The Nowhere and many other exciting stories are available NOW in Kevin Strange’s newest collection, All The Toxic Waste From My Heart on Amazon Kindle and in paperback here.
by Kevin Strange
I set traps. That’s my job. Since The Nowhere appeared. The Nowhere is where they’re from. The giants. The monsters made up of smaller monsters. The titan beings from another dimension, or between dimensions, or several dimensions nested within an even smaller dimension, depending on which scientist you ask. It seems like I’m always after another scientist. They’re the hot commodity in Fuckland. That’s what I call the world since it happened. That’s what we non-science types call the place the monsters live.
The guys in charge now want to find a way to close it off, to end the nightmare. To start us over again like the reset button on a video game. Me? I just set traps. I just hunt people for money—well, money doesn’t actually exist no more, but people trade things. They trade things people like me need in exchange for doin’ things people like them can’t—like find their loved ones in the sea of shit that used to be cities, towns, communities, and neighborhoods. Now everything’s all bashed to shit by big monsters sometimes shaped like big people, sometimes shaped like things that make your brain go bananas, like light switches flipping on and off or babies screaming (there ain’t many babies around no more, so that’s not something you hear a lot out here in Fuckland).
The guys in charge pay the best, so that’s who I usually work for. And right now, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pretty god damn desperate for some work; my last job didn’t quite pan out. Found the girl the parents were looking for. Damn hard job. Had to give up some good quality canned goods and the last of my cartons of cigarettes to get good info on the spot she was stayin’ at—seems the goons selling her ass to horny geeked-out weirdos were paying my usual rats better than I did, but I got her.
My trap was good, that time. Sent a rat bastard in on account of looking to maybe rent her for a good time and all that. I didn’t tell the rat that I had put a pipe bomb in his jacket right before he walked on in. I make good bombs. Real loud and lots of damage—that’s what you need when it’s twenty goons and one of you.
Messy job. Didn’t get all the goons with that first bomb. Got my hands dirty and lost a knife in a weirdo’s eye socket that I couldn’t get out, but she was there, hiding in a back room all whacked out and fucked stupid.
Wish I could say the same for her parents when I got her back home. One of those things had appeared from—yeah, from outta Nowhere, you got it. The Nowhere things stomped shit up pretty good, including my clients’ house. They didn’t get out in time, and no, there wasn’t much left in the rubble for me to salvage. The girl was pretty upset and made me take her back to the goony weirdo’s fuckhouse so she could trick again and shoot up on Nowhere smack, as some folks are wont to do in Fuckland.
Nowhere smack is the ectoplasmic ooze left behind every time one of the big ass things crosses over, or under, or whatever happens when something switches sides from Nowhere to Fuckland.
That job left me desperate, and I’m not too proud to admit that taking up a big ol’ nose full of that squirmy slime and blasting off outta my own brain for a bit didn’t sound like such a bad idea. But what I don’t tell nobody—why I do this nonsense in the first place—is that I’ve got a lady and a kid to feed. That’s right, I’ve got a little family stowed away someplace safe, and don’t even think about asking me where they are ’cause I’d as soon kill ya as tell ya.
So that’s really why I took the job the guys in charge offered me. If it wasn’t for ol’ Carla and little Joey back at my spot, I’d have told them to fuck themselves right proper for the thing they asked me to do next.
The guys in charge aren’t government and they aren’t military. They’re just some bozos who happen to not be dead yet, and decided to get together and run shit from behind a few tons of barricades that do a decent job keeping the Nowhere things out.
Usually when I approach the ten story structure—built out of cars, fallen over buildings, trees, and just about anything they can get their hands on and weld or strap or slop together with concrete—there are guards waiting at a pair of turret-mounted towers on the north wall that have to wave me in through the gigantic drawbridge made of junk that keeps the weirdos and the Nowhere things out.
Today, neither guard stood watch, and that drawbridge, well it was layin’ wide open for any bozo or freaked-out weirdo to mosey on through. But like I been saying, I was desperate, needed the money, and I wasn’t about to let something foolish like that get in the way of me feeding my family.
