Final Purge / Fragments From Purgatory

Jeff VanderMeer • February 24th, 2009 @ 9:09 am • Fiction

Some things will never be re-used. Shards of stuff that meant something once. Time to throw it out.

Frag #1:

The fifth floor of an abandoned hotel located in a city perched at the edge of a dying sea. He had traveled there to meet her for the first time, but nothing had gone right. The end of it was this: Edward sitting propped up against a sagging, discolored wall in the hotel hallway; a line of hotel rooms lay before him, all of them doorless. Above, the rusted chandeliers, the faded paint of the ceiling, swayed-or it must be he swayed, the taste of dried blood in his mouth. He had not had water in two days. The very air teemed with water particles that eluded him. He could smell dust and, farther away, something burning that could have been flesh. The seething chatter of automatic weapons on the streets below reiterated revolution.

The feel of the grimy floor carpet beneath his palm pulled him back into the hallway and he shivered. He could hear Plume a few doorways down the hall, retching and thrashing-the occasional bubbling scream mixed with the sound of… something chewing? He would have investigated, but his legs weren’t working too well and–it would have made him laugh if not for the fact that a rib was broken. His only weapon was a spoon room service must have dropped into the crease between carpet and wall a thousand years ago; it had a brown pudding stain on it.

“Plume?”he said. “Plume?”

No answer. Well, Plume had worries of his own. He tried to rise, but the pain was too great and he slumped over. Down the hall, something ran out of one doorway and into another.

“Shitshitshit.” He convulsed. He’d been watching things he could not identify run from doorway to doorway for hours.

“Plume!” he shouted. “Plume! C’mon, answer me!”

“Eddie,” he heard finally, distant and fading, even though Plume couldn’t have been more than sixty feet away.

“Eddie-there’s something in the hall!”

“What, dammit! What’s in the hall?”

“I am,” said a new voice, very close. Edward screamed.

It appeared in the doorway. Edward sidled away , crab-like and unconvincing. He wouldn’t look at it. He heard the dragging of its foot, the dripping of some fluid from its hand, the smell of corrupted flesh. Leaned down to him and he shrieked, jabbing blindly with his spoon, eyes closed. Its face was right there, not inches from his. He could feel the breath on his eyelids. It was thick with heat. “Don’t worry, Edward,” he heard it say, the voice guttural.

“Please…”he said, flinching.

A bitter laugh. “Coward. Ask Plume, Edward. Just ask Plume. If he can answer. And then come see me later. If you can handle it. If you have the time.” The breath faded from his eyelids and Edward was alone with Plume and his choking sounds, in the middle of an empty hotel, on the edge of a dying sea, in the middle of a former empire that had shattered and was reflexively fighting over the brightly-colored shards.

Frag #2

By the time I had become a drunk, after my wife and children died, I had decided to constrain my world to a small part of London. That way you couldn’t accidentally find yourself off the map, in the dark, facing an emergency. I slept beside dumpsters in alleys overnight, sometimes venturing out to take a quick look at the people in the cafes or lined up for the cinema, once a mad dash to the Virgin Superstore right before it closed, to read some magazines. Life took on a clarity, a focus, that it had not had before. I focused on details. The soot on the Trafalgar Square lions. The dirt creasing the edge of the sidewalk. The haggard look on passersby’s faces, the significance of a rare smile, , the unexpected kindness of a waitress, the stamped out butt of a cigarette next to a flower stand, the smell of heat and food and plastic. It is hard to tell you how intense this all felt. I am not a writer. I like to think they knew by then, the people along Tottenham Road and Charing Cross. That I was not normal sort of vagrant, just as they were not. They knew it by the notebooks I kept writing in. I wrote and wrote and wrote. About: the secret passageways off of St. Bartholomew Drive, the hidden gargoyle atop the Sony building, the stories of hundreds of people, captured forever. The forgotten rituals of animals. Everything. For a long time, this was enough for me. When my savings ran out, I took odd jobs to stay alive. As long as I kept moving, everything was fine. I thought it would last this way forever. But then something unexpected happened: I saw a man in a car run over a teenage boy. I stood there, in the alley mouth, looking out and seeing something else entirely. After that, there were places I couldn’t go anymore because I felt they were no longer safe. For a long time, I denied that this was the case, but I kept seeing my family on the edges of my world–in the disconnect between light and dark, in those narrows mews. All the memories I’d repressed came back. The accident. The aftermath. The blood. Could I replace that world with my new one? In the end, I could not. So, in the end, I stepped off the curb at just the right time and found myself here. It’s not so bad a place, really. Having to confront what you wish to deny is at least more honest. But it does get lonely, even with all the ghosts. So I will throw this note and my journal, tied to a rock, as far as possible—over, to the other side. I hope that you who find this bundle will understand what to do with it, and when. (It may not mean to you what it means to me, all this random life, captured in the moment.) For there will come a time, even here, when I will be standing on an island of sorts, all alone, unable to move. When this happens, it may be the end. An end that lasts a very long time. And it would be nice to think someone else really knew who I was, finally.

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