Prologue

It rained in both worlds on the night Scott Dyson became the Interloper.

The clouds above the city writhed and struck at each other like duelling serpents. Then came a thunderclap, borne by the impact of colliding worlds, and Scott Dyson—not yet the Interloper—was awake.

Lightning flashed through the arched bedroom windows with a hideous intensity, burning the shapes of the garden beyond onto the back of his eyes. He touched the bed, but his hand found only the gentle indentations she had left; lingering warmth, already fading.

Something shattered. Scott lurched out of bed and dressed quickly. He squashed his feet into sneakers, but didn’t stop to tie the laces. He pulled a jacket across his shoulders and shouted her name into the darkness:

“Jocelyn?”

Scott moved into the corridor. At that moment it felt like nothing existed except for the corridor and the storm. Rain struck the roof like hoof beats: pounding, pounding, thundering. He saw a glass vase smashed on the floor, darkness pooling. 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 a moment longer to summon the courage that one, small step, required.

The door slammed closed behind him and there was no going back. The iron gate between the hedges was open and screeching in the wind. Beyond the gate, the street had been dismantled and rearranged so that he could only follow in one direction. Rubbish bins had been overturned and cars tipped onto their sides. Trees were upended from the earth, branches hopelessly tangled and bound again by electrical cables that crackled and thrashed.

Fragments of paper whipped around Scott’s ankles; detritus of memory.

It was as though Jocelyn had exerted some magnetic force on reality as she’d passed, and now, Scott was drawn along in her wake. He treaded through puddles, noticing 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 transformed 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 had memorised his lines. Against a horizon lit by lightning flashes, Scott glimpsed the shapes of neglected warehouses: hulking geometries of shadow.

Then he was among them, grasping corrugated metal and trying to catch his breath. He had so far 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 light. A man in a dark suit was dragging her away, his hand entwined in her long brown hair.

Rain encircled Scott as he ran. It struck at him from above and rebounded from the asphalt so that it felt as though he was moving through a churning tunnel of it. 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 disinterestedly discarded. He hunched over and sobbed, tears mingling with the wetness of the rain until he could no longer tell which was which.

And 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. Above the boxes, metal catwalks crossed back and forth between the walls and fluroscent lights dangled from the 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 far away.  Scott studied the wooden crates. Beneath the eerie iridescence of the warehouse 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 layers of more obvious discomfort. Still the fear remained, like a pea beneath a hundred mattresses.

Scott held onto one of the wooden crates and did not move. As he senses sharpened he noticed a strangely compelling smell—a nauseating sweetness. He began shuffling through the warehouse, moving from crate to crate in order to keep the weight off his ankle.

One of the boxes was broken open, wood splintered untidily as though something had burst free from it. Scott looked inside, but it was empty. The unusual smell was stronger now. Scott passed two more boxes before he finally discovered the source: a mutilated body laying in a pool of congealed gore.

Scott stumbled backwards, slipping on the floor. A bolt of pain arced through his ankle and he bit down hard on his bottom lip to keep from crying out. A muffled whimper still escaped.

He pinched his fingers over his nose and peered around the crate. The victim was wearing a security uniform—still clinging to his flesh, pasted 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, 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 neck. His right arm had been crushed, but his left was still attached by strips of muscle and ligament. Gripped in the guard’s pale, 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, laces trailing through the blood. He focused 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; it 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 pulled. The weapon came loose with a sickening pop and the guard’s fingers twisted at an unnatural angle. The revolver tumbled into Scott’s hands.

It was heavier than he expected and he almost fumbled it. He wrapped his own finger around the trigger and tried not to think about the fact that it hadn’t helped the man 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 failed to accurately 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, shaggy fur. It’s wedge-shaped head was filled with teeth and its eyes were the size of saucers, burning with yellow fire. Ropes of saliva hung 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 on 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 hideous fist-sized eyes.

Scott made his move towards a metal staircase that lead to the catwalks above. The creature loped after him, blood spilling from its stomach and hissing where it struck the ground. Scott began dragging himself up the stairs, feeling them shake as the monster headbutted them.

The climb stripped the skin from Scott’s knuckles. At the top of the stairs he fell back against the corrugated metal wall and raised the gun. The creature followed, enormous head rising slowly above the final step, belching fetid gas. Earlier, Scott’s mind had attempted to describe the creature 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.

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 over. Sanity slipped wetly through his fingers. He rolled and leant against the railing, retching, but he 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 creature was gone—or seemed to be. Smears of blood and water and Scott’s own hand-prints 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 raged beyond these green metal walls.

The lights flickered and again Scott began to question 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?

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 figure stepped forward: a tall, broad-shouldered man in an immaculate suit. He radiated beauty, but also darkness; he was the Void given life.

“You…”

“Yes, it is me, as you so vehemently concur,” the man smiled and not unkindly. His was a searing, aggressive beauty not intended for mortal eyes. Shadows lingered around his shoulders like wings.

“You’re not real,” Scott rasped. The gun felt incredibly heavy in his hands; like an anchor attempting to tether him to reality.

The man ignored him and said: “I believe Jocelyn 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 had lingered over Scott’s mind like the wet clothes that clung to his body. Jocelyn was standing where the man in the suit had been.

“Scott?” she cowered, drenched in rain, white nightgown clinging to her body. The bullet shattered her skull like porcelain and sent 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 crumpled to the catwalk and Scott screamed loudly enough to rival the thunder in its ferocity.

The gun had fused with his hand; he could not let it go. He clambered towards her and metal creaked beneath him. The catwalk gave way and Scott lurched sideways, toppling over the railing.

He did not hit the ground as hard as he had hoped. Laying on his back he gasped and sobbed. The man in the suit stood over him, looking down at him with eyes like fire. Blood dribbled through the grille holes in the catwalk.

“I hate you…” gasped Scott at the shadow in his vision where the man stood.

“No,” said the man matter-of-factly. “You hate yourself.”

And he was right, of course. Remembering the gun still clenched tightly in his fist, Scott saw a chance at escape. He pressed the weapon against his throat.

“I can help you, Mister Dyson,” the man told him. “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 awoken, 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,” said the man. “One word spoken of your own free will…”

Yes,” said Scott.

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.