Okay, I wrote this forever ago... it was my first TAT fic. Heh... be gentle :-)
It had been a long time since they last shot Murdock full of "the strong stuff," but after his latest excursion into the real world the doctors had thought it prudent to keep him under for a while. The pilot didn't complain as he dutifully rolled up his sleeve and a young, pretty nurse tied a tourniquet just above his left elbow.
"You ought to try this stuff," he joked as the needle pierced his skin. "You have some interesting dreams..."
"Really, like what?" the lady asked, feigning interest. She untied the rubber strap and the drug began to course through Murdock's veins.
"Oh... just dreams... you know... the kind you have when you... when you sleep..." he muttered, already getting drowsy. "Good ones... sometimes."
"And other times?"
"The worst... nightmares... you've ever..."
Murdock pulled his collar up and watched his breath turn to fog as it hit the chill air. The nights were always too long, especially in winter. There never seemed to be a good place to sleep away from the snow and biting cold. The shelters were allways full this deep into the season.
Still, there was a place he had heard about many times. Some of his friends used to stay there, on Bay Street... but that was before. He wasn't one to believe the stories he'd heard about people wandering down that street at night and never coming back out, but the tales were hard for the pilot to ignore.
During the daytime it was as normal as any other street, except that all the buildings there were condemned and slated for demolition. They were going to build a new hotel there... it was going to bring in a lot of jobs. At night it was different. The odd-shaped angles that seemed so natural in the daylight took on a ghostly quality, like the Devil himslf had come up and designed it to his liking.
Murdock passed by the street time and again, debating whether or not to walk down its darkened corridors. Eventually the need for a warm place to sleep won out over fear. Pushing himself past the myriad of "condemned" signs and overfilled trash cans he sought an open door... a place where he could stay the night, away from the biting cold and the police that continuously told him to move along.
The veteran went on his way, carefully watching out the corner of his eye for anything that might come toward him from the darkness. Perhaps there were a gang here that didn't take well to their territory being intruded upon. He laughed a bit at his paranoia and picked up his pace, turning his gaze to the ground at his feet. Maybe if he ignored his fear it would leave him alone.
A high pitched creak pierced the silent air and a chill traveled up Murdock's spine. It felt almost as if someone had dumped a bucket of ice water down the back of his tattered jacket. The man followed the sound and turned to his right. There he saw the thing he had been hoping for: an open door.
A sign indicating the building's condemned status was taped just above the knob. All the old structures on this little street had the same thing, but now it seemed more like a welcome sign than one warning him to stay out. He smiled and said a quiet "amen" for his prayer being answered.
Murdock made his way up the cracked concrete steps and pushed the door open, cringing at the awful screeching noise it made. The echoes died down and he walked inside. The place was an apartment building made back in the nineteen-fifties and it's interior was huge. All the electricity on the street had been disconnected, so the details were hard to see past the shadows. He took another step inside, noticing how nicely warm it was.
A small creak behind him made him jump and spin around. The heavy wooden door slammed shut in his face, sending a deafening sound reverberating through the structure.
Murdock was suddenly overcome with panic and wrapped his hand around the knob, pulling on it with all his strength. He could feel the adrenaline begin to course through his veins but as hard as he pulled, the door refused to move. He swore to himself and kicked the wood... it was as hard as stone.
The small hairs on the back of his neck began to stand on end and he stopped short of another kick. He could feel something behind him. Murdock turned slowly and listened as his eyes scanned the blackness. He held his breath, cupping a hand to his ear. Then, somewhere in the darkness, he heard something. The sound was small at first, but it began to grow, slowly and steadily, as if it were approaching him... It was a baby's cry.
Murdock bit down on his lip and took a few uncertain steps forward, finding himself at the foot of a long flight of stairs. The top vanished completely in the shadows... it was from there that the sound was coming. He swallowed hard and dared to open his mouth.
"Is someone up there?" he asked in a shaky voice. The whining became more insistent. If there were a baby somewhere in this building... if it were in danger...
"No..." the man said to himself. "Its just my mind playing tricks on me..."
It did Murdock little good trying to convince himself as the cries continued. All at once, a wash of paternal caring came over him and he started forward... one foot in front of the other, slowly moving himself up the staircase. The wood moaned beneath his weight, making his progress audible to anyone who might be there to listen. He slowed down and took each step more deliberately, watching where he put is feet and willing the old wooden stairs to remain quiet.
He reached the top and stood still on the landing... the crying began to move farther and farther away, down the cavernous hallway before him. The sound eventually drifted into nothing. There was no sound at all, save the huffing of Murdock's own breath and his heart pounding in his ears.
