Darkness. Ice cold darkness. Where… where was I? Then, a pinprick of light in the distance. The light grew bigger and bigger until it swallowed up the darkness I once knew and replaced it with blinding agony. I shut my eyes. Even through my closed eyelids, the light pierced my eyes. I let out a scream. The light disappeared. I slowly opened my eyes. I was not greeted with darkness. I was not greeted with light either. Instead, a grey sky greeted me. The floor in which I was lying on was hard and uncomfortable. I rolled onto my side. The floor was concrete. I pushed myself off of the ground. It took several tries. I was disoriented, dizzy, and confused.
After managing to get myself to stand up, I looked around. There was only concrete and and a thick fog that only allowed me to see about five meters ahead. It was cold. Like I was in a refrigerator. The air smelled like fresh rain. I tried to think of how I got here, wherever here was, but found that I couldn’t. I tried to recall the last thing I remember and came up with nothing. Had I been drugged? Why can I not remember anything? I felt a sense of panic as I tried to remember something, anything, but my brain wouldn’t cooperate. I started to feel dizzy again. I swayed and almost fell down. You have to stay calm and use what you got, I thought. The problem was: what do I have? I closed my eyes and searched my mind once more. A word. I could remember a word.
Was it a name? A place? It didn’t make any sense to me. I have to work with what I got. I examined the clothes that I was wearing. I was wearing jeans and a plain white T-shirt. There was a bulge in my left pocket. I reached my hand into my pocket and took the object. It caught on the inside of my pants and made a rip in the pocket as I took it out. It was a small knife. It was curved with a blade black as night and a steel handle with holes to fit fingers into, like brass knuckles. The material of the blade was smooth and shiny, like obsidian. And sharp. Another word materialized inside my head. Karambit. I was baffled on how I didn’t manage to cut myself with all the rolling around I had been doing.
I fished through my right pocket and found a polaroid photo. On the top of the photo were the words: FIND ME. The photo showed a little girl, probably around five or six, in a grassy field. She had blond hair and blue eyes. In the photo, the girl was smiling up at the camera, petting a dog that stood beside her. The dog was a black lab and fully grown. Its dark brown eyes looked at the camera. It sat there patiently as the girl was petting it. I didn’t recognize anyone in the photo. So this is what I had. A knife, two words, a name, and a photo of someone I don’t even know.
I gently put the photo in my right pocket. I held the knife in my right hand, lacing my fingers through the holes of the handle. I once more did an examination of my surroundings. Concrete spread out in all directions. I couldn’t see past the thick fog. I picked a random direction and started walking. As I walked, the only change of scenery was a random stain on the concrete ground every once in a while. I wondered what had made the stains, but decided that it didn’t matter. I just needed to find someone. Or something. Anything besides the flat concrete terrain.
After what felt like a half an hour of concrete and fog, I finally found something. The outline of an object could be seen ahead of me. As I got closer, I was able to make out what it was. It was a small pedestal with a bowl attached to the top. The whole thing came up to my stomach. I crouched down to further examine the pedestal. It was rectangular in shape and seemed to be made out of the concrete itself. What was weird was that it didn’t look like it was put there, rather it looked like it was coming out of the ground. There was no space between where it ended and the floor. I walked around to the other side of the pedestal and crouched again. There was something carved into the stone of the pedestal. It consisted of a group of symbols that looked like demonic writing. Yet when I looked at it, I knew what it said. It was as if something in my head was translating it for me. The words said: “To Atlo’h”. I frowned at this and stood up. I looked at the inside of the bowl. It was discolored, almost tinted red. I knew what it was. My mind tried to accommodate this insanity as I processed what I had to do.
I glanced at the knife, still in my right hand. An insane urge to run the blade across my hand overtook me. I looked at the bowl, then back at the knife. I put my left hand over the bowl. My right hand was shaking, but I managed to slide the knife down the center of my palm. Blood flowed out almost immediately. My left palm burnt. I squeezed my left hand into a fist and watched the blood gather on the bottom of my fist before splattering into the bowl. It slid down the side and gathered in the center. I let a few more droplets loose before I withdrew my hand. Nothing happened. I waited a few more seconds for a reaction. It did not come. I should have known better. I let my wounded hand fall to my side.
