She sat and watched her clothes blur colors in endless cycles. All the calamities in her life that had been written out to lead her to this moment appeared in her eyes. Alone. Thirty. Washing laundry past midnight. A newspaper sat on her lap, never made it past the first article; Animal Attacks Continue. The police are baffled. So on and so on.
She rummaged through her purse when it beeped. The text was from her mother; “hope ur doing well”. It should be encouraging, from someone she loved half-the-country away. But the slight layered within the message, like poison in cream, showed its true self in the end. She put the phone on silent.
A man walked in wearing a long brown coat, dirty blue jeans, and sandals. He had a wild beard and she thought he might be Asian. He was definitely homeless by the smell.
As she put her phone away, she withdrew a can of mace and tucked it inconspicuously nearby.
“Evening.” The man said. He came right up to her. “Do you have, eh, a dollar? For the vending machine.” He gestured toward it.
“Uh, I guess so.”
“Thank you.” He gave a formal bow and approached the machine. Holding the dollar with two hands he slid it in and pushed the right combination to release a candy bar from it’s spiral prison.
He went to eat it at the other side of the laundromat, a seat close to the window where he gazed out at the yellow dots which danced across the still sizzling life of the city, even in the late hours.
“It’s beautiful, this place.” He said, knowing she could hear him. “As a boy I heard of it, in stories. All I wished was to see it someday. But you never realize how perfect your home is, until you are miles from it. Until the darkness of an alien place closes in around you.”
“I wouldn’t know. I’ve lived here all my life.” She crossed her legs and kept the mace can nearby. “Why don’t you just go home?”
“It’s complicated. But, well, there is a parasite called lancet liver fluke. It infects ants. Makes them climb to the tip of a blade of grass to be devoured by grazing beasts. Where it can feed on the nutrients it needs,” he spoke between bites, his words mashed in with chocolate smacks. “The ultimate goal is the beast. The bystander is the ant. Utilized to fulfill a much deeper cosmic order than the ant can hope to understand.”
She considered how many clothes she could bundle in her arms when she made a run for the door. Of course, as she looked to him she realized he sat where he did to be close to the exit. Her only chance was to take the fire exit, out into the alley.
Then one of the washing machine doors creaked and slammed shut.
She stood, the mace can in her grip, until something pushed her back down into the chair. The old man was gone. Her shoulder began to sear with a burning pain and when she looked over, she could see blood bubbling up from a gash as her skin was pulled off the bone. She screamed, falling to get away.
“Help!” She cried. “Help me!”
There was nothing there, but she knew something watched her; even stood over her. Blood splashed onto the floor, down her chest, and stained the fabric of her clothes.
Then the front door opened. A man in a worn suit charged inside. He brandished a sword in his hand and swung it toward her as she went to cover her face. “No, no, no!” She screamed. Expecting the agony of the strike. But it never came. Drops of something hit her and when she opened her eyes she could see. She could see great and awful things.
The blade pierced the chest of a tall grey figure. Naked and without a face save for an unnaturally large smiling mouth filled with black teeth. Chipped long nails were stained with her blood. A quivering, luminescence that came from the sword seemed to reveal it’s form.
She screamed. Again. This time she crawled backwards toward one of the storage rooms behind the laundromat. There were sounds of fighting and a wet smack on the floor and then a terrible, inhuman screech which made her cover her ears and huddle in the corner.
Someone pushed against the door. Then banged on it fiercely. “Please,” said a man, “Please, let me in. Please. There’s more coming.”
She hesitated. A towel on her shoulder grew more damp from the wound. She unlocked the door and then slammed it closed after he dove inside.
The sword in his hand, she had a second to look it over; simple, a straight double-edged blade. He held his side and she saw the weariness in his face. Plain, tired, like an overworked cubicle junkie.
“Who the Hell are you?” She said.
“Names Dave. I’m nobody. You?”
“Hi, Linda. I just need a minute then I have to go back out there, alright? There’s a second door down the hall, you can use it to run.” Dave grimaced.
“What about you?”
“I’ve got to stay. I’ve got to fight.”
“Fight who? And why don’t you run with me?”
“It’s what I’m suppose to do.”
“Then tell me what the fuck is going on, so I can tell the police.”
“You can’t tell the police, Linda. Listen to me. They wouldn’t believe you.”
Outside they could hear the sound of heavy steps and voices. A thousand voices, chattering at near unintelligible speeds. Voices that clattered like a crowded room. Panicked. Scared. Deceiving.
