It rained in both worlds on the night Scott Dyson became the Interloper.
The clouds above the city seemed to writhe and strike at each other like duelling serpents. Then came a thunderclap, borne from the impact of colliding worlds and Scott Dyson—not yet the Interloper—was awake.
Lightning flashed, letting light through the arched bedroom windows and burning the shapes of the garden onto the back of his eyes with hideous intensity. He touched the bed, but his hand found only the gentle indentations that she had left; lingering warmth, already fading.
Something shattered. Scott lurched out of bed and dressed quickly; automatically. He squashed his feet into his sneakers but didn’t tie the laces. He called her name into the darkness and pulled a jacket across his shoulders.
Scott moved into the corridor. At that moment it felt like nothing existed beyond it, except for the storm. Rain struck the roof like hoof beats: pounding, pounding, thundering. He saw a glass vase smashed on the floor, darkness pooled around it.
Lightning flashed again, illuminating the front door. It was open and swinging. Rain sluiced in, wetting the carpet.
Scott went to the door and looked out onto the street. The storm howled back at him. He lingered there, as though some invisible membrane prevented him from stepping through. Or perhaps he simply needed more time to summon the courage that one small step required.
The door slammed closed behind him and there was no going back. Between the hedges the iron gate was open and screeching in the wind. Beyond the garden, the street had been dismantled and rearranged so that he could only follow in one direction.
Rubbish bins had been overturned and cars had been tipped onto their sides. Trees were upended from the earth, their branches hopelessly tangled and bound again by electrical cables that thrashed and crackled.
Fragments of paper whipped around Scott’s ankles; detrius of memory.
It was as though Jocelyn had exerted some magnetic force on these objects as she’d passed, dragging and pushing them aside. And now Scott too was drawn along in her wake. He treaded through puddles and noticed that the wind carried an unlikely mixture of scents—dirt and sulphur and extravagant flowers, half-rotted. The storm pushed back at him and his clothes grew heavy as he was drenched with rain.
Scott “Billy” Dyson—still not yet the Interloper—kept walking.
Houses gave way to empty lots and white picket fences turned to chain link. The wind prodded Scott like the fingers of a witch; like an unkind drama teacher forcing him onto the stage before he knew his lines. Against a horizon lit by lightning flashes, Scott saw the shapes of neglected warehouses, hulking geometries of shadow.
Then he was among them, grasping corrugated metal and trying to catch his breath. Until that moment he had believed himself to be in a dream; but now—as he gasped and spluttered and the rain continued to assail him, he finally realised he was awake.
Thunder rumbled and Scott blinked through the rain. There she was: briefly illuminated by a flickering street lamp. A man in a suit was dragging her away, his hand entwined in her long, dark hair.
Rain surrounded Scott as he ran. It struck down at him from above and rebounded up from the asphalt so that it felt as though he was moving through a churning tunnel of it, vibrating through the air. Thunder crashed with every footstep. Scott was the storm. It surged through him.
Pain flared like lightning in Scott’s ankle and he stumbled over his untied shoelaces. He went sprawling to the ground, grazing his palms and twisting his ankle awkwardly beneath him.
Scott’s howl was snatched up by the wind and discarded disinterestedly. He hunched over and sobbed, tears mingling with the wetness of the rain until he could no longer tell which was which.
The man who would yet become the Interloper could not tell where he ended and the storm began. In some ways he felt exquisitely aware of the solid ground beneath him; yet he also felt as though he were free-falling into some unknown darkness—a black hole of despair from which he would never escape.
And then: a sudden feeling of lightness as an unseen hand lifted him out of the storm and deposited him onto cold, dry concrete. Slowly, he opened his eyes.
He was inside one of the warehouses. Wooden crates were stacked on pallets at every side, forming a maze of boxes and shadows. Metal catwalks crossed back and forth between the walls and fluorescent lights dangled from metal crossbeams that supported the high, arched roof.
Scott groaned as the pain in his ankle returned. He wiped his hands on the concrete, leaving wet hand prints. He used one of the wooden crates to drag himself upright. Water dripped from his hair and clothes, pooling beneath him.
The sliding warehouse door, on a metal runner, was open a few inches—beyond it, the storm still raged. Something about that sliver of reality seemed so far away. Scott studied the wooden crates. Beneath the eerie iridescence of the hanging lights he felt as though he was being watched.
