Local Brew: Part 4
Trevor awoke, plummeting from the bed onto the floor. Before he realized what was happening, his forehead and nose crashed into the unforgiving hardwood. The room spun as he tried to piece everything together.
The land of plenty…remember?
A groan escaped him as he rolled onto his back. He gently rubbed his face and examined his fingers.
No blood, at least you didn’t break your nose.
The thought of blood brought everything back into clarity. Why did you return? Though words uttered within a dream, they still held a terrifying weight over his head. He climbed to his feet and checked his phone for the time. His own reflection stared back, darkened by the unilluminated screen.
“How is it dead already?” He held the power button down, but the screen remained a defiant black. He brushed his back pocket and found the keys bulging against the denim. Just leave. Trevor found that to be enough of a plan. The combination of the town’s odd symbolism and his unsettling dream was enough to wish for the simplicity of empty cornfields once again.
He walked to the door and stuffed his phone back into his pocket, feeling the cold metal of his wedding band still nestled away. Guilt threatened to overwhelm him. Stop, now’s not the time. He slipped it back onto his hand and turned the knob.
As he opened the door, his hand instinctively came up to shield his eyes. A searing red light pierced through the skylights of the lobby and bathed every corner of the large room in crimson.
Dull nausea rose in his stomach. He approached the railing of the second-floor balcony as if edging towards a cliff. In an attempt to see what would cause such a phenomenon, he squinted his eyes against the harsh light. The apex of the middle spire disappeared behind a glare that spread across the windows. It was as if someone had placed large stage lights atop the hotel.
With one hand gripping the railing, Trevor made his way to the stairs. As he moved, the shadows of the ceiling designs danced, and the inverted pyramids quivered. The optical illusion made him feel as if he were traversing the innards of some long-forgotten beast, ageless, and cosmic in scale. Half-buried in an earth unable to hide it, one might say. He shuddered and quickened his steps.
He was thankful for the carpeted stairs as he hoped to make his exit with as little noise as possible. His feet came to the ground floor, and he fished out his keys as he half jogged towards the double doors.
A creak sounded to his left, and he froze. He noticed that he could hear the crackle of the fire. Panic crept up his throat as he slowly turned to the fireplace. The semi-circle of leather chairs were now occupied by older men and women. Their faces were all twisted into the same rictus grin as if they had been waiting for him. Their eyes were locked on him as flames danced in place of their pupils.
“Oh, fuck this.” Trevor bolted for the front doors. He could hear the scrape of the chairs’ legs against the floor behind him and knew he wouldn’t have long. His hand found the handle and pressed down on it as he threw his shoulder into the door. He nearly stumbled over his own feet as it swung open.
He looked into the sky and gaped. Hell must be spilling over. There were no stars, no sun, no moon—only red. The brewery stood dark, unlit against the bloodied horizon. Its parking lot was empty, and his stomach knotted as he realized his car was nowhere to be found.
A voice behind him broke his horrified reverie. From within the hotel, “Who’s the idiot who left the doors unlocked?”
He ran towards the brewery. As he crossed the street, he could hear the doors burst open once again, and the same voice cry out, “There he goes!”
Trevor scanned his options and knew there was only one. He ran into the corn.
Mottled and broken stalks blurred and began to grow hands of their own in his frenzied mind’s eye. Dried leaves scratched at his face and clawed at his clothes.
He heard voices behind him—faint, but still present and searching. His legs burned, and his heart felt as if on the verge of exploding.
You can’t stop, though. The sky is red, their eyes will be red, and you’ll be late. Just like always.
“Shut up,” he wheezed.
He took a hard left, away from Rickledge, right again, then back left. The more distance he could put behind him and the odd ghost town, the better. The sky was disconcerting, though. How was it so red? Perhaps there was some type of lunar or solar eclipse he hadn’t known about.
A load of shit, and you know it. Don’t be late…
Trevor burst into a clearing with a large, rusted out shack in the middle. He leaned over and tried to catch his breath. At least it’s not a pyre.
“Small fucking comfort.” It bothered him how alien the voice in his head seemed since waking up in Aisling.
He strained to hear if anyone was still chasing. There was only silence with the occasional titter of dried ears of corn brushing against one another. Then a rustling, from where he had come. He stumbled away, nearly tripping over his own feet as he backed towards the shack. Lost in the corn…
The brown stalks jittered and split as if there were two reels of film playing atop each other. The shuttering spread to the rest of the border of the clearing. Then a familiar and deep grinding emerged deep within the field. It grew louder as something shifted beyond the clearing. He could see the tops of stalks jerk and fall as a large mass began to move.
Without thought he turned and ran for the shack.
