would he know all those details otherwise? But still, I decided to let him finish. There was something about the story, it left me mesmerized and curious. And even though my whole brain was telling me the story had to be made up, deep inside I felt otherwise.
"They were both locked up in a mental hospital. Soon after, the whole investigation stopped and the culprit was not caught."
"Why did it stop?"
"After the incident, the writing began to grow much faster. In a week, the whole City Hall building was covered by the symbols. The people started avoiding the building. The air around it felt heavy and polluted. It made your head hurt. The investigation stopped, because there was nobody willing to investigate.
About two months after the writing first appeared, something changed. Most buildings in the city centre were already decorated with the mysterious writing, as well as the ground, and lamp posts and basically everything. The atmosphere in the city was so dense, you could almost grasp it. And then, the traffic stopped. Not just the public transport, there were no cars driving around either. There were fewer and fewer people in the streets. Everybody was so afraid. And three months in, the writing had coated the whole city."
"Why didn't the people leave?" I asked, breathless. I could almost feel the air of the city.
"We they couldn't. Regional buses wouldn't come. The cars would not start. If you tried to walk away, you'd suddenly feel so exhausted. There was no escape. But the worst had yet to come."
Richard ran a hand across his face. "The writing began to spread onto people," he said.
"Does that mean that your tattoos are...?" I asked, awestruck.
But Richard talked on. "Their skin burned as the writing spread, limbs felt heavy, head hurt. But the most devastating was the voice. At first, it was just an incoherent whisper, but as the writing advanced, the words were louder and clearer, until it was screaming so loud you couldn't hear anything else. Most people went insane and I don't blame them."
"What was the voice saying?" I stopped caring that the story might be fake some time ago.
Few tears rolled down Richard's cheek. "You belong to me now. Over and over again. It was so terrifying. And just when we thought we were destined to be tortured by that voice forever, it happened."
I was terrified. The longer Richard talked, the more terrified of him I was. But I just couldn't stop listening, I was hypnotized by the words. My heart was pounding in my chest, but I simply had to hear more. I couldn't help myself.
"One day, the voice went quiet. And at the same time, all of the writing began to glow. It was the same pale green light the two guards saw all that time ago, but this time a hundred times brighter. And then, we all saw him. No matter where a person was, whether indoors or outside, or at what end of the city. All of us saw the tall figure in a huge wooden mask with a beak. The light was shining brighter and brighter and soon enough, you couldn't see anything at all. And then, the masked man laughed. It sounded like a bird's screech and a sinister laugh in one. It was a sound that pierced straight through your soul and left you paralyzed. And the man laughed on. He laughed and shrieked until there was nothing else but the sound. And then..." Suddenly, Richard's head hung low, like that of an unused puppet. He stopped talking. The quiet filled the room.
"And then? Richard, how can you know all that?" I asked.
"Then, they were gone," said Richard simply.
"Just like that!? But that's impossible! Half a million people can't just disappear into nowhere!" I jumped up, visibly upset.
And Richard burst in laughter. It was unlike anything I heard before. It froze me in place and left me breathless. Richard looked up to me. But his eyes were not the same as before. The look he gave me was crushing and I knew that before me wasn't Richard.
"Disappeared? Nowhere? No..."
"Then where?" I managed to choke out.
"They are all here. I can feel them inside me. Their lives, their memories, everything." And then he collapsed on the table.
And I ran from the room as fast as I could and I never came back to see Richard again. Because in that final moment before he dropped dead, something reflected in his eyes.
It was a very tall man wearing a wooden mask standing behind me.

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