“Your hear them?” Dave said. He used the hem of his blazer to wipe the sword clean, the gesture precious and tender.
“What are they?”
“Like, from Hell?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. They’ve been here forever. Apex predators. Invisible, fast, strong. They thrive on chaos and destruction. This is the only thing that can stop them.” He held up the sword for her viewing. It looked so simple, a light and fast weapon meant for one-hand. “It’s perfect.”
“And where did THAT come from?”
“I don’t know. Maybe Heaven. We’re all playing our part here tonight. Hunter, Predator, and Prey. I’ve been at this for two years now and there doesn’t seem like an end. My wife left me. I lost my job just last week. But still…” He paused and looked at the sword, smiling sadly. “This is what I’m here to do. It’s what the blade wants me to do.”
“It speaks to you. Sort of. The way your body speaks to your hands to move, to run, to crawl. It speaks to you like that. Everything is right about it, everything makes sense. Order is here to fight Chaos.”
Linda’s forehead glossed with sweat. She held herself up against the wall and breathed slowly. The wound hurt so bad. All she wanted to do was get as far from here as possible.
“Dave, I want to go home.”
“Home. I haven’t been home for a long time…”
Something about the way he spoke. It reminded her of that old man from earlier. He had the same sad look in his eyes. She frowned and the voices grew louder outside.
Come out. Come out. Come play. Play. With. Us. Us. Many. So Many. More. More. Beware. Tsurugi. Beware. Come out. Be safe. Play. Eat. Eat. EAT. Thump, something bashed the wall. Linda, startled, leaps closer to the back door.
“Tsurugi,” she said. “Is that a name?”
Dave moved to the door and in a single, fluid motion plunged the blade in and out of the wooden frame. When it drew it back, it had a new coat of blood along it’s surface. She heard the sound of a body felled.
“It’s the name of the sword. Tsurugi.” Dave rolled his shoulder and brandished the weapon. He seemed to catch his breath, eager to run back out into the swarm of creatures. Demons, now inhabited the laundromat.
“Hang on. Wait. Come with me. You can fight your way out. We’ll make a break for it. It doesn’t have to end this way. Please.”
“I’m afraid this isn’t the end. I’m sorry, Linda.”
But it was too late. Dave threw the door open and the blade hummed with an ancient white light. It flashed once then revealed the gathering of creatures standing tall and eerie in the hallway. They drooled and appeared as hunger unbound.
Then Dave cast himself into them like a diving swallow. He flashed and blurred, slicing them apart and carving a path back into the main laundry room. Linda darted out behind him and went through the secondary exit in the back.
And, as feared, she found herself in a gated area with a dumpster and no visible escape. She was trapped.
“Dave! Dave!” She shouted as she came running back inside. He stood in the hallway with his back to her; haggard, worn. She stared, watching his curious expression. Bliss. He looked doped up.
“Nothing,” he said, “I’m having a ball.”
Then, as he smiled looking back at the woman, a vicious hand came protruding from his torso. It held his heart out, dripping with dark blood. The jagged nails holding flecks of viscera between them. Dave gave a cry and Tsurugi clattered as it fell from his hand.
His invisible killer approached; leaving bloody footprints in it’s wake. She ran outside back into the cage. Her initial thought to climb the dumpster was short-lived as something caught her ankle and tossed her to the gravel.
As she writhed from the sharp pain, she could feel them all around. Demons. This is how I die. She closed her eyes, curling her body into a ball as the whispers started again.
And as they intensified, drawing nearer and nearer, she realized something. Her body was slowly standing.
In her hand gleamed Tsurugi. But it wasn’t her hand anymore. It belonged to the sword. She smiled, bathed in it’s sweet radiant song.
She fought. She fought well. The Demons were scattered. When they swung she knew how to dunk and swipe upward in arcs that cleaved limb from limb. It was like cutting paper. The creatures screeched, fled, and died beneath her odd, soulless dance.
It was silent. Blood covered the walls. The damaged lights flickered. Dave’s body lied peacefully on the floor with his heart beside him.
Linda held Tsurugi. “I’ll do as you ask,” she said. “Anything for you.”
The sword quivered, exhaling it’s new wielder. She didn’t want to let go. The night was long and they were out there, hurting more people. It told her she had to fight them, wherever they went, she had to go and fight them.
Then she asked, “Will it ever be enough?”
No, said Tsurugi, for the sun sets. And the darkness goes on and on.