[INT. MAGNUS INSTITUTE]
[TAPE CLICKS ON.]
[A light thud, and some shuffling of pages, followed by the creaking of a door; someone is entering the room.]
Uh – John – how did you?…
I just, ha– I know sometimes.
It’s, It’s a whole – thing.
[As he speaks, footsteps sound throughout the room.]
Oh. Okay. W-well, sorry, but I, I, um…
You have to leave. Suddenly.
(almost to himself) Oh, (normal) John, come on, we’ve been over this –
(overlapping) No, it’s fine; I know you’ve got… (big sigh) Whatever this is, I’m not going to question you.
(swallowing) Thank you.
Even if it looks like you’re doing something really stupid.
[A slight sigh, then:]
I get it; it’s just –
I worry. You’re working for someone (fumbles for words) really bad.
Yes, I’m not an idiot, John, but – it’s no worse than working for something really bad, so.
At least the Eye hasn’t gone after our own.
Lukas has vanished two people –
Yeah, and if it wasn’t for me, it would have been a lot more.
[Pause; Martin moves to leave.]
This isn’t helping anything.
I just – (sigh) I’m sorry; Basira’s off doing – god knows what, and I can’t talk to Melanie.
(yeah, whatever, okay) Mhm.
[The Archivist sighs.]
(he stops himself)
I miss you.
[Martin lets out a short laugh of disbelief.]
I’m just –
[The Archivist sighs.]
I, uh – I heard about your mother.
I am – so sorry.
(slight hitch of breath) Thank you.
(drawn-out breath) It’s -… It’s better, this way.
If, If you do need to talk, I –
No. No, o-o-of course. (inhale) Listen, Martin, you should know –
Daisy might be alive. Basira is –
(overlapping) Stop. Stop, please; I – I shouldn’t know any of this, I –
[There’s a strange sound here – it could be a low, rumbling static, but it could also be the sound of Martin gathering his things. The sound it most closely resembles is actually that of… another tape recorder running.]
I, I really need to go; I, I –
Right. (softer) Right.
[The sound stops.]
Please stop finding me.
[He gets up to go.]
What happened, Martin?
I came back.
[He opens the door.]
– and I’m not going to let it happen again.
Wait – Wait, wh–
[The door closes. The Archivist exhales, then sighs.]
[TAPE CLICKS OFF.]
[INT. MAGNUS INSTITUTE, ARCHIVES, JOHN’S OFFICE]
[TAPE CLICKS ON.]
Statement of Kulbir Shakya, regarding a flood that occurred around his house in Hackney. Original statement given September 4th, 2013. Audio recording by Jonathan Sims, The Archivist.
In many ways, I lost my home even before all this happened. I lived in that house my entire life. Hackney was my area, my community; it wasn’t some fashionable postcode or investment opportunity.
I should have seen the signs, I suppose. Little independent coffee shops sprouting up like weeds between the paving stones. Micro-breweries and taprooms cropping up in old industrial estates. Even though the Prince of Wales had to close its doors because it couldn’t afford the new business rights. The faces I knew and recognized gradually being outnumbered by young, trendy white people in artfully shabby clothes, who thought they were blending in… and precise-looking real-estate agents in well-pressed suits taking pictures of dilapidated buildings.
I complained, of course, made all the right noises of disapproval, but… I still drank the overpriced coffee. Still shopped at all the shiny new franchise outlets.
I thought because I’d been living there so long, I’d be alright. Hell, the house had been my grandfather’s before he died. But, we never had the money to actually buy it, and as property values skyrocketed, the landlord who had always seemed so understanding… suddenly started itching to sell. And there was no way I could afford the new rent on the meager salary of my admin job. I looked into getting roommates, subletting, all sorts. But by that point, I was already too deep in debt, and there was just no way I was going to be able to stay.
So I started the long and painful process of moving in with my sister. It was… humiliating. The flat she lived in with her husband was much smaller than the house, and I couldn’t afford a storage unit, so much of what I owned, a lot of which had once belonged to my grandfather, had to be thrown away. We actually got into a blazing row over his old khukuri.
He had been a Ghorkali, serving in the 5th Gurkha Rifles during the second World War. I have… complicated feelings on his military history, of course, but… he had always been fiercely proud of it. And that old knife had been one of his most treasured possessions. I didn’t keep it polished like he had, even at ninety years old, but it reminded me of him. I could see his calloused hand on its hilt as he meticulously, almost mechanically, cleaned it, humming a tune the name of which I never learned. He had been a man of discipline, in many ways many harsh, but he loved me and my sister very much, and the idea of throwing away his blade felt like a – kick in my chest.
