Beautifully horrific. The only words that would grace Ellen’s broken mind as the world caressed her behind its mask of mockery were those of such graceful contradiction. An elegant oxymoron that spoke so much with so little.
Ellen knew of art; she had blessed the world with masterpieces ranging to the grandeur of creation to the minuscule life of a lone organism. Her brush staining the canvas with a surfeit abundance of tints and tones inspired all that watched her expertise show. The rising sun over the green hills of her home; the endless expanse of twinkling dynamos and streaks of light that cut through the sky; or the falling tears of those of a higher plane, weeping with the maiden over her past transgressions, mistakes and regrets. This was Ellen’s stronghold, her fortress of unimpeachable solitude. And she was happy.
But Ellen also knew of horror. She was an apprentice in forensic anthropology. Death was natural to her; it was second nature. Images of scattered bones stained with the victim's blood; a massacre brought upon an entire building by a gunman that was ill. The will of man was utterly petrifying. To see the innards of yet another lost soul in the night strewn across the streets with a lone bonfire burning in the distance. This was the result of the want of humanity. And her heart was desolate.
Yet never before had Ellen been witness to a sight so awe-inspiring, and yet so maddeningly grotesque. So rare was a sight that seduced the shamus with its beauty, and at the same time made her bones rattle with a rare sensation of fear.
Displayed before Ellen was the ever wandering fields laden with ice and snow, the substance drifting down from above, the flakes stained crimson before coming to rest on the earth, it’s dusk red tint seeping into the dirt and vanishing from view. The flakes did not fall in a torrent; the winds did not shriek like the blizzard Ellen yearned for. No. They merely fell from the heavens, sometimes in clusters, or sparingly whenever the painter above decided not to risk staining the pristine floor below him.
Unsettling was the clear view before Ellen. Even with it’s modest limbo distracting the common eye, dazzling the artist within with the twinkling of the frozen blood, the velvet veil of sanguine ice could do nothing to divert Ellen’s attention from stagnate waters before her.
Strewn throughout the blanketed fields, circles of silhouettes laid scattered, all the congregations huddled around dim lights in the distance. The figures varied in height. Even those whose stature diminished in the distance; Ellen could distinguish those that were larger than those that were around it. Though what puzzled Ellen was that the figures, no matter which encampment she surveyed, help up only one arm to the glowing light before them.
Ellen held out an arm, her lips lowering as her breath seeped from her throat and appeared as mist in the air. She quickly caught herself, bringing her arm back to her side and pursing her lips, only for her jaw to unhinge almost instantly. Ellen inwardly gasped, exhaling a thin layer of fog in her realization. This wasn’t like her. She didn’t second guess her actions. She didn’t second guess anything. She was always so sure of everything she did!
This was far from being the status quo that Ellen had become attuned to. She was in unknown territory; uncharted waters; Switzerland; no-man’s-land. She was unsure of everything. The huddled silhouettes didn’t even shiver; the glow in the center of the groups could be anything. And if she called out to even one of them, what would be his - her - its response? Would it disregard her summons? Or would it turn its head and reveal whatever it’s occupied arm was clutching? What if worse came to worse and... and it...
Ellen clutched her skull, the skin around her eye sockets tightening to concrete. Damn it all! Nothing made sense! Nothing was for sure! What if she decided accost one of these... things? What if she hailed them? What if she didn’t?! Goddamnit, I can’t take it anymore!
Ice and snow cracked under the footsteps of a silhouette in the distance, the figure’s feet dragging against the frozen floor of the landscape. Barely as tall as a parking meter the entity stood, and deathly thin was its body from what Ellen could ascertain. It continued in short footsteps, the heel of one nearly touching the other as it made its way across the field towards another light in the distance. Instead of a great mass similar to its sister circles, a mere four others were huddled around the soft glow of a light growing dimmer.
Ellen urged herself to move forward. If she was going to determine anything as fact, fiction or out-right bullshit, she was going to do it now. But as she began to ponder on what she would say in response to the diminutive, almost childish figure, her body had other ideas.
Stay, her body whispered. Go no further. There is no point in trying.