He could barely remember the journey that had brought him here. The memory of waking in an empty bed seemed hazy and indistinct. He was dimly aware that he was afraid, but his fear was smothered by several more obvious layers of discomfort. Still the fear remained, like a pea hidden beneath a hundred mattresses.
He held onto the crate and did not move. As he senses sharpened he began to notice a strangely compelling smell—a nauseating sweetness. And so he began shuffling through the warehouse, attempting to keep the weight from his ankle by using the crates for support.
One of the crates had been broken open, wood splintered untidily as though something had burst free from within. Scott looked inside the crate but could see nothing. The strange smell was stronger now and he passed two more boxes before discovering the source. Stumbling backwards, he slipped on the floor and a bolt of pain arced through his sprained ankle. He bit down on his bottom lip to keep from crying out, but a muffled whimper still escaped.
What he saw was a mutilated body laying in a pool of congealed gore.
Scott pinched his fingers over his nose and inched around the crate. The victim was wearing a security uniform—it still clung to his flesh, stuck down with blood and snagged on protruding bone. Savage gashes had stripped the guard apart layer by layer, but his face was untouched. Dead eyes stared up at the ceiling, unseeing, and his jaw hung open in an expression of eternal disbelief.
A line of blood had trickled down the man’s chin and pooled at his chest. His right arm had been crushed, but his left was still attached by strips of muscle and ligament. Gripped in the man’s fleshy palm was a gun: a shiny black revolver that Scott suddenly wanted very badly.
Scott shuffled towards the body, moving slowly so that he did not slip. His sneakers stuck and squelched. He focussed his vision on the gun and attempting to close out everything else. His stomach lurched as he came close enough to grip the gun by the barrel. He twisted and shook the weapon but it would not come free.
As each moment passed Scott became more sure that the security guard was going to wake up, dead eyes bulging to fix him with an accusatory glare. Scott’s heart pounded in rhythm with the rain that seemed so distant now—a world away.
Behind him: something growled.
Scott’s knees dropped to the floor. He wrapped both hands around the gun and, again, he pulled. This time, the gun came loose with a sickening pop and the guard’s fingers remained twisted at an unnatural angle. The revolver tumbled into Scott’s hands.
It was heavier than Scott expected and he fumbled it. He wrapped his own finger around the trigger, trying not to think about the fact that it hadn’t helped the man who lay dismembered on the floor.
This is it, said a voice in Scott’s head, this is when everything changes.
Scott scuttled away from the body, leaving red smears on the concrete. He leaned against a stack of crates and raised the gun like he’d seen people do in movies. Nothing moved. There was no sound. And then—without warning—it came at him.
Dog, hyena, wolf, man; all of these words could have been used to describe the thing. It was some chimeric nightmare, some hybrid of all of those things and others, things that Scott had never seen before—things that could not possibly exist.
The beast wore dark and shaggy fur. It’s wedge-shaped head was filled with teeth and its eyes were the size of fists and burning with yellow fire. Ropes of saliva dripped from the jaws of the beast as its mouth struggled to shape a single word, a word that Scott did not understand for he was still not that of which the demon spoke: Interloper.
Revulsion washed over Scott—peculiarly triggered by the fact that the creature had attempted to speak—and he remembered the weight in his hands. He jammed the gun into the stomach of the creature and drew back the trigger.
The gunshot was muffled by the belly of the beast. The creature sprawled backwards, screaming and howling. Its claws clicked against the concrete as it turned in a slow circle and stopped to stare at Scott with those terrible, monstrous eyes.
There was metal staircase leading to the catwalks above and Scott made his move. The creature loped after him, blood spilling from its stomach and hissing where it struck the ground. The creature headbutted the railing of the stairs just as Scott began dragging himself up them.
Scott’s ascent stripped the skin from his knuckles. At the top of the stairs he fell back against the corrugated metal wall and raised the gun. The creature followed, its enormous head rising slowly above the final step, belching fetid gas. Earlier, Scott’s mind had attempted to make sense of the creature—to describe it in terms of things that he understood, but those comparisons were no longer relevant: it was clear the beast was no mixture of earthly things, but a demon spawned from Hell.
