A washed up addict starts seeing shapeshifting demons wandering the street in Sandor Kovacs' creepy tale.
He stood up, kicking an empty vodka bottle, and shuffled through the narrow path between dirty clothes and rotten food, leading to the bathroom. The studio flat smelled like a public toilet that hadn't been cleaned for a month.
'Monday,' he said and urinated without a good aim. This made him laugh. Not caring about wiping his body fluid off the tiles, he walked back and dropped himself on the bed.
I need more drugs for tonight, he determined, listening to the cocaine-boosted drumbeats of his heart. He picked up the phone and sent a short, coded message to Ducky, his dealer, to order more powder and some ecstasy.
He decided against washing himself and got dressed. The bedroom mirror showed the picture of an unshaven, shaggy guy, who was only flesh and bone, having nothing common with the handsome actor from whom he had inherited his nickname. Pit wrote and pronounced it with one T. He felt it a bit menacing and less lame like that. Anyway, the similarities between them were long gone.
His baseball cap had a logo of a chicken drumstick on it. The label said: JFC - Jackie's Fried Chicken.
'Let's fry some shit then.'
After opening the front door of the estate, he froze. Something wasn't right on the street. First, he didn't know what. Clouds covered the sky as usual in Manchester, and chilly wind cut into his skin like small flying blades. Bottles and vomit covered the pavement; results of the weekend's party, almost reflecting the interior of his flat.
Pit narrowed his eyes to study the environment. Something was wrong with the people. Some of them had no faces, and some looked like mutated, colour-shifting Neanderthal. One of the things walked towards him. It limped and snarled like a rabid dog. Foam leaked from a hole that should have been its mouth.
Pit screamed. Hearing the noise, it stepped closer. It didn't seem to be bloody or wounded, but its shape was constantly changing, morphing. Black lumps appeared and disappeared on its skin as bubbles do on the top of boiling oil. It said something in a guttural voice, but Pit slammed the entrance door without listening and ran up the stairs, back to his room, where he stumbled across his own putrid rubbish. Trembling, he dragged himself to the window, pulled the curtains away a little and peeked through. The entire street was visible from the third floor, taken over by the abominations.
What the fuck is going on? Am I hallucinating? No. I took only cocaine. That can't cause this.
He checked his hands; they were normal. He checked his pulse; it was fast, but steady.
It's got to be the sleep deprivation. Got to be that. I just have to sleep. That's all. He began a desperate search for some sleeping pills.
'They have to be here,' he said and threw some dirty underwear away.
Pit took three pills and swallowed them dry. Still shaking, he went to bed.
'Take effect, take effect, take effect, take effect...' A few minutes later, they did.
When he woke up, he had some vague memories of imaginary monsters. It was just the drugs and fatigue, he thought.
His phone showed several missed calls and a message on the screen, all coming from Jackie: 'You are fired. I pay you until last Friday.' Pit imagined his boss rolling the R letter as she said the words fired and Friday. Her accent annoyed him so much he could have killed her anytime she spoke. Picturing Jackie filled him with ambivalent emotions. He didn't have to endure her humiliating orders anymore, however, he had to make a living somehow. His inheritance would be gone sooner without a job. At least, he needed to pay the rent from his salary, if not the drugs. Fuck it. I'm not gonna beg myself back. There are hundreds of chicken shops around. One will hire me.
He uncovered himself and found his way towards the kitchen to make a cup of strong black tea. The weird events in the morning haunted him like a dream, but the scene was blurry in his mind.
As he pulled up the blind to let in some sunshine, the mug fell from his left hand, then he landed on his ass, giving out a faint scream. More beasts wandered around in the bright light, like on an ordinary Monday afternoon. Pit shook his head in fear and despair.
What the fuck? What the fuck? I'm losin' it. Sweating and panting, he crawled back from the window. Then, his head met with the corner of his coffee table, making him dizzy and nauseous. He could not get up. The panic attack took him over, and he lay there, feeling the warm blood flowing down the back of his head. He breathed too rapidly, and Pit knew he couldn't get enough oxygen. Oh, fuck. I'm gonna have a heart attack. The room swirled. His heart was beating and beating, faster and faster, until he passed out.
Darkness fell over the city while he lay there motionless. Only the lamps emitted light, as grey clouds covered the moon. This time, he immediately remembered what had happened in the afternoon, so he didn't straighten himself up entirely. The back of his head throbbed, but he was glad he didn't have a heart attack after all. He reached for the wound and felt the clotted blood covering his hair.
Under the shallow streetlights, the beasts seemed more abnormal. They walked on their hind legs. Their mutilated bodies quivered and changed to uncertain shapes.