In the end, she agreed, though, and it wasn’t long before I was spending my last nights in an almost-abandoned house, shelves bare and wardrobes empty, trying my best to sleep on a mattress I knew I was leaving behind.
The letter came the next day. The envelope was slightly damp, like it had been carried through the rain, and it had my name printed on the front in a business-like Sans serif font. It looked at first like any other piece of financial junk mail you might glance at once and throw away, but I read it anyway.
The letter claimed to be from a financial firm named Eberhart and Strauss. At least, those were the names on the letterhead. The first words did nothing to dissuade me from my assumption it was junk mail. ‘Drowning in debt? We can help!’ in big, friendly text that seemed at odds with the pseudo-respectable image the rest of it seemed to be striving for.
But as I read through it, I realized that… not only was it addressed to me specifically – not a difficult job for modern batch printing – but it made references to some very specific aspects of my situation. Precise amounts of debt. Names of creditors, and the sort of details that made it clear that this was definitely written to me. It didn’t give any indication of the exact assistance that Eberhart and Strauss was supposedly offering, but it did give an address, and told me to call on them at my convenience. At the bottom, in that same friendly typeface, it assured me that ‘we can help with the pressure.’
I don’t know what I expected; I really don’t. What, they were just going to hand me ten grand and another four hundred a month to cover the rent increase? I mean, I knew about loan sharks, and debt consolidation companies, and the dozens of other scams that prey on those in desperate situations like mine. This was just going to be another one of them. But, the letter had been to me specifically, and maybe somewhere in the back of my mind… I was genuinely hoping for a way out.
The address they gave me was for a tall, thin building in Hammersmith that housed about a half dozen more firms and a couple of tech startups. It didn’t look like the sort of place that high-prestige businesses would have their premises?, and more than one of the names listed on the plaque next to the revolving door had been roughly scratched out, I assume indicating they were no longer in business.
I asked at the front desk about Eberhart and Strauss, and was directed to an extremely cramped lift that rattled me up to the fourth floor. There was a buzzer next to the door, and it seemed to be broken and made no sound at all when I pressed it. My finger came away wet, and looking up, I could see some sort of leak in the ceiling, dripping water down onto the button. I tried the handle, and the door opened, quietly.
The rooms beyond were empty. Bare wooden floors, no curtains or wallpaper, a few abandoned chairs and cheap-looking desks. The light switch did nothing, though the dull grey light of a cloudy day filtered through the window bright enough to see by. Every surface was damp, slick with old water and warped with mildew. It dripped slowly down the walls and seeped into the rotten wood of what furniture was left. I could see a line of liquid in the bare lightbulbs.
I was confused; obviously, I was, and stepped back out to double-check the door, and sure enough; these were the offices of Eberhart and Strauss. I felt… disgust rise in my throat; the awful, humid air of the waterlogged place sitting heavy in my lungs. I checked the draws in one of the desks, but… even if the mushy pulp inside had once been paper, it wasn’t anymore. Confused and angry, I turned around and left.
It started raining on the walk home. When would you start to worry about the rain? I don’t mean about it ruining your day or wrecking an event you’re planning, but at what point does it stop being normal and start to alarm you? I’ve lived my whole life in London, so I’ve seen plenty of rain in my time. I’ve lived through weeks when you catch what minutes you can when the sky closes for a moment and you can run to the bus stop. I’ve seen poorly maintained roads turn into tiny lakes, and I’ve seen Hackney towns turned into a muddy swamp. So the first day didn’t worry me.
The rain pounded down steadily outside, and I sat in my bare, dismal home, waiting for my sister to pick me up. It drummed on the roof, rhythmic and insistent, cascading off in tiny waterfalls, and just for a moment… I found myself almost completely at peace.
Then I felt a drop, heavy and wet, land on the back of my neck, and it shattered all at once. I looked up, and I saw the spreading patch of damp in the center of my ceiling. Evicted or not, part of me recoiled to see my home starting to finally crumble, as though my leaving would take the last part of its hope.
The water was warm, and after the heat of the summer’s day, I breathed in, expecting the smell of petrichor. But the scent of the rain was something else, something earthy and cloying I couldn’t quite place.
