Another short excerpt from Finch. Previous excerpt here.
The night half over. With each minute, something important slipping away.
Took another mouthful of whiskey. Let it swirl around his mouth, burn in the back of his throat. Followed by numbness.
The sounds out in the dark beyond the window no longer made him shudder or start. Skitterings. Moanings. A cut-off shout of alarm.
A spotlight of lavender and crimson painted itself across the far wall, leapt on to the next apartment window.
At night, only half the street lamps worked. But all across the skyline phosphorescence draped and bled and hazed in and hazed out again. Sometimes, a cloud of vermillion spores would form in mid-air and settle down over a building. Stretch across its bricks or wood or stone like a second skin, before moving on or dissipating.
In one extreme case, Finch had seen the spores take the form of a huge, bloated green monster. Spiraling red eyes. It had bellowed and dived into a neighborhood to the north. Smashed itself into motes against the ground.
A child might see that and cry out in delight.
Sidle, quick-shadow, scuttled up the side of the wall near the window. Pursuing moths that had flown into the apartment. Sidle was a happy little predator with bright black eyes. Sidle didn’t care about anything but his next meal. Finch could put him in a cage with a branch and water, and Sidle would be happy his entire life. So long as he got fed.
With a shaking hand, Finch reached for the second memory bulb. The room spun a little. Righted itself.
“I guess we’ll soon find out what kind of man he was,” Finch said to an oblivious Feral. Feral was looking up at the wall. Mesmerized by Sidle’s stalking of the spiraling moth.
Finch forced the bulb into his mouth. Chewed it into dull paste as he lay down on the couch. Swallowed.
The ceiling had a few odd discolorations but nothing to suggest infiltration. Finch wondered suddenly who the upstairs tenant was. Sometimes he had heard a person pacing across the floor boards in the middle night. But that was all.
After a minute or two, Finch sat up. How odd. Nothing seemed to be happening. Nothing at all.
The dead man sat in the chair across from him, smiling.
“Uhhh!” Finch leapt to his feet. Sat back down. Almost got up, but stayed seated.
The man was flanked by a Feral grown large as a pony. A Sidle grown as large as a Feral. They both looked at him the way Sidle had been looking at the moths.
“Hello, John Finch,” the man said with a strange accent. Except he didn’t say “John Finch.” He used Finch’s real name. The one Finch had buried for so long. “I’ve been waiting for you or someone like you.”
Finch became terribly aware of something. The window at the dead man’s back no longer showed the city. Instead, it displayed a series of images so impossible that his brain edited them out instantaneously.
Finch tried to slow his breathing. Failed.
Get a grip. Get a grip.
He must be inside the man’s memories.
Then why is the man sitting across from you?
The man looked much younger than he had on the floor of the apartment. Had lost the fungal beard.
“Who are you?” Finch asked.
The obvious question. But it kept pounding against the inside of his skull. So he had to let it out.
The man laughed even though Finch had said nothing funny.
“More to the point,” the man said, “Who are you? And who are you with?”
“This is just one of your memories. Manifesting differently. It isn’t real.”
The man laughed again. Then was suddenly sitting beside him on the couch.
Blindingly, unbelievably bright, a light like the sun. The night sky opening up before it.
“You don’t have to understand it. Not now,” the man said.
And Finch didn’t know if he was inside a mushroom or outside the universe. He didn’t know why there were so many colors. He saw a glimpse of the city from on high, each street an artery filled with blood.
Then the man and Feral and Sidle disappeared and the window became a huge mouth and they were all nothing more or less than memory bulbs within it, and Finch fell through the same skein of stars he had seen in the gray caps’ memory.
Stood teetering on the battlements of an ancient fortress, looking out over a desert, the sand flaring out for miles under the seethe of impending dusk Ã¢â‚¬â€œ A cavern glittering with veins of some blue metal, huge mushrooms slowly breathing in and out Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Seen in a flash of light that faded and kept fading but never went out: more caverns, a woman’s face, framed by white hair; another woman, beautiful, in her twenties, her thirties, her forties; a shadowy figure with a slightly lopsided gait, walking down a street, oddly familiar; the insane jungle of the HFZ, almost floating above it, through it, coming out into a clearing ringed by twelve green statues. No, men planted in the ground, arms at their sides, their mouths opening and closing soundlessly. And the jungle was made of fungus, not trees, poured over trucks and tanks and other heavy machinery junked and rusted out and infested with mushrooms, some of it still slowly, slowly moving Ã¢â‚¬â€œ And back to the fortress, at the edge of a manmade cliff, many hundreds of feet above the desert floor, and out in the desert a thousand green lights held by a thousand silence gray caps motionless, watching Ã¢â‚¬â€œ A sound of metal locking into place. A kind of mirror. An eye. Pulling back to see a figure that seemed oddly familiar. Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Then a circle of stone, a door, covered with gray cap symbols. Ã¢â‚¬â€œ And, finally, jumping out into the desert air, toward a door hovering in the middle of the sky, pursued by the gray cap, before the world went dark.
…Came out of it to find Feral and Sidle both watching him. Feral sat on the floor near the couch. Sidle watched from the windowsill, a large black moth between his clockwork jaws.
Closed his eyes and was gone again.