They must be human. They must be possessed by something. Demons maybe... Internet. Yeah, Internet. Of course. He saw his laptop and reached for it, still crouching under the window in the dark corner.
There was no sign of zombie apocalypse, alien invasion, possession of hellish demons, or anything to explain the situation. But what is it then? I haven't taken any psychedelic drugs recently - not counting some weed, but that's not even a proper drug.
He went to the bathroom to wash his bloody head. What am I gonna do? Go to the hospital? No.
He had no one to call; no friends, relatives or colleagues, and he could have killed for a line of speed or cocaine, just to strengthen up his logic, to give some inspiration. Rita would know what to do. She always knew.
He grabbed his phone and texted his dealer that he wouldn't be able to pick up the package tonight. He would pay extra if one of his men could drop it into his post box instead. There was enough cash in the studio.
He sat next to the window all night, hoping he would spot Ducky or one of his men downstairs. Eventually, Ducky replied that he didn't do a special service for anyone.
Like hatching cuckoo birds, madness, desperation and craving pushed out all the normal thoughts in his brain. Still, there was no rational reason for him to go outside.
'Yourr drugggg, Pittt,' said one of the three creatures standing in the doorway. Pit recognised Ducky's employee. It hissed, then tore up an enormous bag and shook it, spreading the white powder everywhere, chuckling and snorting through the numerous holes covering its head. The other two licked the spilt cocaine from the floor with their swollen bloody tongues. Pit retched from the sight.
'Get out!' he shouted between two spasms of his stomach. They began to crawl on all fours, but just before they reached him, he jerked awake, sweating and feeling cold.
'Oh, shit,' he said and wiped his forehead.
Pit double-checked the lock again, as he couldn't differentiate between dream, hallucination and reality anymore. He dwelled in an endless, devouring nightmare, asleep or awake.
As the days passed, he continued to watch the street through the window. It was now almost a week since he had first discovered them.
The beasts walked everywhere in the neighbourhood. They were not aggressive, though, and they didn't do anything harmful to each other as they had done in his nightmares. In fact, they looked civilised. Sometimes, he also discovered numerous shining spots at the end of the street. Those creatures seemed to be different. Light followed them, or maybe they were luminous themselves. He couldn't decide from this far.
Pit watched, dreamed, then watched some more, and tolerated, until inconvenience turned into suffering, until hunger turned into starvation, and until the withdrawals were so intense he felt like dying in every minute. The idea of going out began to plant itself in his subconscious, combined with the full-grown urge of survival. He needed food, and most importantly, drugs. Alcohol at least.
Half an hour later, he stood in front of the mirror, studying himself for any sign of disease or mutation. He found nothing. He put on trousers, a jumper, a hat, a scarf, gloves, and a long coat; all of them black. Covering himself everywhere made him feel safe. For more insurance, he also placed a big knife into the inner pocket of the coat and decided that he would keep his right hand on it all along, so that he could pull it out immediately in a case of emergency.
Pit left the flat and walked down the stairs quietly. The corridors were abandoned, except for a little cat sitting in one of the corners on the ground floor. Nothing seemed to be wrong with the animal, he realised.
He grabbed the brass knob of the front door and stood there for a while, hesitating, panting, his heart pounding fast in his chest.
When he stepped out finally, no-one paid attention to him. Pit decided to follow a few of the creatures. Opposite of his expectation, they didn't stink at all. In fact, most of them smelled good, like they wore perfume or after shave. He heard them talking as well, their voices deep and raspy. If this wasn't proof, examining their reactions to life and the environment made him sure they were humans. The streets, the cars, the buses, the pets at their sides, everything looked like a week ago, except that somehow everyone had turned into a demonic abomination, and only Pit could see it. And although it affected every person, the deformity occurred to a variety of degrees. A few had only small differences from their normal life appearance: overly large limbs, or bright blue skin, or a faceless head. The rest were almost unrecognisable as a human being, and there were the bright ones.
Emboldened, Pit removed the extra clothing. He admired the freshness of the air for a moment and walked farther, targeting a grocery store. He put some food into his basket, mainly cans, and a bottle of the cheapest whisky.
'Hi, how are you?' asked a deep, grunting voice behind the till. The beast's face moved. She had a distorted but recognisable female body. Grey, oily skin and hair covered her.
'Not too bad. You?'
Pit stared into her black eyes that popped up at the top of her head, then sank back into the twisting mass of shapes, to be replaced by a hundred pimples. He became nauseous.
'Are you okay?' asked the cashier.
'Yeah,' he answered and paid quickly.
