The city is empty but for the blood.

The man with the terrible eyes opens his eyes and finds himself standing in the middle of a street, in the middle of a city. It is the same city he had lived in as a child. It is the same city that, until recently, he had been living in as an adult.

Tall buildings loom over him, and he is comforted by their familiarity. He has no idea what they are for, who they are owned by, or what people do inside them, but he knows them anyway as the backdrop to what had been his whole life. There's no movement in the windows. There's no movement anywhere.

There are, he realizes, no people. There are few cars. The cars that are there are parked along the side of the road, even in places where cars are typically not allowed to park. Not all of them are facing the correct direction.

The sky is overcast and uncomfortably bright, and though he knows it will not rain, and though he does not feel at all cold, he finds himself wishing he had a jacket.

There is blood on the pavement. Rich, red-black blood that darkens at the center of each of the many, many pools on the street and on the sidewalk, and lightens to scarlet along the pools' edges. So much blood in each pool that he knows whoever lost it could not have survived. The many, many people these pools of blood belonged to could not have survived.

But there are no bodies. There are no scarlet trails from injured people dragging themselves or being dragged away for help or for whatever other reason someone would drag away an injured person. The pools of blood are perfectly undisturbed. Their surfaces are smooth and darkly reflect the too-bright sky.

He turns away and makes his way through the quiet city, heading for home. Not the house he had been living in, provided to him by the Iotech corporation, nor the other Iotech house before that. The house he is searching for is one he has not seen in ten years, though here in this strange, empty city, he knows where to go.

There are shadows on the walls of the buildings. He did not notice them at first; he was distracted by the blood, but he sees them clearly now. They are bulky, humanoid shadows, as though cast by people in baggy clothes with their arms held close to their bodies. They are not human shadows. They are too tall to be human. They stand between windows and doorways of tall buildings, unmoving. The shortest stands at seven feet tall. Many are more than nine feet. They stand only along buildings that can hold their height without cutting them off.

A cold, empty chasm opens up in his stomach, and his breath catches in his throat. There is a feeling of heavy air the closer he is to the shadows and buildings, as if gravity is increasing. He stops before one, waiting for it to move, for it to acknowledge him, to do something. This is their place-- he can feel it. He is trespassing here, and he waits for them to tell him so.

They do not.

They merely stand, looking straight ahead of themselves (if they can look at all), and do nothing else.

Eventually, he averts his eyes and leaves them. As the buildings around him grow smaller, so do the shadows, until the single-story residential buildings are too small for them to stand. The shadows are limited, it seems, to down town where the buildings are taller.

He walks on, careful not to step into the puddles.

He finds the house as though led by some invisible force. It's smaller than he remembers. It is the same size, but he has grown. He stands on the tiny, grass-less and gate-less front lawn and looks at it.

Red roof, patchy brown stucco, weeds growing in cracks in the driveway. One of the front windows is covered with newspaper; a storm had sent a tree branch at it and though the window hadn't shattered, it had cracked, and his parents hadn't been able to afford a new one, so they had covered the outside with paper. He knows that, on the inside, there will be several strips of duct tape still holding the glass together. The mailbox is still dented from that time those neighbor kids went at it with a baseball bat.

A small, sad smile plays at his lips. This isn't real. He knows none of it is real and has known it since opening his eyes, but all the same, there is still a weight in his chest. There is still the house, his house, right there. He walks to the front door, his sneakers crunching the gravel underfoot.

There's no point in knocking; no one is home. Despite the two cars parked out front, he knows no one is home and no one has been home for a very long time. The door is unlocked. He goes inside. Nostalgia hits him like a cold wave. There is the ugly floral wallpaper his parents always said they'd get rid of, but never did. There's the living room, with the tan and red plaid sofa Dad picked up off the side of the road. How many hours had he spent curled up on those cushions, reading the books mom brought home from the library? Hundreds. Hundreds of hours and hundreds of books-- books he no longer remembers at all, save for the fact that they were there and that he had read them, once. There is a pang in his chest, and he does not know if those memories are ones Iotech took from him or that he lost on his own.

Every step brings more memories. Every memory spawns more memories. There's the shelf that fell on him when he was ten and trying to climb up the side of it. There's the TV that always broke when he was around to the point that his parents wouldn't let him in the same room as it if it was on. The carpet, the walls-- even the ceiling all bring back memories. This was his home, and he'd never said goodbye.

He glides through the house like a ghost until he comes to the back door, the glass slider door leading out into the back yard. He frowns. Looking through glass, he can see the grass and the fence.

This is not supposed to be here. It is not his backyard; his childhood home didn't have grass or a nice fence, it was concrete. Or rather, it is the wrong one. He goes outside, leaving the door open behind him, and looks to the right, knowing full well what's waiting there.

It is a hole. An empty grave that looks about five feet deep. Surrounding it are bags of trash and loose cans of beer and other miscellaneous garbage. He stares, mouth agape.

Oh, he thinks, feeling faint. That's where it all went.

For a brief second, he wonders what would happen if he shoved the trash back into the hole. Where would it go? Was the other side still of the hole on the Iotech property? Or had it moved since then?

He goes back inside. There's no reason to, but he locks the door behind him. Then he leans against the bare wall in the hallway and slides to the ground. Absently, he rubs his head, running his hair through his fingers. Then lower. He feels his neck. There's nothing unusual; it's just his neck.

He stops suddenly and bolts to the bathroom. There he turns awkwardly in front of the wide wall mirror above the counter, trying to see the back of his head as best he can.

It's gone! he thinks. His third eye, the one on the back of his neck, is gone. His hands aren't lying; there really is nothing unusual about his neck.

He's still staring at himself in the mirror when the ground starts to shake. There are porcelain and glass crashes from the other rooms. He looks up and the bright pale-gray sky darkens to almost black.

He runs out the front door.

The road is rippling, bucking up and down, moving like waves. Every few seconds, roots are pulled up from the earth, houses are ripped from their foundations only to be smashed back down again. The wave is converging on him; the ground beneath his feet is still mostly still, and from all sides, the ground rises, rises, rises. A voice from nowhere and everywhere echoes inside his head as the ground comes rushing towards him:


He wakes with a start.

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