I woke up in a warehouse. It was a rather old one, with cracks in the wall where the warm summer sun snuck its way in. I stood and glanced about, trying to spot some form of exit. Towards the back corner of the warehouse, there was nothing more than cooling blackness swallowing everything in sight. The sunlight beckoned me closer to its embrace. My steps took me to the centre, where water pooled around my feet, ovens and stoves blinking below the surface.
The sound of laughter, as light as a bird’s song, filled the room and I turned to face the noise. A beige sundress hung loosely from a small child, standing only as tall as my hip. She stood there in the far corner of the room, waving and laughing at everything and nothing. The water rippled around her toes as she swayed like a delicate autumn leaf falling from some treetop. The smell of soup – homemade minestrone, swirled and filled the warehouse as I stepped toward her. When my feet touched the ripples of the water, my body was tugged down to the depths beneath the warehouse floor.
My arms began to shake as I sank beneath the faint ripples above, the humming of fridges and blinking stove lights below me. I kicked miserably through the water. It washed into my lungs. I inched closer to the fridges and stoves below me and listened to the water swallowing me whole. All noise died, and my legs suddenly became lead. The walls inched closer to me under the water, and every thought I had disappeared with the tide. I was beginning to fade away.
A hand gripped my wrist and pulled me to the surface.
A pair of dirty feet obstructed my view, with long black hair hanging limply behind into the water. Splinters stuck into my arm, but with the sensation of water filling my lungs sitting heavy in my chest, I honestly couldn’t care less.
‘Thanks,’ I heaved. ‘Thanks a lot.’
‘You just sank like a rock,’ he laughed. ‘Just limply falling to the fridges and stoves below. Luckily, I was passing through, eh?’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I don’t know if you’re willing, but could you help me get out of here?’
‘Sure I can!’ He grinned.
It was then I noticed the wooden raft we drifted on. It moved as silent as a murderer and left no clues of its presence, not even a single ripple from the water.
‘Do you like warehouses?’ he asked.
‘Not really.’ The strong smell of soup swallowed us as the raft drifted past the sunlit wall. ‘Do you smell that?’ I said.
‘Do you think this place was a storehouse for the fridges and stoves?’ The raft paused as the girl ran towards the man and hugged him from behind. They both glanced down into the water. ‘I always found them fascinating, you see,’ he said. ‘They’re an essential item that many people don’t usually care for, but they’re such a necessity.’
‘I’d take it they’re yours then…Do you run this place?’
‘Nah,’ he said. ‘I don’t. I just usually come and go through places like this, unlike this child.’
‘What do you mean?’
The raft violently rocked as it started to move through the water once again, yet he stood firmly. His stare was blank and old like the warehouse walls, and harsh sudden winds brushed against his long black hair. As we passed the sunlight, the sudden blaring sound of police cars and a mother’s wail screamed into my ears.
The girl’s eyes flickered to her feet, to the sounds and then met mine. She flinched and stepped out onto the water, and abruptly her sunny smile was wiped away. The girl ran away from the noise, tears falling down her red cheeks.
The man shoved me back to the edge of the raft and pulled a fresh bowl of soup from beside him. Nails now stuck out of the raft from where I sat, gleaming harshly in the warm light. The slightest tinge of rage bubbled inside of my heart as he began to eat his meal, and my hands twitched.
‘Why soup?’ I snapped.
‘Why?’ he sighed.
The girl skipped towards him, giggling as another bowl of soup was placed in her hands. It was only then I saw the red marks across her small neck, and the way her hands held a slight tremble at the mere sight of me. My heart squeezed at the sight of that.
‘Because soup is wonderful, that’s why. It’s a gift.’ He smiled.
‘Sure…I guess that would explain the fridges and stoves.’
‘Absolutely it does,’ he said. ‘Why wouldn’t it?’
‘Really,’ I laughed. ‘Because I have a few questions myself.’
‘And what might they be?’
‘For starters, what’s up with the kid?’ I picked at a loose string from my sleeve. ‘Does she live here or something?’