It was a storm; there seemed to be no doubt of that, and I didn’t blame Boana [?] for not wanting to drive in this weather. I was a bit annoyed that she hadn’t called, but looking at my phone it was quite clear it wasn’t getting any signal.
Now, that wasn’t necessarily a surprise, given the storm, but it did present me with a problem: Namely, that my television and computer had already been sent over to my sister’s place, and without any signal, I was left with pretty much two options: sit doing nothing and listen to the rain, or head out into it. I opened the door for about three seconds before I decided that sitting and waiting was the better choice.
I walked upstairs, pulled a seat to the window overlooking the road, and… I sat there, watching. The drains were already starting to flood, puddles growing around the parked cars, reaching up and over, eager to meet in the middle to turn from a pool of water into something much more. I expected cars, maybe people running desperately to their homes, but the street outside was quiet, save for the pounding of the downpour.
Ten minutes. Twenty. Half an hour passed, and I didn’t see a single soul. Not a car, or a bike, not even a bus. That started to worry a bit; the 394 should pass by every fifteen minutes or so, but I definitely hadn’t seen it. Did they know something I didn’t? Was there some sort of weather warning out that I’d missed, for Hackney?
That was when I heard the first peal of thunder. There was no lightning, I want to be very clear on that. Nothing broke the uniform iron grey of the sky, dark and solid as far as I could see. But the thunder hit like a hammer. It rolled, deeper than I had heard even in the most violent of storms, and it just… kept going. I could feel it shaking through my whole body, and for a moment I thought that I was wrong, and it must have been a proper earthquake. Then it faded, and the world was silent again, save the impact of the rain.
When my watch told me it was nine o’clock, I dragged myself over to the mattress and told myself I might as well sleep through the rest of the storm, even though the sky seemed no darker than before. I tried to relax, and let the rhythmic tapping of the rain lull me off to sleep, like it always had when I was a boy, but I could find no comfort in it. It sounded too much like it wanted to get in.
The thunder woke me, another long, deep roar that seemed to come as much from the ground as it did from the clouds. The rain still hammered down outside, and I checked my watch, staring at it in confusion. It didn’t make any sense. It said it was three AM, the middle of the night, but looking out of the window, the world was still light.
The sky was cloudy and grey, as it had been the previous day, and the rain made it impossible to see further than the end of the street. But all the same, it definitely wasn’t night. There were no streetlights turned on, and, now that I looked for it, I couldn’t see any windows lit in any of the other houses on the street. It seemed like it was just me. Me and the steady, driving rain.
The road was beginning to properly flood now, with an inch or two of water creeping up over the edges, and starting to cover the pavement and climbing up the tires of the parked cars. I started to consider trying to leave. Perhaps I had missed some sort of official evacuation, some huge storm warning, and I was in terrible danger.
But no, that was ridiculous; this wasn’t some rural town panicking at the prospect of a flash flood; this was East London. If there was some sort of disaster coming, I would’ve seen something, an emergency vehicle, or at least someone in a high-vis vest. (sigh) I was overreacting. It was just the rain keeping everybody home. They all just wanted to stay dry.
I lied to myself until the water was too high for me to even consider going outside in it, and I was trapped. By the time it started to pour into the downstairs of the house, I had just about accepted that, whatever was going on, there was no longer a day or a night, just the storm and the rain and the thunder.
It’s odd how you gradually come to accept things as real. By the time you drop the last of your rationalizations, there’s no longer any surprise left in you, just an awareness that no matter how wrong it might feel, it’s the reality you’re now in. I walked down the stairs, as low as I could without stepping into the water, and I watched it.
It was dark and murky, obscuring anything below its surface as soon as it was covered. I reached my hand out, and pushed it gently into the flood. It was warm, as warm as my hand and moments after the water covered it, my mind could no longer easily tell where my skin ended and the water began. It should only have been half a foot deep at most, but reaching in I couldn’t feel the floor. I pulled my hand out and returned upstairs.
By the time the rain stopped, it was halfway up the staircase, and had almost completely submerged the cars parked outside. The thrumming of the rain gave way to sudden silence, and for a moment I allowed myself the smallest sliver of hope. The streets outside were still, the top of the floodwaters flat and undisturbed. The sky remained those same dingy clouds, but it seemed to be holding its breath.