Fear and adrenaline returned, each much stronger than before. He turned and backed into the wall, assuming a defensive posture. Another chill worked its way up Murdock's backbone as he glared into the shady doorway across from him and waited.
One of the shadows there began to move towards him, slowly and with an inhuman silence. There were no footsteps to be heard... no breathing but his own. But it was there... and it was growing nearer.
With a sudden sinking feeling in his chest, Murdock realized that there was something else... It knew him.
Murdock squeezed his eyes shut and tried to yell out for help but the sound caught in his throat. The thing was getting nearer, soon it would be on top of him. The man waited, holding his breath and saying a silent prayer. He waited... for what?
After nearly a minute, Murdock opened his eyes and looked around him. It... whatever it had been, was gone. The place felt so much colder now than when he'd come in from the elements... but it was a cold that poured from the inside of his own body, born of fear. There had been something there... he hadn't imagined it.
Murdock took in a long, trembling breath and slid across the wall until he felt the floor beneath him become the staircase. He cautiously lowered himself down onto the first step, then the second... he watched the darkened doorway until he made it to the fifth step down and then he turned his face towards the bottom.
The pilot recoiled... the thing was there, just two steps below where he stood. Murdock gasped and tried to turn and run back to the landing, twisting his ankle. His knees slammed into the wood beneath him and he scrambled up to the darkened hallway, finding his footing only after reaching the relatively level surface.
He hobbled a couple yards before turning to see where the thing was. It had just cleared the top step and was drifting steadily for the man. The form seemed eternally dark... the shadows behind it stood out bright in comparison. It had no distinctiveness... just a black void floating a foot above the floor.
Murdock watched it for a few seconds and then turned, limping as fast as his injured ankle would allow. He stopped at a door, trying to pull it open. It didn't budge. He tried the next one and then the next... the fourth door was open and let him in with little effort. He stumbled inside and slammed the door shut, unsure of what good hiding would do him. This thing was going to find him, no matter where he went. Still, Murdock made his way across the old apartment and into the bathroom. Maybe he could buy himself a little time... figure out some way out.
Even as he contemplated what to do, he saw it again... melting in through the shadows. It moved forward silently towards the man who was standing in the bathtub, shaking. It came close enough for the rest of the room to be obscured behind it. Then it stopped, within arms length of Murdock... and just stayed there, examining him.
"What do you want with me?" Murdock yelled, finding his voice again.
The form floated away towards the mirror hanging on the bathroom wall. Taking his only chance, Murdock stepped out of the tub and tip-toed to the wide-open bathroom door, not once taking his eyes off the thing that hovered just feet away. Before he made it all the way out of the room he stopped... under the man's shocked gaze the thing was begining to change.
Murdock's eyes widened though his body refused the warning to get out while he had the chance. The void stayed in front of the mirror, as if admiring its own transformation as the inky black made way for a sickeningly pale white, the tone of death. It was beginning to look more... human. Solid-looking and naked, the thing turned slowly around.
Murdock stumbled back, making a last break for the apartment door. His hand came to rest on the knob but something made him glance back at the thing as it walked forward on new legs. It kept its face firmly hidden in the shadows.
"Where are you going, Murdock?" It asked in a deep, almost amused voice.
"What are you?" the man screamed back as loud as he was able, as if he could scare it away.
"What do you think I am?"
Murdock felt like his heart was going to pound out of his chest. "What do you want with me?" he repeated the earlier unanswered question.
"I want you to stay," it said, taking another step. "Don't you want to stay with me, Murdock?" the thing asked.
"How do you know my name?" terror made the words quiver as they left his mouth.
The thing let out a little laugh. "I'll tell you if you stay."
"Why do you want me to stay here?" On top of Murdock's fear, he was beginning to get angry at the thing's cryptic responses.
"I like you."
A thought forced its way into Murdock's mind..."What about the other people that came here...did you like them, too?"
"They didn't want to stay with me..."
"What did you do to them? Where are they?"
"Gone," it said.
Murdock turned the doorknob and ran out, not looking back. His ankle hurt so bad that it threatened to betray him and let him fall. Still, he ran on down the hallway, biting his lip against the pain. He was almost there... the stairway was in his sight.
Murdock yelled out... the thing was there, between him and the only way out. He didn't have time to stop. Running full-force into the thing, he was overcome by the suffocating sensation of water and pitch blackness as he passed through. Beyond the creature, the man collapsed to the floor... it felt as if all the energy had been drained out of his body.
