A/N: Please note that this story contains many symbols and metaphors. If something doesn't appear to make sense it may be referenced later or be placed to engage the reader's mind.
"To ignore fate is to deal with the devil."
Chapter 1 - Sunday Morning
Her eyes flickered in the ash-ridden smoke. The hot air licked them like the flames of hell, but still she wouldn't rub or close them. Julie crouched in the corner of her bedroom, the only room which was yet to be engulfed by the house fire. In the red light which rode the wispy embers through the open doorway, she sat curled up, back against the wall. The cold fear inside of her chilled her against the heat, goose bumps tingling all over her. This fear was not fuelled by the smell of burning carpet, but something much more sinister creeping through the smog.
A crackling thud shook the room, the tearing of wood following it. She could barely make out a beam from the ceiling falling into the flames at the end of the hallway. Julie kept her elbows tucked in behind her legs, close to her body. Her heart was audible over the ambience, thudding loudly and quickly, accented by heavy footsteps crushing their way closer to the bedroom door. Another sound like a cannon fired in the distance, the sound of glass splintering into tiny shards was swallowed by the cackling flame. Julie wanted to cover her eyes, her muscles wouldn't respond, shaking in the cold sweat. All she could manage was to continue her absent gaze out the doorway, pulling herself into a tighter ball; a familiar tickle ran down from the corner of her eye. Her eyes widened a little, more stinging heat pressing on them.
Thunderous footsteps grew louder and cast a vague shadow in the smoke. A shape eclipsed the flames and stood outside the doorway. The now hard outline of the creature only made its form more ambiguous. Like a gyroscope of torn flesh and tattered souls, rotten bodies circled each other, sliding in and out of the mass which was twisted into a barely humanoid shape.
Julie remained seated, in the shadow of the combined carcasses. The smell couldn't quite penetrate the air, but with each step closer, she felt its weight in the room. The crackling which echoed throughout the house was silenced by the muffled sounds of the bodies breathing in unison. Deeply and slowly it drew in the air, not two feet from Julie's petrified body. A final gesture of despair, she pressed her hands to her face, an attempt at shielding herself. Her eyes watered in the intense heat, now in the darkness too. All thought eluded her, gobbled up by the beast and his inferno, all she could do was press her eyes together tighter and tighter, holding on to existence. Julie tried to open her eyes.
The air was now cool, her face behind her hands. She could feel the sweat between the lines on her palm and various other lines of bed sheets. She moved her hands from her face, greeted by the glow of a clock radio. 11:47am it read, Julie anxious to get the sheets off her sweaty body. She sat up with her right palm behind her, supporting her weight.
"Sunday...," she thought aloud as she wiped a tear from her cheek. "...some dream," she added. Taking a moment to adjust to the dimly lit room, she was unwilling to get out of bed. A typhoon of alcohol and dancing was all she could recall of the previous night, her ears still feeling the regular bounce of the bass-heavy party mix. She thought about going back to sleep in the early winter morning before she felt the low grumbling of hunger. Her mind wandered to the thought of a grease laden breakfast, hash browns, eggs, bacon. Slowly, she pushed the remaining blanket off her legs and climbed out of bed.
Passing the bedroom mirror, she lingered a moment. Her short bleach blonde hair was a scruffy mess, but it didn't bother her. Underwear revealed a lot more than her clothes, showing off her stunning collection of tattoos. The oldest and her favorite, Frankenstein's Monster with a halo, on her right shin smiled back at her. She felt her lips bend into a smile, in spite of the familiar weight of booze collected in her stomach. Her teeth felt horrible, but she had to run down to the corner store for more tooth paste before she could brush them.
Her clothes were all over the floor. Often she'd empty washing baskets onto her bed, and then throw the clothes on the floor when she wanted to sleep. This didn't bother her, as Julie always remembered which clothes were clean. She picked up a bright blue tank top and a short brown skirt. Slipping them on over her underwear, she began to feel better.
