The day the streets ran deep vermilion by pythia
The Wolfriders had been a wannabe Gothic Folk band before the Vermilion gig, playing small clubs and performing at events around the Lakes – earning just enough money to keep them on the road, and just enough adulation to bring people back to repeat performances. They’d revelled in the dark looks and the pseudo supernatural trappings of the Goth scene, experimenting with Steampunk styling and Voltaire inspired strings; they knew they appealed to a niche market, and suspected that they were never going to make it in the mainstream, no matter how brilliant or talented they thought they were.
If nothing else had happened they’d have probably gone on like that for a few more years – until one or other of them had had enough, or found religion, or that guy …
all the normal, tempestuous stuff that shatters the dreams of would-be-stars once they come to learn that you need a lot more than raw ambition to make living the dream worthwhile.
The Wolfriders were never going to face those particular problems. It took a long night of terror and a whole week besieged in a living nightmare for them to find out that they weren’t just friends, but a family – and that family
was the most important thing to have when the world goes straight to Hell.
It turned out to be a pretty important thing to have when you came back from all those bad places, too – but that was later. After the day. The
day, and the things they saw and the people that they met – and after the song. Their song, which told their story, and which would have been a pretty cool number at the old kind of gig – except that it was raw, and it was real and the world would take it up and be singing it, and variations on it, long after the events it described were lost to living memory. It would echo across the stars, and a thousand worlds, and almost endless dimensions, a typically human souvenir of untypical human history.
Some of that would be because it had a catchy tune - but mostly it would be because of that
chorus. The one that stuck in the mind and the heart and hung on, even after the verses faded into hummed half memories, and the story behind the what and the where and the who was lost in its echoing chords. The day the streets ran deep vermilion,
The day the world wept bright and bitter red.
They'd been besieged in the club for over a week, surviving on bar snacks and soda and the stash of stuff from the vending machine. The ones that had left early never came back with the help they’d promised. The ones that had tried to get out later hadn’t got far enough to offer any promise of ever coming back. Several people had died in the club itself before they’d got wise to what was going on and how the things were getting in. The ones that that remained – the band, their roadies and their agent/manager/greatest fan, a couple of bouncers, some of the bar staff and about two dozen clubbers - had barricaded the lower levels and moved as much as they could onto the mezzanine dance floor, building nests of seat and coats and cushions so they could spent their nights cowering in mostly terrified silence, refusing to listen to the voices that called through the dark, promising them everything if only they’d come out …
Haven – the dark haired, dark eyed girl among the clubbers who’d turned out to be a real witch and one of the few reasons that any of them had survived the first night of chaos – had explained about how vampires were real, and told them that those things that had dragged people into the basement were some kind of demon … and then she’d said that all they had to do was wait, because either help or hell was coming, and there was nothing any of them could do to influence which one except hold on.
Mostly to each other, as it turned out. Mazzy finally admitted that she was gay – which most of them knew already – Cutter had announced that if he survived, he was going to find religion, and he didn’t really care which one, and Tee had gone real quiet, saying nothing except to start muttering softly under her breath. That meant there was a song coming, and it had to be a good one, because it was taking days to work its way out. Days of tensioned apprehension, in which they learned – the hard way – that going up to the roof, even in sunlight, was a bad idea, and that you didn’t let anyone
in at night, no matter how hard they knocked, or how terrified they sounded. Frank O – the bigger of the two bouncers – had been bloodied and ripped by the vampire girl he’d invited in the second night, and the rest of them would have been too, if Haven hadn’t hexed her long enough for Cutter to stake her with one of his drumsticks.
Which he was still complaining about, because no-one had warned it would crumble to dust like its victim if he didn’t tug it out quickly enough. He was hanging on to the other of the pair, just in case.
That morning started out as one more step down in the long ladder of despair that was leading them into nowhere, one day at a time. They’d spent a restless, sleepless night, hearing the rat things gnawing at the nailed shut doors in the barricaded bathrooms, and claws skittering around underneath and overhead. The dawn broke with shrouded reluctance, painting sickly colours over the few hints of sky they could see through the shuttered windows – and the air held moments of sharpness and ice, despite the muggy atmosphere they’d been breathing for days. Tee had squirmed out of their shared cocoon, checked for grunts of aliveness in the other nests, and then taken up her chosen post at the upper windows, peering out between the wire grids and the cracks in the glass to try and make sense of what was happening in the world.
Cutter – after dipping behind the privacy curtains to piss into the kitchen sink they’d allocated for personal waste – had shrugged into his leather and plate jacket and joined her. She’d shuffled up and let him sit beside her on the narrow bench. The song had started to develop a hook line – a hummed lines of notes which hadn’t quite got a rhythm or tempo yet. But it was getting there. It was cold across the lakeside, so sharp the wind that blew with ocean’s breath.
With the dawn the sky came creeping, all bruised and raw and yellow,
Filled with echoes of the screaming of the dead.
Came to us where we were waiting, for the final day to follow
Nights of endless terror whispering of death.
Mazzy snagged their morning rations – one can per person, a power bar each from the machine and a bag of chips between them – and brought them over to share. She sat on the windowsill rather than the bench, because that way she could watch Haven do her rounds. The witch was checking her wards and refreshing the ones that needed it every sunup and sundown – although the fire bucket she’d grabbed to create her blessed marking sand was beginning to run low. She’d have made more, but she’d used up most of the supply of salt making her first batch. None of them liked to think about what might happen once the sand ran out altogether – although Cutter’s glib comment about having to use blood instead of sand was starting to feel a lot less like a joke and a lot more like a sure bet. Haven swayed and danced as she worked her mojo, humming an echo of T’s developing melody, and everybody watched her – but Mazzy wasn’t looking to make sure they’d stay safe another day. She watched because she liked
Haven, and she’d found she liked being able to be open about it. It wasn’t much, but when you spent practically every waking moment thinking you might be about to die it became pretty important to take pleasure in little things. Like Cutter, taking time to savour every drop of his Dr. P – or Lee, doing her Reiki thing to help Frank O and the others who’d been hurt.
