The City of Nyx
The Two Strangers
It was Midsummer in the city. The great city. The city that was old for America, but not so old for the rest of the world. The sky was clear. It was hot and being midday, it was the hottest part of a hot, humid day.
The city had its streets. Some were narrow and some were very broad. Some were as straight as a ruler and others couldn't go a hundred yards without curving around something. Some were shaded by ancient trees that had been there since the horse and buggy and others were dead surrounded by sidewalks of dead cement, yet the dead sidewalks were alive with the human throng.
The people were much like the streets. Some were as cruel as demons and some were saintly. Some barely survived day to day and others wallowed in wealth, while vast majority got by with just a little to spare. Some were dressed in flashy clothes that shouted "Look at me!" while others were dressed to say "I'm not here!" There were those who were young and looked forward to endless tomorrows while others were elderly and faced the final hour of their lives.
The buildings were varied as well. Some were but a single story tall while others reached for the stars. Some were long abandoned and forgotten except by those who needed a place to hide, while others were alive with the present. Blight and prosperity stood side by side in all places.
Down the streets walked Enos Walker. He was dressed to say "Don't bother!" as he walked with his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the cold cement that passed beneath his moving feet. He knew where he going yet because he had no idea of where he really wanted to be, he was moving with only a vague thought of where he was going . One place in the great city was just like another. The people were so different on the outside and yet so much alike. The same could be seen of the buildings and streets. Even as he passed places he had never been before he felt the cold sameness of another day, another place and another street, another everything that was all the same.
Anyone who bothered to look into his eyes would be met by an inner hunger and a continuous sense of discontent of one who was seeking but had no clue of what, The world is full of travelers, those who are not at home on earth or any place on it, but feel an eternal disconnect with the world around them. He had been that way since he was a child. Sometimes, out of the corner of his eyes, especially at night when the city was lit by a countless beautiful but empty lights, he would see the light dance on the waters or against a mirror or pane of glass, he would see something and would know that he had found what he was looking for, but when he looked right at it it had vanished. For him the entire world would never be enough.
His stomach growled with hunger. He paused and thought for a second. Money was really not an issue as he had enough and really time was no issue either as it seemed at times that all he had was time, yet just as often he would have given anything for one more minute in a given day or hour. This day he had plenty of time.
The restaurant said Jane's and it looked fairly bright but as he went inside it he could see that it was like a thousand other eateries across the mighty city. Booths and tables were things differed from other such places only by their colors. He sat down in the booth closest to the window. The waitress was pretty but no different than a thousand others as she approached and handed him a menu and smiled with an almost genuine sweetness as she said "How are you today sir?"
"I'm about as good as expect to be?"
She responded automatically "Something to drink?"
"Water and a diet."
She left to get his drink while he examined the menu. It was virtually identical to a thousand others that he had seen in his day. It seemed that there were maybe four or five menus in existence and every watering hole in the city used one of those of five. He briefly wondered if there was a cartel of some sort that owned every restaurant menu in existence. He could have almost ordered from his memory of other menus and known exactly what he was going to get. And surprises were generally very unpleasant.
When in doubt order a hamburger!
No restaurant can mess up a hamburger. He safely ordered a quarter-pound hamburger with a few condiments and waited quietly, watching out the window as he did so. It had started to drizzle a little bit which was curious because the sun had been shining when he went in and no rain had been predicted that day. He hoped it wouldn't last as he was unprepared to be out in a rainy day.
It was almost amusing to watch the people in the street scatter as it suddenly turned into a downpour. Several people came into the restaurant and sat down. The waitress that had waited on him, as well as the one other waitress were soon taking orders for drinks as more and more soaked people entered the building.
Strange! I don't recall a prediction for rain today.
Enos almost jumped out of his chair when a thunder and lightning suddenly came up. The crowd gave a start as well with several exclamations. The closeness of the flash and sound revealed just how close the lightning strike was. Shortly after he was brought his meal another crash sounded and the lights went out. There were the usual comments but there was enough light coming in the window that Enos could eat as he looked on the now abandoned street. The street had become a virtual channel as water rushed down it toward the river which was several blocks away. He noticed that across the street the lights were still on.
He smiled to himself. I guess I picked the wrong side of the street to eat on.
Inside the eatery the frequent flashes of lightning irregularly lit up the interior with an almost ghostly light. One could see outside in the clouded light but inside was dark unless lightning flashed. In the ephemeral light one looked almost unmoving and non-human. It struck him that he was seeing, not people, but mannequins that moved during the dark intervals but were unmoving when the light struck them. He felt alone in a roomful of automatons until the waitress spoke to him and jarred him back to reality.