Trevor slammed the door behind him and held his back against it, knowing there would be little his body could do to stop whatever was haunting the corn. He held his breath and waited. The grinding mercifully wavered and then began to dissipate. After another moment, it was gone entirely, and he let out his breath in a sigh of relief.
Don’t get too comfortable now.
Trevor stood upright and took a deep breath. The interior of the shack was bathed in pools of shadow that monstrous claws of red light cut through. The area around the shack had been well kept, free of any weeds or fresh shutes of corn; the townspeople would know he could find his way here.
He rubbed his hands together, trying to work up any energy left within him. “It’s ok, we got this.”
“You wot…” a voice croaked from within one of the shadows.
Trevor jumped and let out a pitifully high shriek.
“I knew you was special.” A figure moved in the darkness, coughed, then passed through a streak of light. Rory’s face was battered and stained black in places with dried blood. “Still filled with disrespect, but special nonetheless.”
“You,” Trevor stammered, “from the bar.”
Rory fell against the wall and slid to the dirt floor. He looked beyond exhausted, near death. “Aye. Place of sorrow anymore.”
Trevor’s words fell out as frantic drivel. “You’ve got to tell me how to get out of here. The fuck is that thing in the corn? Is that even real?”
He held up his hand for silence. “Aye it’s real, indeed.” His accent was clearer now that time, and a beating seemed to have taken away the pull of alcohol in his voice. To Trevor, it sounded somewhere between Scottish and Norwegian. “The machines. I told ye. We lost ‘em, more’n twenty years back now. This was a land of plenty, a paradise. But no paradise is freely given, nor taken.”
Trevor grabbed his shoulder. “Look I don’t have time for this, I have to get out of here. Shit’s bad, and I’m not a part of whatever this is.”
Rory limply batted away his hand and chuckled. “You been a part of this since before yer da blessed yer mum with his seed. Agneta were right…all these years she were right. You answered the Kall.”
“Zaahat Kall. T’was a ritual, a damnable one at that. But yer here and now they’re wakin’ up.” He laughed again, a mad cackle that grew into sobs.
“What’s waking up?”
Through the sobs and laughter, he choked, “The machines. The great pagan gifts handed down from our fathers’ fathers. Wondrous and terrible things. We offer our sacrifice, we receive paradise. They smell your blood. Find the Hellig Sted. It will find you…” Another peel of laughter escaped, and Rory wheezed one last breath before slumping to the ground. A string of bloodied saliva dangled in the red light.
Trevor doubled over and heaved, his gut and mind trying to grapple with the non-reality surrounding him. He wiped at his mouth and asked the empty room, “the hell is a Hellig Sted?”
His hand instinctively batted in front of his face. “Stop! Whatever is happening, I’m in control of me. So fuck off.”
You’ll see paradise.
Voices rang from outside, distant enough that he couldn’t make out their words, but they were gaining just the same. He ran back to the door but hesitated before opening. What if the… machines were still there? What if they found him?
These were questions he knew he couldn’t afford to weigh. He needed to act.
The door made a horrendous metal scraping metal that echoed through the open air, surely announcing his current location. He circled around the shack and continued to run what felt to be away from Rickledge. As he submerged himself in the golden sea, Trevor made an effort not to think of what the machines might be or what they would do to him if (when) they would find him.
His legs threatened to cramp with every clumsy footfall, and he feared he might collapse before too long. He stopped again and listened.
The low grinding started up, and the sound of large areas of corn being crushed sounded off from where he had come.
New reserves of adrenaline kicked in, and he ran as hard as he could muster. Sweat soaked his face and stung at his eyes. The metallic grinding closed in on him.
A cramp formed in his side, and his breath waned.
The machine’s roar grew.
“NO,” he screamed and burst into another clearing. It was much larger than the last and at its center, like a long-forgotten abomination, was a stone temple. The earth turned up at its base as if it had risen from beneath the surface. Vertigo set in as he stared up at its apogee, which stretched hundreds of feet into the air. Its sides were lined with stained glass windows that glowed with dancing firelight behind them. A set of large, red double doors with gold inlays rested at its base.
It’ll find you.
He could still hear the machine in the corn, but it remained hidden just beyond sight, as if lying in wait.
The doors of the temple swung open, and a figure stood backlit with brilliant firelight in the entrance. It was an outline of a woman in a large skirted dress.
“Come,” the woman called, “lest we be late once more.” It was Agneta’s voice.
Trevor stood fast. “What the fuck is going on? What did I do?”
“Come inside, child, and everything will be made clear. Try to run again, and they will find you, and your death will be eternal.”
Trevor clenched his fists and eyed the corn where the grinding remained constant. “Fine.”