Strange Playgrounds recently received a very odd communication - an email from firstname.lastname@example.org with no time or date stamp, containing what appears to be a fragment of a much longer piece, along with a preorder link to Kit Power’s forthcoming collection.
We contacted Kit, who confirmed the fragment was an extract from the book, but was mystified as to the email address and date stamp. With Kit’s agreement, here is the message in full:
They know about the machine! The flash came to me personally, via my desk com at work. 'Be on the lookout; experimental recovery device; blah blah...' - can't believe they are trying to claim it's post-War tech. Ridiculous; it's clearly far in advance of anything we could possibly bolt together - '...believed to be misplaced in one of the data-storage device warehouses. Item extremely dangerous, do not approach – flag to orange band clearance or higher. Interference with the device is punishable.' That last is not uncommon, but they'd normally offer a small bonus as a reward. I guess they are really worried about someone getting their hands on it; figuring out how it works.
I can see why.
Only trouble is, it means I'm running out of time. If they know about it, they'll figure out that it's been taken eventually. Then all they have to do is check the key card access logs for the warehouse, do a door-to-door of all the residences...
So. I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to do something pretty drastic in order to get this out to you.
I'm not looking forward to it, but I have to get this information out before they catch me. It's too important.
But I can't do anything tonight, so might as well run samples Starting with--
So, you would have my confession? Very well, I give it freely. Still, I beg you, do not interrupt with your confounded questions, though I know you will have many. Save them until the end. That which I must tell, I would tell once through, lest I lose my nerve. Attend then, and transcribe faithfully.
It was a normal Wednesday evening. I had completed work in my study at the usual hour, and taken my supper with Isabelle. She was her usual delightful self – questioning, laughing, the spirit of gaiety alive in her shining eyes and rosy cheeks...
The tub had been prepared as normal: the large basin placed by the roaring fire, the water pleasantly warm but not hot. After our meal, Isabelle and I retired to the living room. The maid was dismissed, and Isabelle allowed me to disrobe her, giggling as I tickled her naked arms, squealing with delight when my whiskers tickled her belly.
She loved to laugh.
I lifted her into the tub and bathed her, talking to her as I did so about my day. I let her splash a little, watched her spread out and pretend to swim, my arms leaning on the edge of the tub, waiting to reach in and grasp her if she were to slip.
I washed her hair with soap, then blew some bubbles between my thumb and forefinger, her high voice encouraging me to increase their size, her laughter flowing like some sweet warming nectar.
I had turned to the fire, reaching for a jug of clean water to rinse her hair with, when the change occurred. When I turned away, she had been excitedly describing the bubbles, remarking on their sizes. This had continued as I turned, but as my hand neared the handle of the jug, her voice transformed. Mid-word it dropped, first low then high, then low, alternating with each syllable. At the same time, the words vanished, replaced by a nonsensical babble.
Each lower register seemed deeper than the last, each high note louder and shriller. I cannot fully put into words the terror that struck me in this moment; how horrified I was by that apparently senseless noise. Something in the alternating register, the apparently random sounds, struck dread into me as though I were hearing some awful incantation.
As if in sympathy with my panic, the large log in the centre of the fire split with a loud crack. Smoking embers flew into the deep rug and began to smoulder.
I was still looking towards the fireplace, attention caught by the tendrils of smoke rising from the rug, and my panic gave my voice a timbre and gruffness that would ordinarily command obedience, possibly even tears. I had a moment to curse my own harshness, to wonder at why I should be so gripped with emotion as to address her so harshly.
Then the babble rose again.
As I close my eyes now, I hear it still, every dread syllable. But I dare not repeat it. Suffice it to say, her voice deepened further, hitting notes that were surely not possible, and the high notes became screeches that grated my senses raw. The flames in the fire began to surge, burning hotter, the coals glowing fiercely. The smoke from the rug was becoming thicker, darker, and I saw flame there begin to flicker.
In a spasm of movement, I grabbed one of the jugs and poured it out over the smouldering rug with a cry.
At the same time I felt the heat from the fire increase again, becoming more intense, seemingly drawn into ferocity by the inhuman noises my darling daughter was producing, though in truth by then I scarcely recognised her voice. My gaze returned to the fire, eyes squinting against the heat, and there I saw...
There I saw the fire, receding and growing, falling back and away. The fireplace around it grew faint and faded, then the ground on which it sat sunk too, as though melting in the heat— DON’T LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT!
Forgive me. Forgive me. It— No, no, you weren’t there. Let me tell it, quickly.
The ground fell away before my unbelieving eyes, until I was kneeling upon a pillar of rock, surrounded on all sides by darkness, and a sheer drop. Far beneath me, as far as my eyes could see, fire spread in all directions, flickering and rolling. The babble had become a chant, the deep parts guttural as a mad dog, the high notes shrieking like a bird of prey, the devilish syllables seeming to warp my mind as surely as they warped the world around us. Boiling waves of heat rose from the pit, singeing my eyebrows, burning the very air in my throat.
My head turned back to the tub, seemingly of its own volition, and I beheld her.
Her skin had turned red, and her eyes glowed a sickly yellow, as though lit from inside by a flame burning some noxious substance. Her smile had become a leer of perfect depravity, pointed teeth pushing out at crazed angles from bloody gums, her lips splitting in places as the grin pushed her mouth unnaturally wide, as though whatever was passing through her by invocation was tearing her apart as it transformed her. I beheld her but knew her not, and when her eyes met mine, I saw only damnation; mine, hers, perhaps the world’s.
I acted on pure instinct. Though her size had increased somewhat, she was still an infant in basic form, so it was a simple matter to grab her legs and pull. Her red skin was almost painfully warm to the touch, but my grip held firm, and her head slipped beneath the surface of the water with ease.
I shifted my body, moving my hands to hold her shoulders, fearing that mouth, those teeth. I saw understanding dawn across that hideous visage, and then a ferocious rage that seemed almost to stab out at me; certainly I felt my heart lurch in my chest, but the fear that had galvanised me to action held me in its grip, and I maintained the downward pressure as the monster began to thrash.
How it struggled! The water churned and roiled as I wrestled with the inhuman figure. It seemed to last an age, long enough for me to wonder if perhaps this dread creature could somehow breathe underwater, but gradually the struggles began to lessen and I felt the awesome heat begin to dissipate, to withdraw. I perceived at the edge of my vision that the world was assuming its rightful shape once more, even as the creature in my hand began to shrink, to fade from that hellish bloody hue to the soft pastel-pink of my beloved Isabelle.
I beheld her there, once again perfect. My darling daughter. She lay at the bottom of the tub, beyond all pain, all misery, all love. At peace.
I sobbed for a while, before ringing for the maid. She in turn called for the constabulary, and there you found me.
This is my story. I will not tell it again. Do as you must, as your conscience and laws dictate. I pray only that the end be swift, and that afterwards I see her restored. That I might hear that beautiful laugh once more.
I desire nothing else.
The message ends there.
A WARNING ABOUT YOUR FUTURE ENSLAVEMENT THAT YOU WILL DISMISS AS A COLLECTION OF SHORT FICTION AND ESSAYS BY KIT POWER will be available in paperback and Kindle ebook from November 3rd, and will be free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
Purchase the UK edition of the book HERE and the US version HERE.
George Lea is an entity that seems to simultaneously exist and not exist at various points and states in time and reality, mostly where there are vast quantities of cake to be had. He has a lot of books. And a cat named Rufus. What she makes of all this is anyone's guess.