Why there weren’t no guards up front was apparent when I got into the compound. Right up front where any whacked-out weirdo could seem ’em, the whole mess of guys in charge were gathered around the body of a Nowhere thing—one of the ones that looks like a big person, with two arms and two legs and a sort of head—strapped down with a bunch of jet-sized magnets all vibrating, keeping it from switching sides back to Nowhere. Well, that thing was pissed and screaming up a storm from all its parts.
Nowhere things are like big vacuums, sucking up all the living things around there from Fuckland to Nowhere ’til they’re massive five or six story tall things all made up of the smaller things. The smaller things don’t seem to be able to get free of the larger mass, but that don’t stop ’em from writhing around, biting, snapping, clawing or sucking, depending on what they have for mouths. They get at each other, or anything gets too close to the bigger thing. It’s all a pretty hard pill to swallow, and I seen more than one good man take a bullet to the brain after getting around one too many Nowhere things.
I found my contact pretty quickly, standing around back. Bill the Gills is what they called him, on account of him being a big fat guy. His fatty under-chin—jowls I guess—were all foldy and flappy and looked like fish gills. He didn’t take to the name any, but people ain’t exactly worried about each other’s feelings in Fuckland when they got giant monsters made of little monsters flashing in and out of existence, smashing and killing and eating and fucking everybody they love.
Bill says, he says, “Mark-Paul!”
That’s my name. Use both of ’em when you talk to me or you ain’t gonna be sayin’ much after that.
“Mark-Paul! Just the man I was hoping I’d see today! We did it, pal!” he says. Bill the Gills is always getting too excited, I tell him. I tell him he’s gonna blow a gasket and stroke out before he ever finds a way to close up the gates or portals or whatever the Nowhere things use to come and go.
“What’d you do, Bill?” I says, sensing I was about to make some good money.
“We found a way in!”
Bill babbled at me about the science and the theory and all the junk that goes in one ear and out the other. All I wanted to know was why he was happy to see me.
“Because, Mark-Paul,” Bill says, grinning. “We’re gonna put you in there! We’re gonna send you to Nowhere!”
And that was that. Few hours later and it’s just a few of us standing around. The guys in charge are still going on and on about how much of a game changer it is in the fight against the Nowhere things. That’s when they drag this guy out all tied up and freaking out something fierce.
I give Bill a look. He comes over and leans in all quiet, “I didn’t say it was a pretty way in.”
They’ve got this guy’s hands tied behind his back and they yank him up on this pulley they’ve got built over the body of the Nowhere thing. Now he’s really going on loud enough to beat the band.
They get him all hung in place, and I got a pretty good idea of what’s gonna happen next. I take off my cowboy hat and try to pull myself as far into my trench coat as I can, ’cause shit’s about to get ugly and messy.
Yeah, you got it. They cut the poor sap’s throat with a big ole scythe that looks like it came straight outta the cornfield, all taped up on a long pole so they could slice him without having to climb up onto the Nowhere thing themselves.
His blood comes out thick and fast on account of how freaked he is, and me, being the softy I am, wish they’d at least hopped him up on geek juice before they put him to the knife like that.
Bill sees how squeamish I get. He says, “It’s gotta be this way. I wish it didn’t, but the blood doesn’t work unless it’s got fear in it. It’s the fear that opens the way.”
‘Bout that time, the sap died and hung there limp as a two-foot shit as the last of his life’s blood spilled out onto the chest of the Nowhere thing. That caused the smaller things to get up to their own screaming and hollering, thrashing about, fighting each other until they were bleeding, too. They kept on fighting the more they bled, and the more they bled the more they fought, ’til the Nowhere thing’s chest started looking like some kind of a feeding frenzy, splashing the sap’s blood and the smaller things’ blood all over the place.
That’s when the guys in charge started moving really fast, shouting at each other, pumping these hoses with chemicals into the sloshing goop in the Nowhere thing’s chest, and turning nobs and pressing buttons on the magnet machine’s controls.
Pretty soon the soupy mess starts churning all in the same direction, creating some kind of a bloody, chemically whirlpool right there inside the Nowhere thing’s body.
“It’s time, Mark-Paul,” Bill says. He says, “You know what to do. See you on the other side.” I hoisted up the heavy, coffin-shaped bag that he provided me with onto my back, then I climbed up the Nowhere thing’s leg. I ran up to the whirlpool and I dove right in is what I did, ’cause god damnit I needed the money to feed my family, and I ain’t the kind of guy who lets those I love starve.