‘Live here?’ he mused. He stepped towards me, with flowers blooming at his feet. ‘I wouldn’t say that. More like, it’s a place where she is quite terrified of.’
‘Terrified?’ I said. ‘Then why does she stay?’
‘Children are quite funny that way, you know. They can be afraid of the darkness, afraid of the stoves and fridges,’ he knelt and glared at me, ‘they could even be afraid of monsters like you.’
I glanced at the stoves and fridges below, watching their lights blink under the water. The girl sat down next to me and stared down into the deep, blinking back the tears as she held her neck with both hands, curling into her beige sundress. I noticed the dry cracked blood smeared across her lips.
I stood, feeling the small rage bursting inside of me. It was a sudden force as I felt the girl’s soft skin between my fingers, gripping her neck, shaking her as if she were a rag doll. My heart ached as the sound of gagging echoed throughout the warehouse. Small feet kicked against my ribcage, and I laughed. The laughter boomed over her cries, and even with my pounding heart, relief washed over me. Just a few more seconds, then she would stop wailing. Just a little more, then nothing would come back. Silence would welcome me again.
The rage evaporated with the strong sense of guilt enveloping my mind. I fell on my back with my hammering heart, eyeing the small girl sobbing towards the corner of the warehouse.
What did I just do?
The raft slowly drifted towards the child, with a fresh bowl of warm soup placed in the centre. I couldn’t see what happened after that however, for the man with the long black hair pulled me close to his face.
‘See?’ he hissed. ‘A child can be terrified of monsters. Some are from the kitchen at her home, and some kidnap her in daylight and kill her when the moon is high. In places such as this musty, cold warehouse.’
My head slammed into the nails sticking out of the wood. ‘I…’ I stuttered. Something trickled down the nape of my neck. ‘I didn’t mean it! I just…’
‘I…I wasn’t supposed to kill her.’ I glanced down at the man’s feet, at the flowers that began to droop between his dirty toes. ‘Am I dead?’
‘Died on March 20th. The cause was suicide in your own jail cell. Many people claimed it was the easy way out,’ he said. ‘I honestly believe that too. You killed an innocent child with your bare hands, and you decided not to pay the price. How pathetic.’
‘Who are you? Are you Death?’
‘Death?’ he laughed. ‘Compared to him, I’m nothing. Rather, I’m his opposite. You see, I’m the one that brings meaning to this little world of yours. I’m the sun you see each morning, I’m the moon you see at night. I’m children laughing and fresh green grass peeking from the burnt soil after raging fires. I’m everything beautiful and terrifying. We tend to disagree with how a mortal will leave this world but, in your case Death and I saw eye to eye.’
‘What?’ I whispered. ‘I…what are you?’
‘I have many names.’ He yanked me to my feet and held me an inch above the water. ‘But in short, I’m the one thing people generally ignore.’
Before questions could slip from my lips, he dropped me into the deep waters below. The blinking lights from the fridges and stoves were nowhere to be seen. My lungs filled with water. The world was filled with the sound of blaring police sirens and her mother’s wail of agony. I could only see the sunlight above for a moment, before blackness slipped into the corners of my eyes.
I fell asleep in a warehouse. The cold floors soothed my aching back, yet my mind was furious. A man stood above me, with his long black coat and white hair swaying at his chin. He raised his scythe in the air and swung it down with a sharp clank. Death’s work was swift, and sleep overtook my senses.
I was finally fading away for good.
Sarah McLachlan is an emerging Brisbane writer on her final year in the creative writing major at QUT. Her aim with her work is to add a bit of magic into the reader’s day. You can find her work throughout ScratchThat magazine.
Steph Blinco is a third year Bachelor of Fine Arts student. A local Brisbane emerging artist, her practice makes statements about everyday life through collaged imagery. Intertwining psychedelic patterns to create collisions of colour and era, Steph draws influences from autobiographical contexts, ranging from her childhood to her experiences now as a young adult. You can find her on Instagram @stephblincoart.