The apartment which she shared was of a decent size. Some of the fixtures were out of date, such as an orange glass wall and aging carpet, but she was grateful for its position and affordability. Julie didn't know anyone else who could work a three day week and afford to go partying all weekend. Taking a seat awkwardly on the cold tiles near the front door, she found two matching shoes, a pair of pointy brown boots and slipped them on her feet. Before she could get them on and sneak out her room mate caught her.
"Where are you going so early? I'm surprised you can walk after last night." Matt's voice had a cocky tone to it, but she knew he was a pushover. He shared the apartment with her, and as simple and childish as he was, she appreciated the benefits of living with him. He looked brighter in the morning, his face and short black hair fresh in the cool air.
"I'm off to Cut-Price." She answered, pulling herself up with the aid of the doorknob. "How drunk was I last night? I'm going for the high score," she added cheekily. She'd regularly taunted him for his physique; that of someone who played too much Playstation.
"I'd say a personal best, you were talkin' Braille."
"Good thing you were blind too then." On that note she opened the door, determined to get the last laugh. "I'll be back in about twenty minutes, what do I need again?"
"Some toothpaste." Matt returned after a few seconds thought. And with that Julie turned away and headed down the staircase. It was an old staircase, covered in dark green carpet. It smelt as most apartment building stairwells did, a good enough reason for her to hurry herself out the front door and onto the sidewalk.
It really was a lazy Sunday. The street was vacant except for a few parked cars and a light breeze. The sun still had warmth in the early October, but things started to look a little frostier than normal. Everything had an unpleasantly bright glow, the type that penetrated the eyeball and burned. The store was only a short walk away, not even ten minutes, so Julie took the time to fathom her newest tattoo. On the palm of her right hand was a simple symbol; a square with lines running from corner to corner. It reminded her of a pyramid viewed from above, but the circumstances under which she got it continue to escape her memory. Fresher than the slight wind which blew softly over her facial features, it had only just formed the thin scab over the surface. She kept one eye ahead of her as she walked briskly down the path, only now regretting not checking her lips for the bright pink lipstick she'd worn the night before.
The neighborhood was nice; a lot of the small townhouses which lined the streets had little picket fences and gardens. Everyone remained inside this time of the week, far from the bustling center of the city. She neared the corner store, turning to walk up the single cement step. The cool of the shade pressed on her skin, dotting her skin with goose bumps.
Cut-Price had been on that corner forever. It was owned by a family who'd migrated from Thailand, the parents didn't speak a word of English and so the store was run by their son. It was no more than a small supermarket, but this meant that there was less for Julie to buy impulsively, as she tended to do. The familiar grey interior had only three, chest height aisles, but somehow had everything she needed. Her arms held across her chest for warmth, she approached the chipped counter.
The young man who sat behind it couldn't have been older than eighteen. He faced away watching a television, some news program about virtual reality for cancer patients. Fully engrossed in the show, Julie saw her opportunity. She put her hands on the counter quietly, leaning over it. The boy's short dark hair was well trained and she lowered herself to just behind his ear. Her chin could have brushed his shoulder; she dared not take too long...
"Excuse me, do you sell toothpaste." She asked loudly and clearly. The boy nearly jumped out of his swivel chair. He spun around to face Julie, who had to pull back quickly to attempt looking innocent. The clerk looked back at her still shaken. His eyes were wide and his mouth fell open just a little bit.
"O-over there." He stuttered, pointing to one of the few aisles. Julie tried not to show her amusement, instead replying with a simple 'thanks.'
She headed off in the direction of his shaking finger. Matt had told her that in some countries only extremely rich people or criminals had tattoos, so it was no surprise to Julie that he didn't yell at her for such a prank. It wouldn't have taken much searching to find the toothpaste, for some reason they had a rather large section devoted to it. She spent no time perusing the selection, just taking the box which she had always done; Aquafresh Bubblemint. Something slid over the end of her nail as she lifted the crude cardboard packaging. Julie dropped the box onto the linoleum tiles at the sight of it.