The fresh air helped to keep down the emptiness in his stomach. He had food and alcohol; he only needed to go to the pharmacy now, to get some strong painkillers. He always had some fake medical receipts for drugless times.
After his little trip to the pharmacy, he walked towards his flat, then he saw something shiny at the corner of the block. It looked similar to those he had observed through the window but more luminous, covering everything in white like a small sun. The source was a girl. She gave something to one of the beasts sitting on the pavement, a homeless probably. She didn't have any demonic sign on her, and she wore the light like a silk dress. An angel. Yes, she must be an angel, and the rest of the monsters are demons. But why would an angel help a demon?
As the girl stepped away, the demon's shape started to change, becoming more human, and its eyes began to shine too. Pit wondered for a moment if he should talk to her, but sadness flooded him, unexpectedly. The way she walked reminded him of Rita. Pit took a shy step towards her, but instead of taking another one, he turned and went home. There was nothing in this world that couldn't be fixed with the good old painkiller-whisky combination.
Later in his room, smoke filled the air from the dozens of cigarettes Pit had smoked. He felt good. He didn't have withdrawal symptoms anymore, he had a full stomach, and he had managed to arrange some more substances for tomorrow.
He made up different theories about the world; how the demons invaded it and how the angels would come down to save humanity from the apocalypse. Or maybe it was God's twentieth-century version of the deluge. Maybe he was the new Noah. It made him laugh as he imagined himself building an ark in the middle of Walton Park and calling for all the animals.
The shining girl popped into his mind. If they were angels Rita had to be there somewhere with them. She had been very kind, never hurt anybody in her entire life, so she must have gone to heaven. She hurt only Pit when she had passed away, and now he realised that he wasn't over her death. It wasn't all right like he had told himself so many times. Pit started to sob as grief and remorse slowly replaced the mesmerising feeling of not having withdrawals.
Rita had left a remarkable amount of money to Pit. She told him on her deathbed to use it wisely, and that she wanted him to live his life happily. And now what am I doing? The absolute opposite: destroying myself.
He took another pill and sipped from the whisky. I don't deserve to live. I should be one of those demons.
He cried for the help he feared to ask from real people. They would take the drugs away, his only remedy against the pain inside. He just wanted to stop seeing these things; he just wanted his life back, to make chicken burgers for the poor, fat bastards who couldn't afford KFC.
'More pills,' he said, and took a handful of them, then finished all the whisky. He fell asleep in the hope that he would never face this cruel world again.
Pit woke up with a terrible headache, lying in a pool of vomit. He didn't remember his suicidal intentions last night, as he had been already too high when those dark thoughts had infiltrated his mind, nor did he remember throwing up, which saved his life. He simply concluded that he drank too much and that was why he had vomited.
The clock showed almost eight o'clock in the evening. I must have slept all day.
'Shit... Ducky... My stuff,' he said, standing up from the sofa and pulling up his trousers. Cutting through his disgusting living space, he swung the door open and ran down the stairs. Nothing changed outside, however, this didn't surprise him anymore. Demon people strolled everywhere, enlightened by a shining man or woman occasionally.
Pit had to be at the usual place exactly at eight. Ducky didn't like to leave his girls alone. He was a pimp, dealer, gangster, a real person of the underworld, but trustworthy, and he always delivered excellent stuff.
Pit had to use up all his stamina to make it. He arrived a minute after eight.
'Oi, Ducky,' Pit barked. Ducky had no popping bubbles on him. He had rotting black skin instead, dark as a black hole, covered by scabs and cuts. His human shape didn't change, but his presence was malevolent, like Satan himself stood there, oozing evilness, making your legs shake in fear.
'You're late, mothafucka,' Ducky said in a deep, monotone voice.
'Come on, man, it was just one minute,' Pit said, still panting.
'You're lucky that it never happened before.'
At the moment Pit touched Ducky's palm to take the little bag, he somehow peered into the man and saw his true wickedness. Ducky treated his girls as slaves, beating and humiliating them. He killed several times in the past, without any kind of remorse. His heart was black and cold like it was filled with the darkest tar in the world. It didn't even seem to be beating.
A mixture of fear and anger filled Pit. He wanted to punish this terrible person. He wanted to take revenge for those poor people who had fallen victim of Ducky. Don't be a fool. You're no hero, just a drug addict. He tried to hide his feelings, nodded, then left the alley. I need to find another dealer.
The moon tried to shine through the descending mist as he walked. He should have felt happy. After all, he carried a big bag of cocaine in his pocket. But the recent events didn't let his mind rest.
At the corner where prostitutes usually offered their services, he heard something. It sounded like a scream, though he wasn't sure. However, a few moments later he heard it again, and this time he was certain. It came from a woman. He wished to ignore it so badly, to run, to leave the place and not get into trouble.
