A Little Knowledge (A Chuck Wendig Challenge)

Posted: March 9, 2017 in Fiction, horror, urban fantasy
Tags: , , , ,

This week’s challenge was either:

  1. The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
  2. Doing a good thing sometimes means being evil.

I went with a bit of both, really. Also, sees me going back to the Nightshades well.

Crowe knocked on the apartment door, paint flecks dropping to the ground with each tap. He adjusted his glasses over his eyes and ran a hand back through his hair.

“What if there’s nobody home?” Fury asked. He looked around the hallway, nose wrinkled in distaste at the mold creeping along the walls, the way his shoes stuck to the linoleum floor.

“Then we’ll go get drunk.”

The door cracked open, a disheveled man looking peering out at Crowe with bloodshot eyes. “Are you Crowe?”

Crowe tried a smile, but it felt like putting on a mask. “Yeah, you Jim?”

“Who’s he?” Jim asked, pointing a finger out the door to Fury and eying his tailored three piece suit and slicked back hair in contrast to the beat up gray raincoat and messy ponytail Crowe sported.

“My assistant. Are you going to let us in? I can’t do fuck all standing out here.”

“Give me a minute.” The door closed, and Crowe and Fury could hear a chain lock sliding back. Jim opened the door and hurried them into the apartment. The smell alone made Crowe gag, and he forced himself to breathe through his mouth. Empty fast food containers covered most of the available surfaces, and more of the black mold blooms from the hallway were evident here. Clothes lay in heaps, random articles strewn about with no set plan or purpose. Several piles of books, dog eared and bookmarked, were stacked four or five high on the floor, on the furniture, and on counters.

“Where is she?” Crowe asked.

“She’s in there,” Jim said, pointing to a closed door.

Crowe walked over, feeling the temperature in the room increase as he approached the door. He tapped on the door.

“Willa?” He pressed his forehead to the door, felt the heat emanating off of it. He turned to look back at Jim, saw him scratching at his arm. He strode over to Jim, grabbed him by the upper arm and forced it up, covering his mouth as spores flaked off the bloom of black mold covering his arm.

“How long?” he shouted at Jim, shaking him.

“Easy, Crowe,” Fury said, pushing Crowe back away from the man. “Look at him. Really look at him.”

Crowe paused, steadying his breathing. He looked at Jim again, saw the way his limbs were little more than sticks poking out of an emaciated frame. Jim’s cheeks were hollow, and dark rings circled his eyes. Crowe ran a hand through his hair, pulled the band out keeping it in check. Turning his back on Jim, he dug in the pockets of his coat before producing a lump of chalk and a battered black notebook.

He flipped open the notebook, sketched designs on the wall around the door and on the door itself. Fury peered over his shoulder. “There is an easier way to do this, you know?”

Crowe ground his teeth together, but otherwise ignored Fury. Stepping back, he surveyed his work. “What do you think?”

The right side of Fury’s mouth tilted up into a smile. “Your grammar is sloppy, but it will do the trick. You already know that though. You are afraid to open the door.”

Crowe snorted, placed his hand on the door knob. “Afraid? More like apprehensive.”

He turned the handle and pushed the door open. Waves of heat washed over him, like opening the blast door of a furnace. Black spores billowed out, and Crowe saw where bits of the wooden frame flaked away, eaten away by the mold.

He stepped into the cramped room, little more than a closet. The black mold covered everything, blocking out the light the one small window might have brought.  A figure lay on the bed, naked and skeletal, and he had a hard time telling the sex. The stench of rot and decay assaulted his senses.

“Willa?” Crowe called out, finding his voice catching in his throat. “It’s me, Crowe.”

The figure on the bed crooked one finger, beckoned Crowe closer.  He stepped over to the bed, leaned down.

“Betrayer.” The word hung in the air, born by the black spores spilling from the ruin of Willa’s mouth.

Crowe frowned, shook his head. He stood up, looked around the room, his eyes lighting on a small book bound in brown leather. Picking it up, he turned back to the bed. “I thought I told you to be careful with this.”

The figure shook on the bed, and for a moment Crowe thought Willa was dying. Then he realized it was laughter causing her to shake. “You showed me a few parlor tricks, enough to make me curious but not enough to stop me.”

“You have the right to make your own choice in that matter,” Crowe replied.

Willa reached out for him, but Crowe leaned back, avoiding her touch. “I thought it would be so simple.” She coughed again. “What will happen to Jim?”

Crowe shook his head. “I’m sorry, Willa. If I’d known sooner…” His voice trailed off as he drew an ornate silver knife from the inside of his coat. Willa closed her eyes. “I never meant for any of this to happen. I wanted to know. I wanted to touch the other side.”

Crowe frowned. “Yeah, but I warned you, didn’t I? Sometimes the other side touches you back, doesn’t it?”

“Crowe, I-”

Whatever, she was to say next, Crowe never knew. He plunged the knife down into her chest. There was a blinding flash of green light, and the smell of ozone and burnt hair filled the room. Crowe blinked and looked around. The black mold, all of it, was gone. On the bed, a woman lay, the knife sticking out of her sternum.

“Crowe?”

Crowe took a deep breath and looked around.  The black mold was gone, vanished as if it had never existed in the first place.

“Jim’s dead, Crowe.”

“Yeah, I know. He was dead before we entered the apartment, dead the moment Willa tore open a hole from here to wherever that black shit was coming from. It wasn’t mold, but that’s what it looked like to us. And with the hole gone, whatever was feeding it, well it’s gone too.”

He stared down at the knife for a long while, Fury leaning against the door frame and watching him. Finally, he pulled it free, wiped it on the bed sheet. “Let’s get out of here before someone starts asking questions.”

Fury nodded. “Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.”

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