Murdock lay sprawled out on the floor, fighting for breath that only came back to him slowly and with much effort. He could still feel the crush of the thing's body. It was like he wasn't alone in there... others were waiting for his return.
He rolled weakly from his stomach and onto his side. His blurred eyes slowly regained vision and he saw the thing still there, standing just above him. Murdock watched helplessly as it kneeled down beside him.
"You tried to leave," it said angrily. "I told you not to leave".
Murdock looked up and drew in a terrified gasp. It's pale face was framed by dark, bloody hair and its eyes were staring hollows. The man was frozen where he lay... unable to do anything but look into those empty eye sockets.
The thing smiled. "I won't let you leave me here alone."
Murdock looked up at the thing and screamed... it was grotesque, like a dead man unburied. The eye hollows were deep and black, the man could see nothing behind them but that damned darkness. They looked as if they would pull him inside... back into that awful, cold place.
As Murdock's scream echoed through the wide hallway, the thing reached down and took hold of the man's long, disheveled hair. It pulled him up into the air and pressed it's nose to his. It smelled of sulfur and rotting flesh.
"You remember me... don't you?" it asked between its teeth. Murdock fought against the creature's grip to no avail. In his weakened state there was little that the man could do besides kick his feet as they dangled inches off the floor. He couldn't even raise his arms to try and loosen its fingers from his hair... the pain tore through his scalp like fire.
"Answer me!" the thing bellowed, shaking him.
"What...?" Murdock asked weakly. "I never saw you before..."
"Think back," it commanded. "Think hard... you will remember..."
Murdock closed his eyes. "I... don't... remember!" he screamed out, trying to block his senses against the onslaught of pain and stench.
The creature dropped Murdock to the floor and the man collapsed into a heap. Without any warning, the thing grabbed the man by the wrist and began pulling him down the hall. The cold fingers dug into the human's skin like razor blades.
"Let go!" the pilot yelled, trying to loosen the thing's grip with his other hand.
"Don't fight me," it told him, stopping. Throwing open a door, the creature tossed Murdock inside. "Now do you remember me?"
Murdock sat up where he had been so carelessly thrown. He rubbed his bleeding wrist and looked around the darkened room. "I've never been here..."
"Yes... you have..."
All at once the room was filled with a flash of light and Murdock reached up, shielding his eyes. The room went dark again and the man ventured a look.
The place was the same as it had been... except...
"Oh, God..." Murdock whispered, recalling a long-forgotten memory. He did know this place... he looked up at the evil grin on the thing's face. "Why are you doing this?"
"Watch," was all it said.
The room filled with spectral furniture and the sound of snoring drifted in from another part of the apartment. The scene began to play out... just the way the man had tried so hard to forget.
There was a sound at the door, which was now closed for the sake of the creature's cruel play. A woman's voice drifted in from the bedroom.
"Honey..." the whispered voice said, "someone's out there..." the woman sounded frightened.
The door swung open quietly and a man came in, hidden in the shadows. Murdock knew who it was... it was him, many years younger. The events replaying before him had been a mistake, a tragic mistake. Young Murdock was bowing to peer pressure - a desperate need to belong. His pseudo-friends had gotten him drunk and sent him out on a dare. It hadn't seemed like much at the time... just a simple dare... steal a television set.
"Please... stop this," the present-day Murdock begged. The thing merely grinned wider and put its hand on the man's head, turning it back to the scene.
Young Murdock came all the way in the door. He didn't see the other man as he exited the bedroom, dressed in his boxers and furious at the invasion.
"Hey!" the tenant yelled, flicking on a light. The room was suddenly flushed with brightness. "What the hell are you doing?"
Young Murdock blinked in the light, he could barely see. "I... uh..." he stammered as he searched for an answer.
The other man wasn't willing to wait for an excuse and stormed forward, straight at the thief. Young Murdock realized with a start that the tenant was holding out a gun, level with his own chest.
"Look... I'm not here for trouble..." the thief said, backing up. "I'll leave..."
"Like hell you will!" The tenant launched himself at young Murdock, striking him upside the head with the gun's barrel. Despite the pain, the thief grabbed for the gun. The two men struggled over it for several seconds before it went off, taking out the light. The room was dark again, but the men fought on. The gun fired again and the struggle ended.
Young Murdock felt his opponent's still body and fell back. "Oh my God..." he whispered. A chill worked its way up the young man's spine and he looked up into the darkness. From the shadows he saw a face... cold and white, staring at him and smiling.