Ellen at this point had had enough. She was losing her last drops of sanity of the simple fact of being ignorant, and damn it, she was going to get her facts if it killed her! Finally moving her foot from its statued position, Ellen began to walk to the northwest of the field, past the larger herds of shadows into a blank canvas of scattered congregations.
As Ellen neared her destination, the falling snow grew thicker, in both size and tone. The shards of frozen liquid increased in their dimensions, no longer even holding the shape of the icy form. Almost as if they were now liquid, slowed only the absence of time itself in this realm.
Great gales, whips of ice and scythes of numbing cold lashed out at the woman as she continued to move forward. Holding an arm up she shielded her face from the onslaught of intangible attacks, looking to the left and right to notice those around the still-visible light unaffected, untouched by Mother Nature’s arsenal.
After nearly five minutes of forcing herself through the storm, Ellen, finger numb and face a sanguine shade, was now a mere three feet from her individual. The blood in her veins began to race through her core; her heart demanded itself to pump faster in ecstasy and anticipation. This was it! Answers, knowledge, truth. Finally, it was in Ellen’s grasp. All she had to do was touch the figure.
Closing the final gaps between her and the encampment, Ellen reached out her hand, pale with cold...
And she froze. Ellen’s hand halted in its action, no longer reaching towards the shoulder of the figure she was desperate to inquire. It didn’t matter if she knew what these people were or why she was here anymore. She didn’t care. Ellen’s eyes blinked in rapid succession, flashing in the red glimmer of the snowflakes, but still the image remained the same. Nothing about truth mattered anymore at this point. All Ellen wanted to do now was forget.
Before her, four figures sat around a fire, watching it intently as it sparks danced in the wind and the low-lit flames flickered in the blizzard. Should Ellen have told anyone that a group of five was kneeling before a sputtering fire that seemed to be on the edge of death in a snowstorm, they would’ve thought her to be crazy for being frightened by such a normal reaction!
But then again, that’s only half the story.
Each creature - Ellen didn’t know what to call them anymore. They certainly weren’t human, and they were far from being beasts - that sat around the flame clutched there torso; a hole in the abdomen that differed for each figure. But the four each clutched a hole where a vital organ should’ve been; the heart, the liver, the stomach, lungs, and even the neck were in the grasp of eerie black hands, red dripping, oozing from the wounds.
And yet the substance did not move. Blood from the tear, hole or whatever injury afflicted the victim leaked the liquid, but frozen it stayed; unmoving but still staining the shadowed skin of the being to which it belonged.
Ellen’s eye dilated, trembling at the vision as her hand slowly eased itself back to her side. That was it. There was no point in trying to get anything out of these people. Tearing her eyes from the scene before, Ellen turned back from whence she came, tripping over herself in her hastened sprint.
The bodies that knelt around the fire instantly rose to their feet, though did not turn to face Ellen. They simply stood in the howling blizzard, not even staring at each other or into the growing distance of the storm.
Ellen lay on the ground, her breathing heavy as her lungs expanded and shrank at an alarming rate. Her heart pounded in her chest, the beating resounding in her skull as she scrambled to her feet. Kicking snow into the air, Ellen rushed back to where the greater masses knelt, hoping she would find her exit there.
Only her horrors were gracious enough to greet her at the genesis of her journey.
Stopping dead in her tracks, nearly tripping over herself again as she slid through the slush, Ellen came face to face with the mass of an unholy congregation. Staring at her was an army, a swarm, and impenetrable wall of black beings, their eyes shining paler than the snow beneath their feet. One would assume that, even in this unexplainable madness, there would be a sliver, at least a fraction of sense to be made! But no.
There was no sense, no logic, no understanding. The figures held no variation in their ranks, their only prominence being their always changing stature. But even that held no rhyme or reason. Their arms hung at their sides, the lacerations, cavities and sections of razed flesh leaking their unmoving contents.
In their arms were clutched many an item. Items that Ellen was all too fond of seeing in her line of work. Steel slaps, blackened handles, blunt heads and glove-gripped hilts. How many of these accursed objects had she faced?! Her eyes darted between the figures dancing in the crowds, though their bodies remained motionless in their ranks.