I was about to continue my walk when I heard something in the distance. I looked around, but I did not see anything. I could still hear the sound and as it got louder, I was able to make out what it was. It was the hum of an engine. A car? Or perhaps an airplane? Something in the distance caught my eye. I swore I could make out two little dots of lights in the distance. I watched as two lights in the distance got brighter and larger. I was able to see the outline of what was coming now. A large shape was making its way towards me. I didn’t know if I should run or wait. I mean, this may be my way out. Or it could be something I don’t want to mess with. Yet, I could only watch as the shape got closer and closer, the hum of the engine getting louder and louder. It finally stopped in front of me, a massive hulking thing, blinding me with the front lights. I finally realized what I was looking at.
It was a bus. A city bus. The doors opened with a hiss. Light poured out of the bus and onto the concrete ground. I cautiously walked around until I could see the driver seat. There was no one in the driver seat. It was empty. I walked up the steps of the bus and found that I was not alone. There was another passenger on board. A man sat near the front of the bus. He wore a large black trench coat and had on a black fedora that matched his coat. The man was about six feet tall. His face was hard and chiseled. His eyes were cold and calculating. His stubble was well groomed and he had a lit cigarette hanging from his lips. The man looked like someone straight out of a noir film. He had a look of annoyance on his face.
“Are you going to sit down or are you going to stand there like an idiot? It won’t move until everyone has sat down,” the man said with an irritated tone. I did the only thing I could think of. I sat down near the front of the bus, across from the man. As soon as I did so, the bus doors closed and started to move, despite the lack of a driver. The man stared out the window and took a drag of his cigarette. He didn’t seem to be a threat to me. I studied the interior but could find no signs indicating where I was going. The bus smelled like smoke from the man’s cigarette and had the faint scent of disinfectant. I almost asked the man if I had to pay for the ride when I realized I already had. I had paid in blood. The cut on my left palm had stopped its bleeding. I watched in fascination as the wound started to close up, healing on its own. I stared at it. What the hell? I closed my eyes and opened them. The wound was gone. I wanted to ask the man about this but I decided to ask the man a more important question.
“Where am I?” I asked. He didn’t respond. I asked again, this time a bit louder. The man finally tore his gaze away from the window, looking annoyed.
“You are in the outer rims of Atlo’h,” he said, then returned to gazing out the window.
“Where, exactly, is Atlo’h?” I asked, pronouncing the foreign name slowly. It sounds like at-low.
“In between,” the man answered once more, this time not taking his gaze off the window. Confused by the strange answer, I tried a different question.
“Where… where are we going?”
“The bus is heading to the center of Atlo’h. It will then return to the outer rims if called for again. Is that it?” The man asked. I have never heard of any of these places. Or if I had, I don’t remember them. What was going on?
“I have one more. I woke up here about an hour ago. I don’t remember who I am or how I got here. I don’t know where to go or what to do. I don’t belong here. Can you help me or at least tell me what’s going on?” I asked with a hint of panic in my voice. I was starting to lose it. The man looked at me and shook his head before he responded.
“Look kid, if you are here, then you belong here for whatever reason. Once we get into the city, I recommend finding a guy named Samuel. He can fix you up a place and a job. If this is your first time, then here are a few rules you must follow if you want to not die or suffer a worse fate. First, don’t go out past midnight or before five A.M. And that brings us to rule two. Find a watch. It is going to be hard to tell time without one. And rule number three: if you break rule one and find yourself out on the streets at night, find shelter immediately. Don’t go investigating if you see or hear anything strange. Now if you will excuse me, I want to enjoy my ride in silence.”
I processed what he just said. The man had returned to looking out the window and I did the same. I could now make out the outlines of buildings and street lamps. Were we in the city already? I hadn’t noticed the change in scenery. Staring out the window, I could occasionally make out the outline of people but never any facial features. Most of the lights were off in the buildings we passed with the exception of a few every once in a while. The only other light was from the street lamps that lined the road. I did not see any other cars or buses. The population of the city seemed to be pretty low. I spent the rest of the ride thinking about what the man had said. I have stopped thinking that I was on Earth. Was I dead? Is this the afterlife? That thought sent shivers down my spine. I tried not to think about that and rather tried to think about my next plan of action. That man didn’t really give me any straight answers, but I trusted what he said, even if I don’t know him. I had to find Samuel.
Fifteen minutes later, the bus rolled to a stop in front of an apartment building. There was a single, flickering light on by the front door of the building. The doors opened and the man stood up. I started to stand up with him but he stopped me.