A syringe full of a dark yellow substance sat directly behind the stack. The sound of the cardboard hitting the ground masked her muffled gasp. She held her hand out like it was infected with the thick pus that was packed in the needle. Hurriedly her eyes darted over the store for a washroom for her to use. Spying one on the back wall, she marched over to it, her hand still in front of her.
It was dark inside; clearly the boy hadn't turned the lights on yet. Lazy Sunday. As the door behind her closed, she rapidly felt for a light switch, desperately seeking that plastic click. Eventually she found it and with it came the harsh fluorescent lights.
In the center of the room stood a large shapeless growth. Taller than Julie and covered in thick black tar, it pulsated like a giant heart. The dark solution spilled out of every enormous pore and pooled on the bleach white tiles. Julie let out a small squeal before she could cup her hands over her mouth. It made loud squelching sounds, a stomach curdling noise when paired with the low groaning emitted. She backed into the door with one hard step backwards, banging it against the frame loudly. No sooner had the noise reached her ears than she spun around to face it. A crude sign scrawled on scrap cardboard explained the lack of a doorknob, the out of order sign on the wrong side of the door. She stuck her fingers into the recess, tying to pull it open. Julie fumbled anxiously, the squelching bringing the taste of bile to the back of her throat. Mirrors in her peripheral vision grew darker, she could see black lines tracing over everything, scribbling over reality. The bubbling, spitting voice of the tumor-like growth grew louder in the echoing bathroom. Thick black lines spewed down the door, causing Julie to jump, once more cupping her hands to her mouth.
"This can't be happening... Am I dreaming?" She whispered behind her digits. The black pool on the floor now surrounded her, the room a blackened version of itself. A thin tendril of the oily stuff climbed onto her boot, quickly tracing up her leg. It had a cold burn, digging under her skin.
Wind once again ruffled her messy blond hair. It rushed over her legs and down her spine. She felt the sensation of flying. Julie opened her eyes. The ground approached her fast. She wasn't scared; the thick coat of long brown grass welcomed her, cushioning her fall when she collided with it. The texture of the grass masked the hill it lay on. Julie let the momentum of her fall push her down the slope. The blue skies blurred into the grass and back again, the world spinning around her. She pulled her arms up to protect her chest and continued down the hill, gathering speed. Glad to be in such a carefree place, she didn't let thoughts of where she'd previously been enter her mind. Something grey entered her vision, a cloud or a rock perhaps. Laughter jumped out her mouth, though it was rapidly left behind her in the tufts of grass. Itchiness started to tickle her skin, drawing her mind from the pleasure of the moment. She moved her hand just a little to scratch her itchy shoulder, her eyes closed to prevent the same irritation from reaching them. The soft ground continued to batter her body, slowing down just a little bit at a time. She suddenly came to a stop.
It ripped her eyes open, blood droplets lacing her brow just within her vision. A slicing pain ran across her forehead, the large grey rock having the impact of a hammer. It was mostly round and dome shaped, some square patterns made a ring around it. Her fragile head now like a crushed eggshell; she threw her left hand over the stone and pulled herself onto it. It was so warm; it would be too hot any other time. The morning sun beat down onto her itchy back, the blood dripping down her chin and spilling onto the beige grass below. Her head spinning, Julie tried hard to concentrate on the warm stone on her midriff and not on the throbbing growing in her ears. She felt the familiar tickle of sweat beads sliding across the skin on her back one last time before it went away again.
She felt a hole torn first in her stomach then through her back, the pain too much for her to contain. A large blob of red escaped her mouth and spattered the grass. Coldness spread through her stomach, across the skin on her back where the large stone spike had penetrated her spine. Sickness manifested elsewhere, unable to dwell only in her stomach. Delicate nerve endings burnt with suffering decorated by segments of spinal column and painted with fluid of similar origin. Unable to keep her head up any longer, she let her neck relax, cracking her chin on the stone. Her eyes closed, and all she could feel was her tongue shifting in the open air. The taste of blood drained into her throat and the darkness returned.