The lips of the creature peeled back, revealing rows of jagged teeth and, again, Scott pulled the trigger. The shot rang out across the warehouse and the beast fell.
Scott remained against the wall for some time: shaking, eyes glazed. Sanity slipped wetly through his fingers. Rolling over he leant against the railing and retched violently, but was not sick.
The railing groaned and for a moment he expected it to fall away and send him tumbling into the jaws of the creature below. But the demon was gone—or seemed to be. Smears of blood and water decorated the concrete below like some hideous arcane sigil.
Again, Scott was alone and nothing else seemed to exist beyond this strange nightmare; nothing except for Scott and the warehouse and the unholy storm that continued to rage beyond these green corrugated walls.
The lights flickered and again Scott began to wonder how much of this was real. The gun in his hands felt solid enough and there was a lingering smell that Scott assumed to be gunpowder—or… was it wildflowers? He couldn’t tell.
Scott Dyson—still not yet the Interloper—drew his knees up against his chest and rocked back and forth. His entire body trembled. He couldn’t tell if he felt hot or cold. Blood surged through his veins; every nerve was alight with expectation.
Then came the sound of applause, barely audible at first above the din of the rain. The sound caused the hairs on the back of Scott’s neck to stand on end. Shakily he rose to his feet and struggled to lift the gun.
“I have a gun,” Scott said and abruptly the clapping ceased.
“I have a gun,” he repeated. His voice echoed back at him weirdly from the curved, undulating walls. He sounded afraid.
“I’m well aware you have a gun, Mister Dyson,” a voice replied. The accent was mild, impossible to place. At the far end of the walkway a tall figure stepped forward: a tall, well-built man in an immaculate suit. He radiated beauty, but also darkness; he was the Void given life.
“Yes, it is me, as you so vehemently concur,” the man smiled, not unkindly. His was a searing, aggressive beauty not intended for mortal eyes. Shadows lingered around his shoulders like clouds, like… wings.
“You’re not real,” Scott rasped. The gun felt incredibly heavy in his hands; an anchor attempting to tether him to reality.
The man said: “I believe she is around here… somewhere.”
“Shut up!” Scott yelled. Then, desperately: “Where?”
The man spread his palms in mock surrender and the shadows that hung across his shoulders grew darker. He stepped forward.
“If you come one step closer, I’ll shoot you,” Scott’s face was pained.
The man took another step and Scott pulled the trigger.
The pop of the revolver stripped away the fugue that lingered over Scott’s mind like the wet clothes that clung to his body. Jocelyn was standing where the man had been.
“Scott?” she cowered, drenched in rain, her white nightgown clinging immodestly to the shape of her body. The bullet struck, shattering her skull like porcelain and sending a vast bloody smear against the green wall.
A peal of thunder exploded across the city, shaking the warehouse and bringing Scott to his knees. Jocelyn’s body crumpled to the catwalk and Scott screamed loudly enough to rival the thunder.
The gun had fused with his hand; he could not loosen his grip. He clambered towards her and the metal creaked beneath him. The catwalk gave way before he could reach her and Scott toppled over the railing.
He did not hit the ground as hard as he had hoped. Laying on his back he gasped and sobbed. The beautiful man stood over him, looking down at Scott with eyes like fire. Blood spattered down through the grille holes in the catwalk.
“You,” gasped Scott at the shadow in his vision where the man stood. “I hate you…”
“No,” said the man matter-of-factly. “You hate yourself.”
He was right, of course. And then, remembering the gun still clenched tightly in his hand, Scott saw a chance at escape. He pressed the weapon against his throat and held it there.
“I can help you, Mister Dyson,” the man offered. “I can take away your pain.”
Scott’s eyes rolled back in their sockets. His mind plunged into his own personal purgatory, free from pleasure and pain. Since he had woken reality had been folding in on itself, coiling itself in knots like a mad snake. It no longer resembled the world he had known: he had nothing left to lose.
“One word is all I need, spoken of your own free will,” said the man. “One word…”
“Yes,” said Scott.
And then: a sickening sea of colours engulfed him, a psychedelic rainbow of his every memory and emotion. The babbling voices of insanity swept over him, smothering his psyche, clutching it and tearing it to pieces. At the very edge of his consciousness Scott was aware, this time with certainty, of the rising scent of wildflowers.
Outside, the rain stopped.