Ellen’s breath was shallow and thin. Her pulse quickened with every passing second. What was this, she asked herself again and again. Her mind sparked in a panic, uncontrolled, desperately searching for a rational answer. Something tangible. Something that she could understand. But nothing! Nothing but the whimpers of a girl that... damn it, get a hold of yourself!
In a last ditch effort to escape - if she couldn’t find an exit she could find peace in death - Ellen whipped her body around, only to be met with the figure she had accosted before. Looking down, she noticed a lone graze in its neck, the same sanguine substance pouring from the opening, and a dagger in its hand.
“Why?” it asked, its voice shrill with youth.
What? Ellen wanted to ask. Her mouth trembled, making incoherent shapes with its form but nothing coming from her throat. Only the smacking between the skin of her lips.
“Why did you leave me?” the figure pleaded. “Why, Ellen?”
Ellen screamed, but cut herself short while her mouth was clamped by her hands. It, no, he knew her name. This... thing knew her! But, that was’t possible! She’d never met this thing! She’d never met any of them!
And yet, the rest of the choir began to ask the very same questions, singing their song of insanity and despair. Their bodies swayed in movement, growing larger as their voices echoed louder into the air. Ellen’s body jerked and spun, her gaze striking each new battalion of figures as they continued to converge on her person. Turning one more time, Ellen saw the impish silhouette once more, and once more it asked “Why did you leave me?”
And his blade thrust itself forward.
A shriek of terror echoed off the pristine walls of her apartment bedroom, a hand clutching her gut as Ellen shot up from her sheets. Her breathing remained rapid and thing, her eyes still shaking from the aftermath of the affair. Nearly a minute passed as she began to compose herself, recalling the all the events that she could remember from the past two days. She had gone to her lab to study a new corpse the police had found, leaving the building six hours later for to relax at a nearby cafe the day before. After which she made her way back her and took some Ambien to calm her nerves from their frenzied state.
Her lungs took in a deep breath of finality, exhaling seconds after the tempo in her lungs finally began to slow. Looking around the room, wiping away a stray strand of her mahogany locks, Ellen noticed that nothing had changed. The walls were still their plain white color of paint, her television was still on the Channel 7 News, the same as it had been when she had fallen asleep, and her curtains were still closed, though they still leaked light from the cracks underneath.
The woman breathed a sigh of relief, subsequently groaning as she lifted herself onto her feet. Leaving her house shoes by her bedside - far too tired to think about slipping them on - Ellen exited her bedroom while her hand wandered, smacking against the wall as it searched for the hallway light switch. After many failed attempts - one of which knocking over a coat rack - Ellen’s palm struck the switch and set the hallway alight.
Good, Ellen thought. Nothing in the hall had changed either. The coatrack, while laying down on the floor, was still in its proper place, the photo frames on the wall were all where she had hung them, and the kitchen was still at the very end of the corridor. With this in mind, Ellen began to shuffle across the wooden floors of her apartment, her mind and stomach hungering for the same thing.
Reaching the kitchen, Ellen wandered to the where the dish washer was installed - next to the sink and to to the right of the pantry - before reaching down to grasp a handle on a cooler placed beside it. Opening the cupboard, Ellen’s hand wandered to back, rising over the bottom shelf and snaking its way past other bottles that were merely given apathetic stares.
Ellen’s hand took hold of the bottleneck flask, lifting it from its placing on the grating and dragging it from the cooler and closing the door behind it. Rising back to her feet, Ellen laid the bottle on the counter, opening a drawer and slinging a corkscrew onto the marble while her free hand wandered to the cupboards above her. The wooden door eased open, Ellen’s hand taking hold of a glass of sizable width and dragging it to the counter.
Laying the glass next to the bottle, Ellen took the corkscrew and punctured the peg that blocked the sweet nectar she craved. With a resounding pop, the cork moved from the opening, Ellen laying the object to the side before pouring herself a glass of violet-red liquid.
Once the glass was filled, Ellen took the cork from the steel prong, plugging the entrance of the bottle once more before raising the glass to her face. Her eyes sparkled in the liquid, though Ellen eyed it only with question. Ellen let out a heavy sigh.
Maybe today, I can finally help someone. Ellen thought with a despairing hope in her conscious. The glass tilted forward, spilling its contents into Ellen’s maw. Maybe today, I can finally forget.