Tee moved back to the end of the bench when Lee came over, giving her room to sit between her and Cutter. Not much
room; she shuffled in again once Lee had sat down, squashing her in protectively. Lee smiled and sighed, asking her how the song was going, and Tee hummed her the latest version of the hook. Started too, anyway; a sudden sound of scrabbling and chittering from somewhere outside sent everyone into a tense silence. Cutter nodded towards the window, and Mazzy – glancing outside – nodded a glum confirmation of the things he’d predicted they’d see once the morning came. The two bodies that something had dragged out of apartment block across the way, and which had been left sprawled across the intersection, were now little more than a scattering of bones. Shapes were flitting in and out of the shadows cast by the rising sun, and every now and then there was a flicker of more obvious movement as one of the rat things scuttled into or out of sight. Cutter wrapped his hand around the heavy ankh that he wore and moved his lips in silent prayer; Lee rolled her eyes, but didn’t say anything. She’d asked before who he was praying too, since God had appeared to have abandoned them – and he’d told her that he’d go on praying to any deity that might be listening, and if one of them answered, that’s the one he’d worship from there on in. Haven seemed to have a few to chose from, and they seemed to be listening to her, because her wards were holding – but Lee wasn’t buying that. She was firmly of the opinion that the witch’s power was no more than her personal ki, and that there were no gods left to listen.
Not anymore.There we rose to see the sunrise, to catch a glimpse of hope we dare not claim
Heard the beasts below us rustling, digging claws and teeth still gnawing
At the roots of our existence far below
So we prayed for our deliverance to gods we thought weren’t listening
And huddled close together in our shame.
Some odd sounds started to drift in from the distance. Some of them – like the sharp staccato of gunfire - they’d heard before. Others were less identifiable. The muffled whumps
and the echo-y clashes that followed them sounded determined and disciplined. The half heard ring of metal, and the even less certain hints of something hitting something made even less sense. The odd screech and blood curdling scream simply made them shudder. They’d all heard far too many of those kinds of sounds over the past few days.
What ever it was that was happening – and it was definitely a happening
– it was attracting attention. Several of the large rat things scuttled into the road below their window, rising up on their back feet to sniff at the air and cock their heads in uncomfortably intelligent assessment. A creature with insectile limbs and multiple eyes rode up to join them, its mount a nightmare-ish combination of shark and snake and centipede roughly the same size as a bus. The band competed to find suitable names for the thing and its transport, whispering suggestions back and forth at almost inaudible levels. It wasn’t that they weren’t terrified – they were, and had been for days – or even shocked and nauseated by what they saw; it was desperate, fear spawned inanity, a last grasping at humour and sanity in a world that had gone mad – or worse, gone straight to hell.
“New thing ,” Cutter noted, starting the game. “Spider-monkey man? On a cockropede horse?”
“Nah.” Maddy was dismissive. “More like an Octoclopes mantis man – and that’s a millilimb-worm. A great white millilimb worm.”
“Yeah,” Lee agreed, risking a peek over the windowsill to see what was going on, “That fits. Only make it a wyrm – with a y. It’s got scales. Worms with an o don’t have scales …”
The millilimb wrym and its mantis man rider scuttled away down the street, heading for the source of the sounds. Rat things scrabbled after it, more and more of them swarming out of the sewer grates. There were some of the crab-legged grabbers too, their ugly yellow carapaces carpeting the sidewalk and spilling onto the road where the rat things left space for them.
“There’s death on the streets,
” Evelyn whispered, crawling up behind Cutter, who nearly jumped out of his skin. The girl had been a little strange even before the madness started; none of them knew what it was she’d been using, but she’d turned up at a number of gigs, wide-eyed and spaced out on something. She’d been much the same at the start of things, clearly high, and drifting on another plane somewhere. The drugs must have worn off days ago, but she hadn’t come down, or shown signs of withdrawal. She’d started raving instead, speaking in rambling, disjointed sentences and occasionally giggling simply for the sake of it. It was a quiet, harmless madness, and no-one had anything but sympathy for it. Compared to the reality they were facing, Evie’s retreat into fantasy was almost enviable. “I can hear the shadows screaming. Or maybe it’s the peacocks. Such pretty feathers …
“Something’s coming,” Haven announced, joining the group by the window. “Something powerful.”
“Friend or Foe?” Cutter made some space on the bench so that Evie could snuggle up to him. She’d painted peacock feather designs around one of her eyes at some point in the night, probably using the eye make-up Lee had given her to keep her entertained the day before.
“I don’t know,” the witch replied distantly, frowning at the view through the window. A troop of something faceless and angular were stomping by, following the trail left by the millilimb-wyrm. “I really don’t know …” The day that hell came marching by us
To battle with the living and the dead.
The day the streets ran deep vermilion
The day the world wept bright and bitter red.
AN: The Wolfriders are a tribute to, not actual members of the Elfquest tribes, but just in case, I don't own Elfquest or any of its characters. The song is mine, but should probably be attributed to Athanasia ('Tansy') Morgan, lead singer of the 'Immortals' - a band that turned up in one of my original stories a few years ago and have been hanging round in my head ever since. Every now and then, Tansy writes me a song. This turned out to be one of them ...