Whispers

In the darkness, Elizabeth slept, and from the darkness the whispers came, insistent.

She was standing on the shoulders of a man black as iron, and his great plated joints ground shrilly against one another as he trudged through a city in ashes. The groaning of his insides had been soft at first, punctuated only by the rhythmic stomp of crushing feet on broken beams, but now from within the ruins of the buildings the survivors could be heard screaming. There were no survivors, observed Elizabeth, but the voices came regardless from the unmoving mouths of endless smoldering hovels.

Beth… ! Beth, you promised, Beth …

Come with me? … could all be over soon …

For ages the metal man lurched forward, his surface searing hot from the surrounding blaze. It sent scorching pains to touch it each time he sent her swaying. One voice wailed miserably out at her, and then another, and soon the words were so mixed up as to be barely recognizable, but each one shook the ground and sent the houses around her crumbling into clouds of grey-brown dust. The ashes of structures and men choked the air with the acrid stink of sulfur.

… don’t have to do this … Beth, come with me, Beth! …

“NO!”, shouted Elizabeth, her eyes closed tight and stinging. “Stay away from me, damn you!,” she hoarsely screamed, and the man heaved forward again, another step. She held agonizingly to his fiery plates as the city collapsed and burned around her, but soon enough even the stone walkways were beginning to crumble, then the earth beneath them, and before long she found her heart in her throat and herself falling forward through the cavernous maw of the world and into a vast, deep unknown. The ruined city flew upward and away from her as she tumbled, tumbled, and still whispers lashed out at her from all directions…

It seemed as though it might never end. Fearfully Elizabeth opened her eyes again to find her hair whipping about her face, and herself gazing up into the surroundings. Above her, endless clawing hands tore at one another, intertwined like serpents, rending the flesh and catching on brittle shards of bone. Between them, where scarce little bits of light could shine, the skies were a tumultuous green that spread out into rays of ghostly gold. Elizabeth willed herself to turn from the sight, but the sounds and screams were inescapable, and the whispers wrapped around her just as harrowing from below:

P-promise me, Lizzie … SAVE her … save her …

“I can’t,” she replied, barely above a whisper. There was barely any air in her lungs, for all it rushed around her. “I can’t, not without…”

SAVE HER!

NO! YOU PROMISED, BETH!

PROMISE ME… !

She hit the water with a crash. In an instant all the screams were silenced, and the world rippled violently around her as she sank backward into an abyss far larger than the walls around it might have suggested. The mauling hands and green-gold lights were gone, a mere shimmer beyond the surface of something deeper, denser… Her arms and legs swung out to right her position, and she drew a stinging, bubbly breath that filled her wind-starved lungs with a vaguely alkaline fluid. The bitterness flooded her mouth and seeped into her veins.

And yet, she wasn’t drowning. It was almost serene, though the sheer blackness was straining on the eyes. She listened hard, and for an instant she thought she might have heard a woman’s voice from leagues away, someplace where it must have been brighter than this, and warmer as well. Singing? It was hard to tell, so muffled, so distant it could have been anything, or just a dream…

Time was an abstraction, and so a minute or a month might have passed before a single hollow humming sound began to travel through the lightless murk. Am I sinking still?, Elizabeth wondered, but even the faint overhead glow had faded into nothing, and she could no longer tell up from down. The sound materialized slowly — quickly? — into another barely-there whisper, but this one was different from the rest. It came in languid waves, easily slipping back into the distance, then approaching again from what seemed like a different direction. A woman groaned, somewhere, nowhere:

… Michael …

Elizabeth whirled within the darkness, her blind eyes wide and searching. Where are you? WHERE ARE YOU?, she wanted to scream, but only watery gurgles escaped her when she tried. Her heartbeat suddenly thundered between her ears, drowning out the growing plea within the waves. She turned this way and that, the universe sloshing all around her, but the voice was coming from every conceivable place, and yet there was no place at all.

… Michael … MICHAEL

Cold fingers on her cheek sent her reeling, and she woke with a start and halting gasp. Between the pale blue stripes of moonlight coming in from the window, a pair of amber eyes stared unquestioningly back at her, and the room was silent save for a single shaky breath.

Whispers

World of Gears PabloIchiban Chesterfield