I didn’t really have time to see what was happening, what exactly Creepy was supposed to have done and why the authorities wanted him. I had to move on, as I’d already realised that this mucky Milton Avenue of the not-too-distant future wasn’t the sort of place people hung around on, and standing and gawking at a window display was likely to draw attention my way no matter how time-traveller boring I was. And it wasn’t like the news clip explained very much anyway. They never really do. All it showed was Creepy running between two buildings and slipping on some mud.
Storing away the information regardless, I made my way along the manky orange tube to the old department store, which had been through so many names it had finally emerged on the far side of the corporate branding machine as a sort of gaunt, bruised skeleton, more of a concept in the form of a building full of shops than an actual building full of shops.
And, downstairs, a honkin’ big geometric shape that had no right to exist.
The department store looked even sadder and more bedraggled now that it could only be accessed or even seen from a couple of holes cut in the walkway, and the entry area had been pushed clear of most of its stuff and converted into a sort of airlock for reeking muck. I went on through, recognising the futility of asking any of the frazzled-looking last-minute Christmas shoppers if they’d seen Rose. She was benefitting from the same unremarkableness that I was, and she would have been far less conspicuous here than she’d been in olden times even if she and I were technically two of the only people around who didn’t seem to be soiled to the knees. Despite the walkways and restrictions, it seemed there was no way to get very far in the city at this time without doing a bit of wading.
I was briefly distracted by this weird thought as I descended the stairs towards the department where the Prism was standing. I had to take the stairs – the department store elevator tended to break down at the drop of a hat, and half of the city sinking into a cursed salt lake full of corpses was quite a lot more than the drop of a hat. I had not, in fact, even bothered to check the elevator on this occasion but it was safe to assume it was out of commission.
The weird thought, however, was that it was actually rather odd that things were such a shambles. Of course I had no idea precisely how long this state of affairs had been getting worse, and I had no idea what sort of sudden changes in circumstances the disaster-control people were facing on a daily basis. Maybe there was just no way for them to respond to the stink-holes and the rising ooze. That was, after all, part of the nature of a curse. If modern advances could stop them in their tracks, there wouldn’t be much point to them, would there? Maybe there was no way to stay ahead of the collapse, and things had been getting steadily worse since day one. Maybe the cattle-like wandering of the local citizenry, tracking sludge in from all corners of the spreading swamp, was the best possible outcome of the damage-control effort.
I also wondered whether Creepy had maybe been identified as the person responsible for the whole mess, and that was why the authorities were after him. And if that was the case, I wondered, how had they identified him as the cause? It didn’t seem likely, all in all, but that just left the question of what else he might have done to get himself on the news.
Then again, if Creepy had been living without my help and restraining influence for months, let alone a year and months, there was really nothing to wonder about. The challenge in that case lay in narrowing it down to a short list of reasons Creepy might find himself on the local, nay international, Most Wanted list.
I reached a landing where a polite once-upon-a-time-velvet rope had been suspended between two tarnished bronze pedestals across the descending stairway. A little sign on this rope – again hand-written – read:
Level C and D (menswear, sportswear, gardening and hobbys) closed for renevation
Please consult the updated map! 🙂 We apologies for the inconveneince
I shook my head as I studied the appallingly-written sign, then turned to look at the department store map that was displayed on each landing. It, too, had been amended using taped-up bits of paper and hand-written outlines and lettering, to squeeze the refugee departments into accommodating space on the presumably-more-waterproof upper levels.
There was nobody around and something told me the relocation of gardening and hobbies would not have extended to moving the Prism, so I stepped over the rope and continued down into the low-lit gloom.