"Sir? Are you doing alright?"
"Fine thank you! . . . I certainly didn't expect this."
"Kinda weird huh?"
"Just an ordinary rain, but they weren't predicting thunderstorms today. At least I didn't hear of it."
"Me either . . . well let me know if you need anything."
Enos smiled and said "A little more light perhaps."
"Can't help you there."
The waitress faded into the darkness and Enos gazed back out onto the street. The rain was hitting hard enough now that it sounded like a freight train as it was crashing into the window and nature was giving a pyro-technique display as lightning was almost unnaturally continuous. The lights across the street flickered a couple of times and then went out as well.
Looks like they're out of luck as well!
A masculine voice spoke to him. "Sir! Do you mind if I join you?"
Enos looked and in the intermittent light he could make out a man in early maturity, probably late thirties. His clothing was non-descript but his face looked angular, almost as if it had been carved into wood with an oversized chisel. There was something about him, but Enos could not tell if it was benevolent or malevolent. Enos was unsure of him as he looked, but the restaurant was now obviously full and he was taking up a booth by himself.
"Of course I don't mind, Have a seat."
The stranger sat down and looked right at him. "Your name is Enos Walker I believe."
"Huh? Have we met?"
"Not formally no, but we have met."
"Where? When? I don't remember you"
"The name is Malachi, Malachi Orr. It doesn't really matter where we met, but we have."
He did not look the least bit familiar to Enos. But as he studied his face he began to have an air of familiarity about him and it was a disturbing air. It was as if he was half-remembering a half-forgotten nightmare. Yet there was nothing, absolutely nothing in the man's demeanor to suggest anything extremely malevolent or evil. Perhaps Enos had met him but not consciously remembered him.
"Where are you headed Enos?"
"To the University Museum. There is an exhibit of local artifacts that don't fit into any known history."
"Ah yes! The Darken Collection. I've heard of it. Dated for over a thousand years ago, European in style but no known exact cultural match, and were apparently here several hundred years before the first European walked anywhere near what is now our fair city. Quite an enigma indeed isn't it."
"If the description is correct, they shouldn't exist."
"But they apparently do."
"Yes but . . . maybe the description is wrong . . . or the dating is all wrong."
"Why do you assume something is wrong?"
"Because they cannot be as described."
"And where were they found?"
"Not far away at all. In fact they were found in a new tunnel that they were digging for the new underground circuit."
"But they weren't exactly buried either were they?"
"No they were found in a small cavern with no exits of any sort . . . really a bubble of air six or seven feet across in a mass of almost solid rock."
"It is odd, isn't it?"
"I will be examining them after this accursed rain stops and I can continue to the exhibit."
An idea occurred to Enos. "Did we meet in school? I met a lot of people there, most of whom I have forgotten. I must confess that I forgotten you . . . uh Malachi I believe you said your name was."
"Actually, Enos, we met long before then."
"High School then, or perhaps when I was in the Army."
"Before the Army. But I don't know if you met me for the first time while you were in High School. But it could have been."
"So you don't remember either?"
Malachi paused for a minute and then answered. "No, now that you mention it, I don't remember either. But we have met."
"Well if you don't remember exactly where or when we met, I guess I shouldn't be embarrassed about not remembering you."
"Oh one meets thousands of people in a lifetime. It would be quite remarkable to remember everyone. "
Enos smiled faintly and nodded. "Yes it would be quite remarkable. All to often I can't remember people I'd met and spoken to an hour before."
"So what do you do for a living Enos?"
"Currently unemployed but I am a computer builder and repairman. I was self-employed but I just lost interest. Call it lack of discipline on my part. What do you do Malachi?"
"Me, I guess I'm sort of a scholar."
"Really? What kind of scholar?"
"I guess you would say the occult."
"What? Ghosts or magic?"
"Neither really. Other realities. Other dimensions if you will."
"Really? How can you study them beyond mere guesswork?"
"You would surprised how often different worlds overlap."
"I would need to see proof."
"I believe the artifacts in the Darken Collection may well be from another world.:
"Why would you say that?"
"They are very old yet do not fit into our history at all. They follow a similar style of our world but the distinct markings and forms do not exactly fit any known traditions. Plus the fact that they were found where no one has ever been. It's all kind of suspicious to me."