Oceans of time. I panic. I can’t breathe. Red everywhere. I swallow it in, suck it up through my nose and smell the fear on it. I thrash and I kick and I swim against teeth and claws. I get tangled up in guts and brush up against squishy things I can’t identify. I feel myself slip away and go weak. Then nothing.
Then I wake up. Darkness. Warm, thick liquid covers everything but my mouth and nose. It smells like rot—like meat left out so long, not even the dogs want a swing at it. I strike out and feel some give. I swing again through the warm muck, and I hear a grunt. I feel the world around me shift and I see a tiny sliver of light break into the darkness.
That’s my life line.
I punch again and again until things start to separate, to groan, to fight back. I claw and bite at what feels like flesh above me until it squirms away in protest, and then I can see again.
A low, purple sky drips. A smog thick enough to choke hangs in the air like poison. I pull free of the muck and climb out, dragging the coffin-shaped bag behind me.
Human bodies and not-human things, all pushed together form the ground, all floating atop the ectoplasmic Nowhere smack. Everything’s covered in a layer of red gore, like looking through an infrared spectrum. Titan monoliths soar above to dizzying heights, and by god, they’re made of bodies, too. I squint up at that horrible purple sky, and dammit if it ain’t made of bodies as well.
This weird landscape stretches on and on. Even through the smog, I see the bloody ground and the dripping sky for miles in all directions, like a vast ocean. Only the towering monoliths jutting up toward the purple sky bodies break up the unsettling flatness.
The coffin-shaped bag thumps, reminding me of why I’m in this terrible place. I’ve got to find my target. I have to set my trap.
That’s when the mountainous structure closest to me moves.
Then and there I realize all those monoliths are Nowhere things. Hundreds of them, all standing around like statues, like big ol’ dominoes. The one near me takes off walking forward like it’s got some place to be in a hurry, and then BAM!
Just like that, the Nowhere thing is gone, and a tidal wave of Nowhere muck crashes down all around me. I’m careful not to get any in my mouth while I wipe that nasty shit off me, ’cause I ain’t no junkie like that, and I ain’t about to start being one, no matter how bad my nerves are jittering from being here.
All around me the ground starts to shift and move. I look down, and those things all connected together making the ground are straining to lift up off each other to get at the Nowhere muck. People-things and animal-things and god-knows-6what kind of things all groping at the muck, shoveling it into their mouths, gulping it down like it’s the last meal they’re ever gonna eat. They get all excited the more of it they eat, ’til those things are a-moaning and groaning loud as hell. I stagger backward to keep on solid ground as the whole mess of ’em around me go to town on that Nowhere smack.
I start to walk away as the muck oozes its way toward me, waking up the ground, when I feel a tug at the coffin-shaped bag. I look down and—I shit you not—those things are trying to slurp the muck off the damn bag! So I kick them things off and make a bee-line away from that group.
I only make it a few yards when another thunderclap tries to blow my ears out and that Nowhere thing comes popping right back into existence a ways down the way; only now, it’s got a mess of people and rubble (looks like whats left of a building) in its two sets of arms.
I make sure I’m not anywhere near the Nowhere smack that splatters all over the ground around it, and watch as the damn thing just tosses the bodies of the people and what’s left of the building right into a big puddle of the stuff. ‘Course they’re scared shitless, flailing about, trying to get up off the ground and run away, but the same thing happens with the ground as happened to me, only now, there’s enough of ’em that they can get a hold of these people, and they start dragging ’em down on the ground, and, hand to the bible, those reddish things start stuffing the smack into the normal people’s mouths ’til they go all limp and silly.
After a minute or two, every damn person in that muck was turning a dark shade of red and linking up arms and legs and teeth and other parts I ain’t gonna mention ’til they was all settled in and part of that damn ground. Every last one of ’em. The ground made room for ’em, rippling out like a big ol’ rock had just been dropped in a pond. That ripple extended out, growing bigger and taller, until way down in the distance, another monolith erupted from the ground, making a new Nowhere thing.