“If you want to find Samuel, stay on the bus for two more stops. This will take you to his hotel. Just ask for him and he will find you,” the man said and with that, he began to step off the bus when I realized I still have one more question.
“Wait!” I called out as he was descending the stairs of the bus. He grunted and looked back, one eyebrow raised.
“Do you know what Igrothi means?” I asked. The man’s demeanor changed as I mentioned the word. A look of fear entered his eyes. I didn’t think the man was capable of showing any emotion outside of being irritated. The man shook his head quickly and stepped off the bus, heading towards the apartment. The man was walking fast, as if he was trying to put a lot of distance between him and the bus. His response to my question confused me. Why did that word scare him? This place was full of questions and lacking answers.
I sat back into the seat. Something clattered to the ground as I did so. It was my knife. I hadn’t realized that I was still holding the knife since I found it. I might need it later if blood was considered a currency here. I reached down to pick it up. As I did so, I saw something underneath the seat. It was a piece of paper. I left the knife and picked up the paper instead. I carefully examined it. It read: SHE KEEPS US HERE. I frowned and dropped the paper, then picked up the knife. I didn’t bother trying to comprehend the note. Over the past few hours, I have learned that trying to understand this place would only make me more confused. I could barely find a straight answer about anything. I stared out into the city the rest of the bus ride.
The bus stopped in front of a large building, maybe nine or ten stories high. It seemed as if the father I went into the city, the taller the buildings got. Unlike the rest of the buildings, the lights were on inside the building, seeping through the glass door and into the street. The bus sighed as the door opened. It was my turn to get off. After exiting the bus, the doors shut and the bus drove away, leaving me alone in the city. I realized that I had left my knife on it. Crap. It was warm, unlike where I woke up. Beside of the building I was currently standing in front of, none of the other buildings had their lights on. This made it hard to see my surroundings, but to me, it looked like an abandoned, dark version of New York City. I paused at that thought. How do I know what New York City is? I frowned, trying to remember. The memory slipped away as soon as I tried to. Shaking my head, I opened the glass door and stepped inside the building.
I was in a lobby. Classical music played softly, although I couldn’t see where it was coming from. The front desk was near the door to my left. To my right were some chairs and a table with magazines. Straight ahead was an elevator. I approached the front desk. It was empty. I rang the bell on it, but no one came. There was a note on the desk which read: Be back in a few! I was surprised by the normality of the building. I don’t know what I was expecting. It seemed… safe. Comfortable. I sat down on one of the lobby chairs, which was surprisingly comfy. I was tired and every bone in my body felt like lead. I… I should just close my eyes for a second. Just rest a little bit. Just a little…
My eyes snapped open. A cold chill ran down my spine. I felt something watching me. I looked around the lobby but there was no one there. I sat up straight, feeling uncomfortable. Just a few seconds ago, I was about to fall asleep. What had changed? I looked around the room once again. Something was different. I took a few moments to figure out what it was. The music. It had stopped. With the music gone, I could hear the steady tick of a clock. I didn’t even bother checking the time when I got in. I glanced at the clock on the wall. It was a simple digital clock. It read: 12:00 AM.
I thought back to what the man said. Don’t go out at midnight. Whatever the reason was for that, maybe it was the same reason I felt uneasy. I got off the chair and walked back over to the desk. The note was still there. I did a double take when I realized that the note was different. It said: He is waiting for you in room 312. Take the elevator to level 3. It will be on your left. The note made me uneasy. I had my eyes closed for only a few seconds. How did someone replace the note within a few seconds? How did they know I was here? I shook my head. I’m not even going to bother with trying to comprehend. I turned around towards the elevator and made my way toward it. I saw a camera in the corner of the lobby. The red light on it was blinking. That was how they knew I was here, but it didn’t explain the letter. I hit the button to go up.
As I was waiting for the elevator, I had that intense feeling that I was being watched. It didn’t seem to be because of the camera. I felt the urge to turn around. I glanced behind me. Nothing was there. Wait. I glanced again. Something moved outside of the glass window. I turned around and just through the glass doors was a figure. I couldn’t make out its face or any other features due to the fog and darkness, but I could tell that it was looking right at me. Whoever it was, they were almost seven feet tall and would have to duck their head down to avoid hitting their head on the door. It could have been a trick of the light, or the lack of it, but I swore his hands went down to his knees. The figure twitched and spasmed as if it was having a seizure. It stepped forward and the light from inside the lobby illuminated it. A scream was caught in my throat as it stared at me.