Then, one by one, the headlights on the cars lit up. They shone out into the water that covered them, faintly illuminating the murky liquid for a few feet below the surface. And that’s when I finally saw things moving. Silhouettes gliding through the water with smooth, undulating motions. They might’ve been the shape of people; it was hard to tell for sure. They moved too fast, darting in and out of the lights, before my eyes could fully register what they were seeing.
I left the window and returned to the mattress. I was tired; I was hungry; and, without the motion of the rain, the air had become intolerably humid. Every breath I took filled my lungs with that thick, wet scent, and it felt like I could barely get enough oxygen to think. The walls of my house were slick with moisture, now, and there was nowhere I could go to be dry, no way out of this oppressive, cloying damp. Then the thunder came for the last time. It shook and rattled with more force than it ever had before, and the empty oak wardrobe fell over with a crash.
I ran to the window and found that the floodwaters were rising again, but faster this time, and not because of any rain. The house, the street, the world, was sinking into that unending line of water, which I was now certain stretched out to the horizon. Inch by inch, foot by foot, everything was descending into the water’s embrace. It would wrap itself around me, reach down my throat and fill me with its choking darkness.
There was nothing I could do. As the water reached the top of the stairs and started to flow out towards my open bedroom door, I looked around desperately for any escape that I might have overlooked. And I saw something lying just behind the fallen wardrobe. It must have fallen there months ago. It was the worn leather sheath to my grandfather’s khukuri.
I walked over and picked it up. I stared at it. I could feel that warm, grasping water cover my feet, my ankles, slowly working its way up my calf, but in that moment all I could think about was my grandfather, and how he had looked when they gave him his diagnosis: Calm and solid.
He had thanked his doctor, without hesitation, and although I knew he had been afraid, he had spent those last months methodically preparing for the end. He had always endured his problems, never trying to squirm out of things he felt he had to face.
I gripped the sheath in both my hands and waded to the window. Corpses floated by, slowly waving at me gently, their lifeless hands grey and bloated. I ignored them, and stepped out into the water.
I don’t know if you have ever drowned, but it’s the most painful thing I have ever experienced. I tried to remain calm, to think on my grandfather and his firm, stony face, but even he had begged the painkillers at the end. Even he had been afraid.
My lungs spasmed painfully, desperately trying to wring air out of the warm, rancid water that filled them, and as I felt the water embrace me fully, pressing in on all sides, I gripped the last connection I had to the world I knew. The last thing I was conscious of was the water getting colder.
I don’t – remember them fishing me out of Regent’s Canal, or much of my treatment, to be honest. At a certain point it all blurs together. I’m alive, and that’s what matters. And I’ve been living with my sister and her husband for a month or two. She doesn’t believe me, of course, and is keen to put the whole thing behind us, though I catch her staring at me sometimes. I suspect she thinks I might have done it on purpose… but she doesn’t know. She doesn’t know what it’s like, to really hear the rain.
(sigh) One thing that always strikes me when I read statements like this is… the bias of survivorship. With one or two notable exceptions, the only statements the Institute receives are those where the witness has successfully escaped whatever terrible place or being has marked them for a victim. I wonder how many don’t make it out. How many of those shapes in the water were once just like Mr. Shakya.
Hm. (dry laugh) Or perhaps I shouldn’t wonder. Even as I say it, I can feel the knowledge pushing at my mind, eager to find a way in.
But I don’t want it. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to see. No more than I wanted to see how Gertrude stopped the Buried, and their ritual, but that came to me as well. (short sigh of a laugh) They called it “the Sunken Sky,” and she calculated, correctly, that casting a Void-touched body down the pit at the right time would be enough to disrupt it. Something she found, in Jan Kilbride.
But Gertrude also realized that the body need not be alive. Or in one piece. She thought it was a mercy. It wasn’t.
I don’t like this. I don’t like not being sure what’s going to be in my mind. What thoughts are mine and what are from… elsewhere. Why I just know some statements are just what I should be reading. I assume this one is related to the coffin, to Daisy. I haven’t heard from Basira since she left on whatever secret errand, and I’m no closer to understanding any of this.
(sigh) I suppose, if this one managed to free himself from the Buried, I-I-I – to find a way out of whatever part of choked embrace is drowning, I-I-I –
[The static of the Archivist begins.]
I need an anchor. I – I could go in myself – I could find her, and – then I’d just need to get out.
[The static stops.]
I need something out here. Something I can know the way back to. I – I don’t know what. But… (short, dry laugh) It’s a start. (genuine delight)