"Oh, someone had been in that air pocket before. We just don't know how"
"Someone had been in a cave that had no entrance. How? Magic?"
"It's as likely as them coming from another reality."
"And what is your interest in them Enos?"
"Pure intellectual curiosity. I'd like to see them for myself. It seems so simple but is inexplicable and I would like to look them over a bit. Maybe just to say I did it."
Enos stared at the slowing rain and thought for a few minutes.
"So tell me, how does one tell if he is near a point where two realities overlap?"
"It happens for more than you realize. There are various mystery spots all over the world where weird things are rumored to happen. Then there are also Ghosts."
"Yes ghosts! A haunted house is nothing more than a house that exists simultaneously in two different realities and the contents overlap in time and space. A ghost is nothing more than leakage between two realities, one of which is on a different time frame than the other."
"So all of this is an overlap between two completely separate realities?"
"Yes indeed. As are flying saucers, many mysterious creatures, and aliens. In fact what we call the Bermuda Triangle has a huge overlap area within it, or several smaller ones, I really don't know.
"No Malachi, I don't think you do know."
"So Enos has became the skeptic?"
"Extraordinary claims need extraordinary proof, or so they say."
"They also say 'Blessed are those who believe without seeing.'"
"That is for something you know in your heart is true, but extreme claims need to be proven."
"Ah yes! The heart! The ultimate moral authority! Can the heart really be trusted to determine what is and isn't true?"
"There are things we know by instinct."
"Ah yes! Instinct! That which reduces us to mere breeding animals is the same thing that tells us the deepest secrets of the universe. Strange what we believe isn't it."
Enos was gazing out the window where he could see a thoroughly drenched man about his own age, though moving with more vigor, struggling to walk toward the diner that he was sitting in. "Instinct also gives us the sense to come out of the rain!" he said as he pointed out the approaching man.
Malachi looked and sighed. "Him!"
"You know him?"
"Sort of. His name is Adam. Strange man to say the least."
Enos considered Malachi as he said this. A man who believed in doorways to other worlds should call another strange struck him as a bit odd. But then what would he consider strange. It was hard to say.
"You seem to know a lot of people Malachi!"
"Sometimes it seems like I know everyone, and other times I know no one."
"Is everything an enigma with you?".
"Only the things that matter."
Enos chuckled as he watched the stranger named Adam enter the eatery. As Adam entered the building the lights came back on. He muttered to his companion "Odd coincidence."
"If it is one." Malachi responded. "Like I said, 'he is a strange man.'"
Adam gazed around the dining room and his eyes fell on Malachi. A strange hard glint of disdain appeared in his sky blue eyes as he looked at him, but he started toward the table. Malachi watched him approach with a mild annoyance showing in his face while Enos watched them both with curiosity. As Adam approached Enos looked him over. He was dressed in Jeans and a dark blue tee shirt with a simple design of three white stars across the front with a white line circling the shirt benearth them. Underneat that shirt Enos could not help but see that, though thin and wirely, Adam was very strong as there seemed to be not one bit of fat on his body. His head was shaved and his face was hairless.
Malachi greeted his acquaintance with a less than friendly nod saying, "Well Adam looks like you missed the darkness . . . again."
Adam grinned, almost evilly and said, "What a shame. I never seem to be in the dark do I?"
He then looked at Enos and smiled in an almost friendly way, "Is ol' Malachi trying to recruit you for one of his lunatic schemes?"
"Now Adam, You know I am no lunatic."
Adam considered Malachi for a few seconds with an air of dislike and disdain, simply said, "No you're not, but your schemes are those that any sane person would take to be those of a madman. It would be so much simpler for all if you were just plain mad."
Malachi chuckled loudly and replied, "Maybe, Adam, it is you who are the madman."
Adam's gaze shifted back to Enos. His eyes seemed to flash with a mysterious blue lightning as he seemed to be looking inside of him instead of simply at him. "So Malachi . . . Who is your friend of the hour?"
"His name is Enos."
"Enos huh?" muttered Adam as he thoughtfully stroked his smooth chin.
Malachi continued, "and I would hardly call him a friend. His is simply a courteous man who allowed me to sit with him while the lights were out."
Adam looked at Enos and said, "Malachi is not insane, but he can be very dangerous in some surprising ways. I would suggest you be very careful, especially with your thoughts and feelings when around this one."
Enos spoke. "I know neither one of you so I cannot judge who is and is not sane, but I do not expect a life-long relationship to be starting today. Though he does seem to know me though I couldn't tell you how he would. To my knowledge we have never met."