Nowhere’s taking all the people from our place—and from the looks of it, all types of other places mankind ain’t never seen before—and turning ’em all into…
I figure I’ve wasted about as much time as I oughta playing nature-watch in the Nowhere. So I take off in the opposite direction of all that nonsense and look for my target.
It doesn’t take long to find the big sumbitch. Bill the Gills told me I’d know him when I saw him, and he was goddamn right about that, no doubt.
Only thing Bill didn’t say was just how… awful the thing would look.
I seen my fair share of these things in my line of work. Most folks just try to hunker down and wait for food drops from the guys in charge, so they don’t see a lot of what goes on ’til it’s one of those things right up knockin’ on their very own door step. That’s why they go sorta crazy when they see ’em for the first time.
Me? I’ve seen em all. Big ones, little ones, fat ones, ones made of a bunch of dogs, ones made of fish and octopuses even. Don’t shock me none no more.
‘Til I saw the big sumbitch.
Big as a mountain. I lean way back just to squint up through the smog to see what passed as his head. He must be made up entirely of things not from our world, ’cause whatever’s seething and rippling like waves that make up his skin ain’t nothing I’ve ever laid eyes on.
I feel my eyes start to twitch and go wonky as those ripples and undulations started getting in my head, whispering things to me. Horrible things.
Then the coffin-shaped bag thumps again, breaking my concentration. Now’s the time to set my trap. I run out in front of the sumbitch, making sure he can see me—which ain’t hard, considering the tens of thousands of eyes the size of truck tires staring at me like a big ol’ juicy steak.
Some traps are complex and require a lot of planning and thinkin’ about various scenarios and choices the target might make. Some take days or even weeks to set and spring. But not this trap.
This time, I’m the trap, and the big sumbitch takes the bait right away. He turns to face me, his whole gargantuan form rippling and waving, trying to get that trance going again.
I get down messing with the coffin-shaped bag to keep my concentration. I open it up and, yeah, you mighta guessed it already, there’s a real coffin in there. I use the special key Bill the Gills gave me and get the two locks off it. The lid bursts open. The fella inside screams and gasps for breath. He tries to scramble out, but the hooks and chains and chemical tubes all buried in him make it hard for him to move without pain.
I guess I should feel sorry for the poor chap. He probably didn’t do nothin’ wrong. If he did, he didn’t do it to me. But Bill pays me damn good and pays me on time, so I do what he paid me to do.
I pull the bazooka-looking thing out from next to the coffin and I grab the fella by the hair, drag him out and sling him over my shoulder. He doesn’t fight much. The hook under his chin and through his mouth is giving him quite a fit. He’s more worried about that hook than what I’m doing, which is probably best for him.
The poor guy’s spitting up blood, begging for his momma while I set the crosshairs on the big sumbitch’s chest, doing my best to keep my wits about me as all those eyes wiggle and squirm, singing me silent songs.
I’m just about to do what those whispering voices in my brain tell me to do and turn the bazooka thing on myself, when the guy tries to make a break for it, almost ripping his jaw off in the process.
Well, that’s about all I need to get my mind back inside my own head. I pull the trigger and WOOSH!
Off goes the poor doomed fucker. SPLAT!
I was kind of hoping the impact would kill him, but all it seemed to do was get him more riled up, even though his limbs was dangling at angles that’d get a gymnast some gold medals.
It’s the fear that opens the way. That’s what Bill the Gills told me. I say a silent prayer for the sap and press the button on the Bazooka thing.
The chains rip him apart, tearing a hole in the chest of the big sumbitch, sending a plume of blood into the air that comes raining down on me like a spring shower.
Same as happened before, the smaller things get going at the blood and chemical concoction and each other until its chest is spinning in an unholy vortex.
‘Cept what happens next ain’t what me and Bill the Gills talked about. Bill told me once I got the way open in the chest of the biggest, meanest-looking Nowhere thing in the Nowhere, they’d send in their weapons and their troops and they’d turn Nowhere inside out ’til there wasn’t no Nowhere left.
What happens is, more people than I ever seen in one place in all my life starts spilling out of that hole into the Nowhere, building piles and piles of bodies spilling down all over the ground ’til I see more normal people layin’ around than I do those assimilated into the Nowhere.
