A single toll woke Kitten up. He instinctively knew it was midnight. He was in his bed in the Capitol, dressed in fresh clothes that smelled of soap with a hint of perfume about it. And tobacco smoke.
He sat up. He was certain it was dark, yet he could see every minute detail of the room and the paintings within. Across the room, he could read the titles of the books. His throat felt raw for some reason. There was a dull pain in his spine, the same one he’d felt that time he reawakened after his near-death experience.
Or had he come closer than expected?
There was a knock on the window.
He got up and opened. Somehow it didn’t surprise him the least to see The Mayor clinging to a rusted downpipe.
“Thank you,” The Mayor said once safely inside. He didn’t look like he was about to comment on his unusual choice of entrance any more, so Kitten asked. “Oh,” The Mayor waved his hand in response, “there’s a burglar in my office at the moment. Didn’t want to disturb him.”
Kitten shook his head and ran his right hand through his hand. It felt strangely numb. “You’re a strange man,” he told The Mayor.
“I get told that a lot,” the man shrugged and produced his pipe. “I get asked a lot of questions, too,” he added in a suggestive voice.
Kitten gauged the bait tossed to him. “I fainted at the mine today,” he mused out loud.
“There was a hand in the Ice. A human hand.”
“There was.” A puff of smoke rose from The Mayor’s mouth as he spoke, in spite of the pipe not being lit.
“Did they excavate it?”
The Mayor pondered a bit. “Do you feel well enough for a short walk?”
The two looked at each other. Then The Mayor nodded and threw the window open again.
Kitten scowled. “You said walk, not jump or climb.”
The Mayor smiled mysteriously. “And here I was starting to think you might be on to me,” he said with unusual softness. He reached out to take Kitten by the hand. His palm was hot like an oven plate and the touch made Kitten flinch at first. But the fingers held him fast.
Before Kitten could say anything, a chill wind assaulted him. They were standing at the entrance to the Mouth shaft, all dark and deserted at the time. Being up and about at the hour was looked down upon by most people. Of course some workers had to maintain the fires at the Smelter, but they were a special sort of people shrouded in myth and legend.
He looked around. Everything seemed very real, if somewhat haunting. If it was a dream, it was the most vivid one he had ever experienced.
The Mayor let him go, thrust both hands into the pockets of his coat and started walking along the damaged rails.
Kitten followed after a short pause. “What are you?” he demanded once he caught up and matched his pace to The Mayor’s.
“Who knows,” The Mayor smirked. “I was cast out by my kind to live among humans. I am not one of you either.” His expression grew cold in an instant. “You might call me a cuckoo, but then again, I’m not a bird either.” He stopped suddenly and cocked his head at a disturbing angle. “Although I think I used to know how to fly.”
Kitten glared at him. It was definitely a dream. No use getting excited about it.
He wondered whether he was able to will himself to wake up.
“What’s the point of us being here?” he asked.
“Your discovery, isn’t it?” The Mayor’s eyes were fixed at him, while the rest of him seemed to slowly fade away in a direction that wasn’t really there. “I want to see that hand. That person. Those people in there.”
He said “see,” but a feeling that he’d meant a slightly different sensual verb reared its abhorrent head in Kitten’s mind. In his dream, he was annoyingly paranoid.
“Alas,” The Mayor went on, suddenly becoming very focused again, “I mustn’t be greedy.” He looked at his hand and clenched it. “Especially here,” he muttered to himself, so Kitten could barely hear.
“Let’s just get this over with,” Kitten said pointedly. He really wanted to wake up, have breakfast and go to work. Without waiting for a sign of approval, he stalked down the shaft.
It was dark. The shadows gobbled him up and he knew it, yet he could easily recognize the glowing rails in front of him. Who needed torches in a dream, anyway. Then the whispering started. Fading among the echoes at first, the voices were steadily becoming louder and clearer, telling him to turn back. To stop. To not doom them all.
Kitten hesitated for a moment. He turned his head to look at The Mayor behind him. The man was literally glowing. Pale white flames licked the backs of his hands and slithered up his coat. Some even cared to caress his face from time to time. As dreams went, this one was extraordinarily exotic.
“Is it here?” The Mayor asked calmly, and Kitten realised that yes, it was there. He looked at the dazzling white wall with the black shape of a human hand in the middle of it. He reached out to touch it as he had the day before, but The Mayor’s hand gently brushed his aside before his fingers touched the Ice.
“Allow me,” The Mayor hummed. He rested his flaming palm against the dark spot.
A high-pitched shriek pierced Kitten’s head. He clamped his hands over his ears, but the voice only grew louder. He tried screaming as well, but that too only seemed to empower the horrible sound.
A horrid smell assaulted his nostrils a moment later. Just after that, the wall in front of him exploded into pieces.
The cave grew dark. White Ice turned dark grey, the flames engulfing The Mayor were gone. Only his coat remained bright. His hand was resting against another. Kitten held his breath as he looked at the person previously encased in ice: she was beautiful, or perhaps more than that, far beyond mere words. A wet, light colored dress clung to a frail, motionless girl’s body hovering in midair, reaching out as if trying to grab a life that had undoubtedly been lost to her ages ago. Long hair clung to her pale skin. The empty gaze of her eyes clenched his heart and threatened to crush it.
“A real beauty, aren’t you?” The Mayor murmured, unbuttoning his coat. “Such vitality, even in death. The living here can barely compare.”
The voices stopped suddenly.
“What are you going to do with her?” Kitten asked, mostly to fill the silence which horrified him even more than the upcoming answer.
The Mayor turned to him. There was a wicked smile on his face, growing ever wider. In fact, no normal person’s mouth should have ever grown that wide. Or had that many teeth in it. “What am I going to do to her?” he asked, slowly unbuttoning his shirt.
A wave of sickness crashed over Kitten. The horrible thing he had imagined turned paled in comparison to what he saw underneath the washed-out fabric: a vertical maw stretched all the way from The Mayor’s throat to his abdomen. Rows upon rows of sharp fangs glistened with saliva that trickled down the thin lips.“I am going to make her mine.”