Through the glass door stood a man. He wore a white T-shirt and jeans. His skin was grey like a corpse. His hands did hang down to his knees. They were human hands, although they were larger and unproportionate to the rest of his body. Blood coated its hands. Without turning around, I felt around for the elevator button and pushed it a few more times. What was taking it so long? The man stood there for a few moments before moving. It leaned sideways as if to look inside and I saw its face for the first time.
The being had no hair. And its eyes… god, its eyes were gone. Two empty black sockets stared right back at me. I stared into its eyes and for a moment, the blackness of the empty socket seemed to expand and devour the light from the lobby. It felt as if I was being sucked into the black abyss of its eyes. I blinked and its eyes went back to the way they were before. It looked at me with a blank expression, its face slack and unmoving. The man reminded me of a tall, disfigured corpse. I jumped as I heard the elevator doors opened. I turned around and hurriedly stepped inside, rapidly hit the button to close the door. As they were closing, I took one more look at the front door. The man was smiling, showing black, rotted teeth. I shuddered.
Once the door was closed, I hit the button for the third floor. The elevator began to ascend. It was silent besides the hum of machinery and smelled faintly of disinfectant. I thought about what I had just seen and decided that I wasn’t going outside anytime soon. It wasn’t long before the doors opened. I stepped out of the elevator and into a hallway. Wooden doors lined both sides of the wall. Each door had a slot on the bottom, possibly for mail to be delivered. I counted the ones on the left as I walked by. 302… 304… 306… 308… I found myself standing in front of 312. I hesitated. Should I knock? I was about to when I heard the sound of the metal flap that I assumed was used for mail open. I looked down.
A small piece of paper fluttered to the ground. I knelt and picked it up. Written in black ink were the words: Welcome, my friend. I look back at the door. Was someone going to open it? The flap opened once more, ejecting another piece of paper. I knelt once more and read the new note. We have so much to discuss, it read. I sat down by the mail slot so I didn’t have to keep bending over. I waited for another note but it did not come. I finally spoke.
“Who are you?” I asked. The note was delivered within a few seconds of me asking.
My name is Samuel.
I tried a different question.
“Where am I?”
You are in Atlo’h.
“And where is that, exactly?”
“In between what?”
The land of endless grass and the land of the living.
I began to get restless at the lack of straight answers.
“Look, this man told me you would have the answers I am looking for. I woke up here about three hours ago. I don’t know where I am or what to do. If you can’t help me, point me in the right direction to someone who can,” I said, a hint of exasperation in my tone. The note took longer than the rest to come out of the slot. When it did, I tried to look through the slot to see who I was talking to, but I saw only darkness.
I know. I woke up here thirteen years ago. I felt the same way you are currently feeling. This world is hard to understand and I don’t expect you to figure it out. Here is a simpler way of explaining this: you are in another dimension. The city that you are in, Atlo’h, is where most people who wander here wound up. Outside of the city is empty, nothingness devoid of life. Human life, at least. Most people here are here because they belong here. They don’t follow the same rules as you and I. These people like to be left alone and it is best not to bother them unless needed. Then there are people like you, who did not mean to stumble across this place. You may belong here but you probably don’t want to be here. Alas, there is nothing you can do about that. Did that answer all of your questions?
I sat there, processing this. It took me a few minutes to speak.
“What do I do now?” I asked.
That is up to you. There isn’t a way out that I know of. Try to find acceptance in this place. After all, you belong here. There are some… quirks of living here that I should mention. You may notice that you are not hungry. It will stay that way. You will no longer feel hunger here. But you will need water. I am sure you already know better than to head out past midnight and before five AM. I saw on one of the cameras that you have encountered Sabaoth. He seems to have taken an interest in you. Don’t worry. He can’t enter any buildings, so as long as you stay inside he can’t harm you. You can stay at the hotel as long as needed. There are only a few others staying here, although I doubt you will ever see them. One thing you will learn about this place is that people tend to keep to themselves. It is respectful and is not taken kindly when you interfere with other’s business. You will learn the other quirks of this place in time. Enjoy your stay.