The terrified teenager threw down the gun and got to his feet, running out the door and down the hallway. People peered out their doors and watched the man in his frantic escape. Somewhere behind him he heard a woman, the man's wife, scream.
Murdock sat on the floor and stared at the dead man... the man that he had killed all those years before. Then, slowly, the room's contents began to fade... back to the way it had been when he had been thrown inside. Everything vanished, but the bloodstain remained and for many long seconds Murdock didn't move.
"It was an accident..." he whispered finally. "I didn't mean to..." Murdock felt a surge of strength and pulled himself to his feet, turning to look at the thing. This time the man wasn't buried in fear, but overcome with anger. "You have no right!"
The creature turned its face full to Murdock's and smiled with rotten teeth.
"I thought about you for a long time, Murdock... I never forgot you or what you gave me..."
"Gave you...?" Murdock felt his heart begin to pound hard in his chest.
The thing grabbed the man by the shoulders and pulled him in close... close enough to smell the stench... close enough to see deep into the thing's empty eyes. A trickle of blood fell down the monster's forehead, over the pleased furrows.
"Look at me!" it bellowed.
Murdock tried to turn away but couldn't move. as the thing pressed its knife-sharp fingertips deeper into the man's skin.
"I have no soul..!" it yelled. "You gave me one..."
"Stop! Please... leave me alone!"
The creature paid no attention to Murdock's pleading and gripped him harder. "You made me hungry for more..."
The thought was too much for Murdock and he screamed out loud... trying to twist away. He couldn't accept that he was responsible for this thing... that it was his act that gave it life and set it after others' lives.
"I have seven now..." the thing said, sounding pleased with itself. "Before you came here there had been no deaths... I hadn't known how... fulfilling it could be to have a soul of my own..."
"Now you want mine...?" Murdock asked, a tear falling down his cheek. The thing threw the man across the room and he slid hard into the wall.
"That depends..." it told him, taking a step forward. "Will you stay with me?"
"Stay?" Murdock said, standing on uneasy legs. "Why?"
"I told you... I like you." The thing took another step. "The others didn't want to stay with me..."
"You killed them..."
"They didn't want to stay..." it repeated. "I don't like being alone."
"What? Seven souls aren't enough for you? You wanted their bodies, too?" Murdock was furious... but as much at himself for giving this thing purpose as at the creature itself. The man took a step back and found himself against a window.
"I wanted someone to be with me... I have all these... people inside me, but I am alone now..." it was advancing closer with each word. "If you don't stay with me I will have to take yours..."
"My what?" Murdock screamed out. "My soul? My spirit..?"
Murdock took a step forward, then another... he was mere feet away from the thing now. All it had to do was reach out and it would have him. The man looked up into the unholy eyes defiantly, picturing al the lives it had stolen.
"Go to hell..." Murdock said softly.
The thing reached out its cold hands, grabbing for the pilot. Murdock turned and ran, slamming himself into the window. The glass shattered and the man went into freefall. If he was going to die, he was going to die on his own terms... and his soul would never belong to that monster.
"Come back to me, Murdock!" the creature screamed at him from the empty room. Murdock didn't listen... he just closed his eyes, as he felt the icy wind flow past his body, and waited...
Murdock landed hard and yelled out, afraid to open his eyes. He lay still and waited for himself to die from the fall, from the cold... But it wasn't cold, the air was warm and humid. The echoing screams of the creature in its anger were gone, replaced by the soft sound of conversation nearby. It was all familiar to him and yet so distant.
Opening his eyes, Murdock found himself lying on the floor of his room in the VA hospital. He rolled onto his back and looked up at the ceiling, its familiar plain white paint and cracks unusually soothing. He climbed back into bed and sat on the edge, letting out a sigh.
"Bad dream this time," he whispered to himself. "Very... bad dream."
He sat and wondered about the images. He had never been to any place resembling the one that had assaulted his psyche, and not once during his youth had he gotten drunk enough to commit murder. He wondered if there had been some symbolism there, perhaps disguised flashbacks to Vietnam. He told himself he would have to remember to mention it at his next session, even though it had been a drug-induced dream.
Standing, Murdock made his way to the small window that was his sole access to the outside world while within these walls. He breathed in the warm Southern California air and sighed. It was good to be back where it was warm, even if he hadn't actually been gone.
Turning, he glanced at the mirror on the far side of the room. A chill traveled up his spine and he shivered with cold. For an instant he could see a face... pale skin and black holes where the eyes should have been. They faded into a shadow that drifted across the room towards the pilot. Within the shadow he could smell the sulfur and death... and he heard seven voices call out for help as the shadow wafted out the window.