“Mark-Paul, where is our little girl?”
“Where is our daughter? You promised you’d bring her to us!”
I’m so distracted by what’s happening in front of me, I forget to watch my back. I hear the voices and spin around, but damned if there ain’t one of them Nowhere things right up on me! Sticking out of the leg of the thing, right in my face, is those two parents from my last job that went missing—only now, they don’t look like people. They’re just red limbs and faces all stretched out of shape so ugly I barely recognize them in there linked to other people and shapes forming that Nowhere thing’s leg.
Before I can get away, they reach for me, getting a hold of my trench coat, pulling me into their arms, squeezing me tight enough to push all the air out of my lungs. The little bit of air I can get in smells like flaming garbage. I choke and feel my gorge pushing up to my throat.
But I ain’t out of the game yet. No sir. A couple of turnt Nowhere parts ain’t doing me in.
I reach up to my wrist and press a button on the metal band I wear on my arm. Three curved blades pop out of my forearm, shredding my trench coat sleeve to pieces—them blades is courtesy of the guys in charge, they set me up with titanium reinforced steel bionic arms in exchange for finding a team of scientists thought lost forever. I press another button and my whole forearm starts spinning, making short work of the dad’s arms, letting me at least catch a few breaths while I deal with mom.
She’s hissin’ and cussin’ at me, so I jam my spinning blades right in her mouth, getting me pretty much clear of the parents. But now there’s all kinds of Nowhere muck and gore flying around, and I done told you enough to know that it sets off the other things linked up to what’s left of the parents and gets ’em all riled up. Soon I’ve got hands and teeth and pincers and antennae coming at me from all directions, and my blades are just makin’ things worse.
I lose my damn cowboy hat as I feel myself sinking deeper into the Nowhere thing’s leg, but it ain’t like one of those vortexes on account of I ain’t got no scared in me. No fear in my blood as the suckers start chompin’ down on my fleshy parts.
The damn Nowhere thing I’m stuck in starts moving again, and I see those piles and piles of human bodies coming through the chest of the big sumbitch haven’t slowed down a bit—in fact, they were spewing outta that hole faster than ever. There were tens, hundreds of thousands of bodies stacking so high, the Nowhere thing I’m attached to has to climb up ’em, and
The damn thing shifts and we’re back in Fuckland. I’m so deep in the thing’s leg now I can’t keep the muck and the gore outta my mouth. I’m swallowin’ it down now as the Nowhere thing trudges through a street that looks awfully familiar.
We’re walkin’ past the big wall. The guys in charge ain’t nowhere to be seen, though. That’s when I see the Nowhere thing I went through strapped down where he was before. Right where I jumped into his chest. Only now the whole damn fortress starts to crumble and fold in on itself, all building that Nowhere thing up bigger and bigger, with a dozen arms made of cars and concrete and people, ’til there ain’t no fortress and there ain’t no guys in charge. Ain’t no Bill the Gills.
The whole damn fortress gets up lookin’ sort of like a centipede and crawls away. My vision starts to go red, and the Nowhere thing I’m attached to changes direction. I feel my hands curl around other hands. I feel my feet wrap around other feet.
The Nowhere thing is walking. He’s walking right up toward my secret place, when it finally hits me:
I never set no trap for the big sumbitch. I wasn’t talkin’ to the real Bill the Gills. There weren’t no more guys in charge.
They set the trap for me, little Joey. I was the bait, though. I was right about that part.
Yeah, Joey, I’m talkin’ to you. Who’d you think I was talkin’ to? Myself?
I’m full over now, Joey. Just a part of the Nowhere. And the Nowhere’s a part of me.
It’s got my memories now, see? It knows where I stashed you and Mommy.
The Nowhere, it’s comin’ for ya little Joey. It’s got me talkin’ to you in your dreams so’s you’re plenty scared when we get there. And we’ll be there soon, little buddy. Before you wake up.
We’re gonna use you and Mommy and everybody else in Fuckland to open more big portals like the one inside the big sumbitch. We’re gonna use you as the trap.
We’re gonna suck this planet dry, little Joey. Like we’re wont to do. Like we done for a million years.
‘Til there ain’t nothin’ but Nowhere.