It was too late. His legs led him towards the corner where the sound had come from, and the adrenaline began to flow free in his body, preparing him for the worst. Pit peeked from behind a parked car. A demon man was beating a young-looking demon woman, who had to be a prostitute, given she wore almost nothing.
If the guy was a pimp, Pit could get stabbed, or if he was working for Ducky, he could get shot. It didn't matter because the woman screamed again: 'Help, somebody help me!'
He couldn't just leave her there, so he opened the bag of cocaine and sniffed up a huge amount. It took effect immediately, raising his heartbeat, pumping a lot of blood into his brain, and now he was running towards the man in the alley without thinking, letting his instincts take over completely. The man noticed him, stopped kicking the woman on the ground and began to fumble in his pocket. Pit reached him before he could pull out anything and hit him in the face with such power the man flew away. The pain, starting from his knuckles, escalated up against his whole arm. Regardless, he kicked the guy's stomach, making sure he wouldn't get up soon.
Pit panted like a bull, still under the influence of the substance. The girl lay on the ground, crawling backwards. Pit took a deep breath and leant down. 'Are you okay?' he asked. His voice sounded raspy and threatening.
'Yes,' she answered, and she looked up to see her saviour. She was shaking. Black lumps covered her arms and legs, and the skin on her hairless head twisted and moved. As she was calming down slowly, the shape-shifting of her face stopped, a small flame igniting her eyes. Pit helped her up. She burst out into tears and jumped into his arms.
'Thank you so much,' she sobbed.
'Shhh,' he said, stroking her back. 'It's all right now.'
Pit felt the warmth spreading through her body. The girl's skin started to change. It got brighter, softer somehow, and the lumps disappeared. Small shining spots appeared everywhere on her, spreading. As the process continued, Pit saw her nose, eyes, ears, hair, and her original face coming back. The girl cried. Gratitude flowed down on her cheeks in the form of teardrops. She now looked like a human shaped diamond, coated in sunlight, brightening the whole alley with colours beyond imagination. Rays of a rainbow danced everywhere, like djinns freed from their thousand-year-long imprisonment. She was more beautiful than anything he had seen in his life, and Pit understood, once and for all.
Emotions, he thought, then watched the gratitude, love, the will to live, and all the positive feelings manifesting on her. It felt like watching the birth of an angel. He caused this with one good deed, and it made him happier than any drugs.
'I'll catch a cab, and we'll go to the hospital,' Pit said.
'No,' she snapped, shivering. He took off his jumper and gave it to the girl.
'Why? You're injured.'
'We just can't, okay?'
'Okay. Got anyone to call? Somebody who can take care of you?'
'No,' she said.
'All right, we can't go to mine, but I don't wanna leave you alone.'
'That's fine. You did enough already. If my pimp wakes up...'
As Pit stared at the most incredible creature on this planet, he experienced something new, something he couldn't explain yet.
'I'm gonna stay with you, and that's it,' he said. 'So, where do you live?' He took out his phone to order a cab, waiting for her answer. He realised that his hand was throbbing, but he didn't care much. She told him the address and thanked him again.
'What's your name?' she asked after he had finished the call.
'Pit. And yours?'
'Mira,' she said and blushed a little. They didn't say anything else until the car arrived.
Mira's flat was similar to his in size, but not in cleanliness. Her belongings were organised in a neat order, and Pit wouldn't have been able to find a single piece of dust, even if he wanted to.
The glowing began to faint on Mira, and the physical pain showed up as black lumps on her skin again. Pit watched her sitting on the bed. She was the first woman he was attracted to since Rita. But as the memory of his passed away girlfriend crossed his mind, he started to feel bad about it. Pit decided to wash his hand in cold water, instead of saying anything.
After he had done so, he looked at himself in the mirror. He let out a small scream, which didn't leave the walls of the bathroom. He hoped it didn't, at least. The mirror reflected an abomination with dark grey, bubbling skin; a faceless, disgusting creature in deep and utter sadness. He touched his chest and tried to process the truth. He didn't understand how he could not see this earlier.
Pit knew what he had to do. He fumbled out the bag of cocaine from his pocket, then instead of sniffing some up, he poured all of it into the toilet. He looked into the mirror again, trying to find his eyes in the dark holes on his head and said the words out loud: 'Loneliness, grief, hate, depression, carelessness, addiction, self-destruction.'
Change was coming. The thought started to grow roots in his head. He wanted the change; he wanted to change himself, and not just himself but the world as well. He had been given a gift and not a curse.
'This is a new beginning.'