After reading the note, I felt my stomach drop. The realization that I may never leave this place struck me hard. I was going to be stuck in this god forsaken place until I die. And from the nature of this place, I may be dead soon. I sat there, with Samuel’s previous note in my hand while the others were scattered around me, and I stared at the door. I still had a few more questions.
“Are you… are you human?” I asked. The note popped out within seconds.
I guess you can say that, it read.
“I have one last question. I have a picture. I had it when I woke up, but I don’t recognize the person in it. Can you help with that?” I asked the door. I tried to catch another glimpse of inside as the slot opened but it was still pitch black inside.
Insert the picture through the slot and I will take a look at it, it read.
“Can’t you just open the door and look? Maybe talk to me like a real person instead of giving me notes?”
I am stuck inside. And no, in case you are wondering, you can’t get me out. Trust me. And I cannot talk because I lack the vocal cords to do so. Insert the picture into the slot, please.
I shudder as I read the note. I do not want to know how or why his vocal cords are missing. I pulled the photo out of my back pocket and gave one last look at it before reluctantly inserting it through the slot. Cold air caressed my fingertips as they neared the slot. The photo was my only clue to what was going on and I could not afford to lose it. Yet… I trusted Samuel. If anyone had the answers, it had to be him. The note was ejected and I read it with disappointment.
No, it read.
“And one more thing. Do you know what Igrothi means? I mentioned it once to someone and they freaked out,“ I ask and while I could not see or hear Samuel, I could feel the change in mood. The note was ejected from the slot aggressively.
Do not mention that name again. Do not speak it out loud. Try not to even think about it. Igrothi is the creator of this place. You don’t want her to become aware of your presence. Trust me. Death is not the worst place here. I was told that a long time ago, this place used to be filled with grass and never ending sunshine. It was a place of happiness. And then she came. She turned it to what it is today, rotted the soil and turned it into concrete and made it home for the lost… She is sleeping right now, but she is still very much aware. You do not want to be the person to wake her up. I am done answering questions for today. Feel free to stay as long as you want.
I got up onto my feet, sensing that the conversation was over. I was glad. The conversation had freaked me out. I had enough for one day. Samuel said I could choose a room, so I chose room number 323. I did not want to be close to Samuel but I wanted easy access to him in case I needed it. The door to the room was unlocked. I opened the door and stepped inside. The lights were not on inside. The lights from the hall illuminated part of the room. I was able to locate the lightswitch. Once I had the lights on, I was able to observe my surroundings. It looked like an ordinary hotel room. Almost everything was clean, although there was a need for serious dusting. There was a king size bed on the wall to my left. There was a dresser besides the bed. There was also a kitchen, which I thought was strange since I apparently didn’t need to eat here. On the left were three doors. The first door led to an empty closet. The second door was made out of metal and was locked. I figured it must have been a fire escape or something. The third door led to the bathroom. Inside was a toilet and a mirror. I stared at my reflection for the first time since I woke up.
I had short, black hair, almost a buzz cut but not quite. I had a stubble, which must have meant I had shaved before I had ended up in this place. My face had no defining features. Brown eye’s a large nose. I looked to be around my early twenties. I did not recognize the person that stood in the mirror. I felt like I was in a stranger’s body instead of my own. Then I realized something I should have realized when I first woke up. With all of the stuff I went through, trying to figure out where I was, who that girl was, who and where Samuel was, and I had forgotten an important question. The question made me dizzy.
“Who am I?” I asked the mirror. I didn’t get an answer. What was my name? Did I have a family? What was my life like?
“Who am I?” I asked once more, a little louder. I still had no answer. I couldn’t look at the man that was supposed to be me any longer. I left the bathroom and threw myself onto the bed. It was softer than I thought a hotel room bed would be. I hadn’t realized how tired I was. My eyelids started to feel heavy. I closed my eyes and darkness was starting to take over when a sound made me open my eyes. It was hard to keep my eyelids open, as if someone had attached weights to them. As I struggled to stay awake, I wondered what had made that sound. It was the sound of metal rubbing on metal.
“Wha- “ I tried to say something but my tongue felt thick and heavy. Something caught my attention on the far wall by the bathroom. I struggled to stay awake, but it was almost as if something was forcing me to fall asleep. Was I- I was drugged. I am sure of it. Samuel had betrayed me. I was certain that as soon as I fell asleep, he was going to kill me. My last glimpse of the room before I fell asleep was the metal door by the bathroom and closet. It was opening.