Adam nodded and said, "He has ways of knowing people that would surprise you to no end." His eyes flashing with menace, his gaze shifted to Malachi who was staring blankly at the ceiling.
Adam shifted his gaze back to Enos and asked. "So what did he plan to do with you today?"
"We were just going to go look at those wierd artifacts at university meuseum."
"Ah yes! The Darken Artifacts. I kind of thought he would be horribly obsessed with those as they are in his field of interest."
"You knew that he'd be interested in those?"
"Of course! They are right up his proverbial alley."
"And what do you say they are?"
"What did he tell you they were?"
"Can't you simply answer me?"
"Sometimes questions contain their own answer. What did he tell you they were?"
"He said they were artifacts from a parallel universe that intersects with ours."
Enos looked over at Malachi who was staring impassively ahead.
Adam looked at both men for a second and then said, "Perhaps they are but what if it is so?"
"Are you suggesting he's telling me the truth?"
"I told you Enos, the man is not a lunatic but his schemes are those of a madman."
Adam leaned toward Enos. "I would strongly suggest you avoid him. Knowledge is a good thing provided it is gained along with proper insight. Some knowledge is dangerous to those who lack the wisdom to properly handle it and this is such knowledge. It is knowledge that can damage you in every way, body, mind and soul. If you must gaze upon the artifacts, do so without him around you. Those things are dangerous in every way imaginable."
Enos felt incredulous. "How can those things be dangerous."
Adam said, "There is knowledge and then there is knowledge. One kind benefits while the other kind does not. All truth is useful but there are truths that don't fit into the human worldview and, if you are not mentally prepared, can almost literally blow your mind."
"And this is such knowledge?"
"So you are saying things I am not meant to know or things that mankind is not meant to know?"
"There are things that you need to understand before you can truly learn other things. Knowledge without proper context is often more dangerous than outright ignorance because, even though you have the facts, you come to a wrong and dangerous conclusion and it is harder to refute because you have the facts on your side."
"And the Darken Artifacts are dangerous?"
"To those who see them as mere curiousities they are relatively harmless. It is those who seek their meaning without understanding the whole background who are endangered by them."
"Endangered to the body, mind and soul"
"That is correct."
Malachi laughed mirthlessly with his eyes closed as he shook his head while lightly rubbing his forehead.
"There you go Adam! Scaring people into cowering before the unknown instead of seeking it out and conquering it!"
Adam simply looked at him for a second and then said, "Those who charge heedlessly into the unknown often become a great story with a sad ending. The unknown should be entered with extreme caution, learning all you can before you even try to enter. It's not about not entering the unknown but not being reckless about it."
"So I am reckless am I?"
"You always have been. As long as I've known you. That and your arrogance are your downfall."
Malachi laughed. "My arrogance you say. I wonder about yours."
"I always consider my own arrogance. It is always a concern when I am evaluating things or deciding on an action. The wise always consider the possibility that they are mistaken, especially if there are things that are not known."
Malachi guffawed and said, "Oh so you're a wise man because you know that you are arrogant."
"Sometimes Malachi, wisdom seems to be beyond you."
"Ah . . . but you know that isn't true Adam."
"Oh do I?"
"Indeed. If I may say so myself, I have my own brand of wisdom."
Enos was gazing out the window as he tried to ignore the discussion by his two new aquaintances. The rain had stopped and the air was becoming heavy as the rain water evaporated bringing the humidity back up while the hot sun reflected off some of the windows across the street from them. The rain had not cooled things down at all, but had only made the day even muggier than it was. Rain does that sometimes.
"Well gentlemen," Enos said, "it has been most interesting talking to you, but I have finished my meal and the rain has stopped, so I can go on to see these artifacts for myself and make my own judgments."
He got up with his bill and took it to the cashier. In spite of his feigned disinterest the possibility of other worlds, even just a theoretical possibility, had caught his imagination. He somewhat resented both men has they had awakened in him fresh imaginings of a much more interesting existence. He was barely aware of how much he was paying the waitress and how much change he was getting. He left a tip without giving it a thought and then tuned to the other two men.
"Gentlemen, I thank you for the interesting dinner conversation, but now I must be off to see these items for myself. I would be really surprised if there is anything truly out of the ordinary about them, but I will look at them and see what I can make of them. So farewell."
Malachi grinned with a strange smile that could have been either predatory or friendly and said, "I will accompany you. I can answer many of the questions that I know will pop into your head."